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When you start out in business, it’s normal to research those who have gone before you and try to learn from them. Personally, I have watched and examined countless interviews with entrepreneurs who I admire in order to learn all the steps they’ve taken to achieve the success they have today.
And while this research can often shorten the learning curve and give you inspiration as to what is possible, there is a tipping point when it can become paralyzing and you fail to move forward in your own business because you are constantly comparing yourself to other entrepreneurs.
This tipping point then leads to a downward spiral of negativity and uncertainty, which can surface in many different ways.
You may become uncertain about the viability of your idea, even though you have researched it and you know that people need it. You may become uncertain about your own abilities as an entrepreneur, even though when you first started, you were excited and motivated. Or, you may even become uncertain about your business strategies, like I did, meaning you are indecisive and constantly changing plans before they have even had a chance to produce results.
I got stuck in this comparison trap for quite a while before I knew I was even in it. I don’t use social media much, so thought I was safe. But I was trawling the internet for articles and videos to learn how the entrepreneurs I most admire had built their businesses and what they were doing now.
In doing so, I eventually started feeling very bad about myself. My business idea, which I had total faith in at the beginning, slowly became not good enough. Everything I did seemed to not be good enough because I wasn’t seeing the results that these other “successful” entrepreneurs were seeing. I really started to question what was wrong with me.
And worst of all, I just stopped enjoying my work.
It’s easy to get stuck in this comparison trap and it can happen at any stage of business, so here are some key things to remember any time doubt creeps up on you:
Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle
This is huge when you are just starting out as an entrepreneur. While you may look up to other entrepreneurs and try to emulate their success, it is very easy to forget that they are likely years ahead of you. That means they have already made many mistakes and have years of experience under their belt that has contributed to their current success.
While it’s a good thing to have people to look up to, just remember that all businesses go through tough times at the start. When you’re researching other entrepreneurs, make sure you’re finding information about their early days and what that looked like for them. It’s often more difficult to find stories at this stage, because no one really tells you how hard it is at the beginning; most people like to talk about how well they are doing now.
But if you are going to use other entrepreneurs as your inspiration and guidance to avoid some common startup mistakes, you need to seek out the whole truth. And that means knowing the struggles that they had in the beginning, too.
Your life circumstances are completely unique
As a mother of two girls under the age of three, this was a very difficult point for me to accept when I was comparing myself to other entrepreneurs. I realized that many of the entrepreneurs I looked up to were men. Often men without children, let alone very young ones that they were almost solely responsible for.
I was trying to emulate the success of people who had completely different lifestyles and responsibilities. I would become frustrated when I couldn’t work as much as I thought I “should” or as much as these men said they did, because my time and energy was taken up by little people who were completely reliant on me.
In the end, I had to accept that this was just a season of my life and it wouldn’t always be like this. But there would always be other challenges that impact my capacity to work or achieve the things I want to. Even without children, we all have these outside circumstances that impact our businesses. Even the entrepreneurs you admire have these influencing factors, you just might not know it.
That’s why it’s important to give yourself grace and just go with whatever season of life you are in at the moment. No one else has your exact life circumstances. There will always be something that you are up against, so let go of the “shoulds” and what other people seem to be doing, and just focus on what your time and energy will allow for.
Your business is completely unique
You think that you’re safe from the negative effects of the comparison trap because you compare your business only to businesses that are very similar in nature. They might be in the same industry and sell similar products or services, or maybe they’re just a little bit ahead of you, which gives you a goal as to where you are headed. This may lead you to believe that by comparing yourself to these companies, you are just looking for opportunities to improve your business and make sure you are doing the right things.
But there are no two businesses that are exactly the same, even if you are in a crowded industry where there are plenty of competitors. From the outside, your businesses may look pretty identical, or at the least very similar. But I can guarantee you that your resources are completely different, and that’s what counts.
Your resources (meaning your money, time and experience) are completely unique to your business. And while it may seem that sometimes you are behind others because you are lacking some of these resources, that could ultimately become what sets you apart. That’s why it’s so key that you don’t compare yourself too closely with others in your industry. You simply don’t know what resources they have at hand now or what they did have to get to where they are.
The best way to look for opportunities or new ideas is not to look at what others are doing, but rather look at all the things that make your business unique. The combination of the people and experience within your business, or your own unique skills and experience if you are a solo entrepreneur, are what will really grow your business. So, keep your focus internal, rather than on what others are doing.
At the end of the day, comparing yourself to other entrepreneurs in the name of “learning” will only get you so far. Eventually, you will hit the wall where you are no longer learning and are just trying to desperately keep up in order to do all the “right” things.
But the truth is, there is no direct path to success as an entrepreneur. It is an ever-changing process that requires you to make mistakes and overcome challenges in order to move forward. And although you can escape the comparison trap, you can’t escape this fact.
So, when you are making decisions in your business, don’t get stuck looking outward for the answers. Go with whatever strategy feels right for you and for your business. Your time for success will come in a way that is perfect for your circumstances, so you might as well enjoy the ride as much as you can.