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How Social Comparisons Gamble withYour Personal Brand

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“You see, Kimberly, the difference between you and that model that just walked by is about 20 pounds.”


A former boss blurted that out after he watched a  model enter the agency above our offices and thought she was me at first. I know he meant it as a compliment but I internalized it to mean I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or disciplined enough. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t want to be the emaciated size of that model and that my self-worth wasn’t based on a number that appears on my bathroom scale. Still, 12 years later, I can’t help but play that conversation in my head when I have a failure or set-back remembering how I glamorized being thin as the epitome of success.

As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to face the fact that people are going to compare your personal brand against others. It’s what we all do when making decisions.

Brand comparison is a fear for many.

Clients have confided in me that they are scared to step into the spotlight because they may be judged.

Some people even come to me wanting to recreate a competitors successful brands as their own. They believe that if that person is doing well and not getting any heat, than they want to do exactly as they do.

But that kind of “wisdom” is the kiss of death for a brand. It will only make you blend in or worse, be outed as a fraud.

Is Personal Branding Your Beast of Burden?

Ignore other people assessments and brand yourself based on what’s genuine to you. Sounds simple enough, right?

Now throw in the mix that comparisons don’t just come from others; they’re also inner dialogues, often fueled with harsher than any words someone else would ever say to us.

Am I tough enough?
Am I rough enough?
Am I rich enough?

Just as Mick Jagger questions his worthiness in the song Beast of Burden, we wonder about our own superlatives, even if we pretend to shrug it off.

When people preach to ‘be an original’ and ‘embrace what makes you special’, we vigorously get behind their words of encouragement.

We join the inspirational party, become Facebook philosophers, and blow up the motivational category on our Pinterest boards.

Yet, within minutes of the hoo-rah, we’re back to our Facebook timeline, looking at pictures from friend’s great trip to Tahiti.

A slight feeling of envy creeps in.

We’re back in the social comparison trap.

It’s not just envious feelings that cause us to grade ourselves against others. Who hasn’t done a little happy dance or been proud of an achievements, feeling like we won over a competitor? Our personal judgments can be positive, too.

We all go back and forth with these feelings, including the most successful people in the world. Pick up any biography and you’ll find excerpts that show a range of lowliness to feeling on top of the world.

The Complexities of a Bi-Polarizing Brand

Humans are complex by nature. You may find that these feelings create a bi-polarizing effect on how you view yourself and your personal brand.

You’re not crazy and everyone else has these ranges of thoughts.

What’s the deal?

Social comparison is a neuro-chemical reaction taking place inside your brain. It’s a defense mechanism all mammals use to reduce conflict.

Psychologists explain that for millions of years our limbic systems (the part of the brain that controls “flight or fight” and the feelings of pleasure) have released Cortisol to alert our brains to survival threats. Today, those “dangers” are the competitor that just closed the deal you were working on or the guy at the gym with the six-pack abs. You unconsciously believe that you will not be able to eat when you perceive that the competitor makes more money than you or you will not be able to mate if you perceive the other guy is better looking than you.

How to Get Past Social Comparisons

While social ranking is inevitable, you can control the way you react to the situation and how it affects your personal brand.

Get clear about your goals and aspiration. What does success really look like to you? Are you measuring your success based on other people’s opinion of what your success should look like? Do you judge your success against the achievements of someone else? Living an extravagant lifestyle is not everyone’s definition of success. Your view of success may not be having perfect children, white picket fences, or a multimillion dollar company. Determine what you want.

Give yourself a reality check. On the days you are your toughest critique and frustrated that you don’t measure up, keep in mind that it your biological brain assessing threats. Try to release the feeling and refocus on your well-being. If you realize that this is something that you really want, put a plan into place and leverage this feeling as momentum to get ahead.

Be pragmatic. On the flip-side, if find yourself elated for being better at something, it’s fine to feel good about it. But don’t mislead yourself with self-importance or arrogance, it is still only a chemical reaction.

Keep the conversation flowing… how do you tackle social comparisons and internal dialogues that get in the way of your personal brand?

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Caelan Huntress
Caelan Huntress

Differentiation. I can welcome social comparisons, so long as I have a differentiator at the ready. People look at the self-marketing platform I work with and say, "Oh, it's like Mailchimp." When I reply directly with, "Yes, but it's built for people, and not companies," the social comparison has given me a leg-up in the conversation. If I wasn't ready with differentiation, the comparison could have left me feeling...twenty pounds heavier.

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