Why I stopped comparing myself to others
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Welcome back to week two of my blog!
This week I wanted to talk about the importance of not comparing yourself to others and instead, believing in your own capabilities. I think that this is a topic that really resonates with a lot of people and I hope that from sharing just some of my experiences, others will feel empowered to stay focussed on their own journey and not be discouraged if they are not exactly where they want to be just yet.
Let’s face it, we have all been guilty of comparing ourselves to others and unfortunately, we live in a society where we are constantly made to feel as though what we are doing is not quite good enough. You only have to spend 10 minutes on social media to feel as though (a) you’re not good-looking enough because you haven’t been scouted for Love Island, (b) you’re not successful enough because you don’t drive a brand new Range Rover or have a walk in wardrobe filled with designer handbags; or (c) the countless hours spent in the gym and the strict no carb diet you have followed for 3 months has been a waste of time because you still do not have the body of a Kardashian.
The pressures we all face from society can sometimes make us feel as though we are not where we should be when the truth is that actually, you are exactly where you need to be and someone else’s progress should not diminish your own hard work. Believe it or not, the reality is that just because not many people are posting about their failures, doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing them and ultimately, there is enough room for everyone to win.
I grew up believing that to be successful in the legal industry, you would typically need to have achieved A's at A level, have graduated from a “top” university (whatever that even means..) and have something else so obscure about you that nobody else applying for the same role could possibly compete with - i.e, having spent your summer holiday for 3 consecutive years teaching 6 different languages on a private island that nobody has heard of, having travelled there from the U.K. on the boat which you built from ethically sourced recycled materials (okay, I’m exaggerating, but for those of you who have been through the painful training contract application process, you get my drift). I don’t for one second believe that as humans we should aspire to conform to a certain standard, and you may be surprised to learn that I myself achieved significantly lower grades in my A levels, did not attend a “top” university, and despite my Nigerian heritage, can only speak, read and write English.
I guess based on the above, I really shouldn’t have pursued law as a career. In fact, I actually remember my first piece of legal work experience at the age of 19 where I shadowed an immigration barrister for 2 weeks, who told me that I should consider alternative career paths after sharing my A level grades. On reflection, I don’t think she intended to knock my confidence but in her view, she was just basing her advice on her experience of the legal industry. I do think that by the end of the two-week placement when she saw my work ethic, she soon realised that she probably should not have jumped to make such a statement, and I was in fact just as deserving of a career in law as the next person. She did retract the statement and tell me to go for it by the end of the two weeks.
I also remember being told approximately 10 minutes into a telephone interview for one of the very first paralegal jobs I applied for after university, that “there are people with better A levels than you that have already completed the LPC, so I’ll only be considering you for an admin role”. I was grateful to have even been given an interview and would have quite happily been considered for the admin role despite the negative tone attached, but I even began questioning whether I would be good enough for that. I’ll tell you what, if there was anything to make you feel as though the three years you just spent having sleepless nights in the library and barely surviving on a student budget were a waste of time, that was it.
I think the one that tops them all has to be the time I was asked by the interviewer whether I was capable of loading and offloading the dishwasher and making tea and coffee, for what should have been a legal administrative role. To be clear, I have absolutely no issue at all with doing these tasks, but to be asked whether I would be capable of them after I had just completed a 3-year law degree, left me wondering whether I really did come across as the diva my friends make me out to be.
These are just a few examples of instances where someone else doubted my capabilities based on their comparison of me to other people and in turn, it absolutely made me doubt myself.
Did I feel discouraged? Yes, of course.
Did I question whether I was ever going to be good enough to be a lawyer? Yes, absolutely.
Did I shed a few tears and comfort eat a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a sharing bag of chocolates (which by the way, my best friend and I still do not think are big enough to share)? Yes, hundreds of times.
But do you know what I never did? I never stopped pushing myself to be the best version of me. Regardless of whether that would or wouldn’t be up to this imaginary standard that society had made me believe I didn’t quite fit. I knew what I was capable of, and it didn’t matter whether someone else already had a training contract, or whether someone else had achieved x or y grades, because their journey was not my journey and I became more than okay with that. We are all different people, from different backgrounds, with different upbringings, and to think that there is just one standard we should all conform to or else we do not quite make the cut is in my view, ridiculous.
Following a summer of rejections in 2017, believe it or not, I actually landed my first permanent job as a paralegal without even applying for the role. I walked into my first day of work experience at a private practice firm in Surrey with enthusiasm and smiles, keen to learn and happy to do any task thrown at me. By the end of the week, I was signing a contract to start a permanent job that had never been advertised on the website, following a ten-minute coffee consisting of “tell me more about yourself?". Well, how long have you got?
If you had told me at the start of that summer it was all going to work out this way, I wouldn’t have believed you.
This was just the very first step in my legal journey and fast-forward four years, I’ve had several other legal roles at some of the biggest companies in the world. I stopped doubting myself and realised that actually, if you work hard enough, you can get to exactly where you want to be and sculpt your future. Although I am happy I kept going, it saddens me that others may not feel that same empowerment when actually, each and every person who is prepared to commit their time to what they want, deserves to achieve their goals.
I have learnt very early on that comparison is the thief of joy and if you don’t stop comparing yourself to others, you will never be satisfied with your achievements or give yourself true credit for your progress. There will always be someone with higher grades than you, a higher salary than you, a nicer house, a faster car, or a better summer body. It took me 5 years of applications to finally get a training contract but fundamentally, I got there.
To my younger self and those in similar positions who have ever doubted their capabilities or have been made to feel as though they are not quite up to scratch, please do not sell yourself short and more importantly, have confidence. You are more than capable of anything you put your mind to and give yourself credit where credit is due, even the “small” milestones.
Why waste time worrying about a future that is completely in your hands, when you are the one in the driver's seat of your own life? The best is yet to come.