The art of not comparing yourself to others

woman comparing herself on phoneWith continuous pressure as a dental student, Amber Ahmed explores ways to avoid comparing yourself to others.

As dental students we are constantly tested. Whether that be in exams, in clinical sessions, with challenging patients or trying to maintain a social life. It is a little overwhelming.

To check whether you are heading in the right direction, it is so easy to have a look at others in the same situation as yourself.

By comparing your productivity against your peers consequently can make you feel inadequate if their productivity is more successful than yours. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I found that in such a highly competitive environment, it is hard to focus on my own achievements when comparing myself to the brightest students surrounding me.

Barriers in our way

With the rise of Instagram dentists and with it Instagram dental students, it is so easy to feel demotivated.

The important thing to remember is that what people put on Instagram is only the best they want their viewers to see. With their posts, it is impossible to acknowledge the struggles that they went through during the process.

There are a number of competencies dental students need to complete prior to graduation.

During my third year, I remember looking at how many competencies I completed and compared these to my peers. The numbers differed and suddenly I felt demoralised. Why am I so inadequate?

How can we beat the comparison game?

What we need to do is focus on ourselves. This is not a race to the finish line. We will all graduate as competent dentists, each comprising of a unique set of skills that we have learnt along the way.

When we begin to look at ourselves and only compete with our past self, we are bound to see our lives flourish. As Theodore Roosevelt puts it: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’

Adopting a positive attitude means the need to compete against others becomes worthless. You celebrate their wins and achieve your own goals.

We should be so proud of what we have accomplished. A good tip is to focus on how you have grown from yesterday. You could write in a journal about three things that you learnt about yourself that you didn’t know yesterday.

Let it out

Acknowledge your feelings. It’s natural to compare yourself to others. We do it all the time. Whether that is comparing our wealth, health or appearance against others. The same principle applies in dental school.

Talk to someone you are close to. That could be a family member, friend or a supportive tutor.

Through discussing it openly, it will help you release that anxiety. You’ll begin to realise that everyone at some point in their life has failed or not achieved the success they desired.

We are all so similar and we need each other for support.

The best way to overcome comparison is with gratitude. Be grateful for your position at dental school. So many others wished for that place. Be grateful for your health because so many others around the world pray for it every day.

Quit comparing

I remember an incident in second year where I confessed to my personal tutor that I am a perfectionist. Everything needs to be a certain way.

He told me that perfection does not exist in dentistry. I remember feeling baffled at that thought.

But after contemplating many years over it, through practising dentistry as a student, I have realised he is right.

With every clinical situation, it is impossible to achieve perfection. There are always times where things go wrong and where things don’t go to plan. The same goes for comparing yourself against perfection.

We are truly a cohort of over achievers and perfectionists. Each of us try to go beyond the limit set. But it’s mentally and physically draining, if you constantly put that pressure on yourself.

So free up some mental space and you’ll find you have more time to set bigger goals for yourself leading to more success.

In conclusion

What you need to remember is that no matter how hard you try, when you look at your weaknesses and compare these to someone else’s positive attributes, you will indefinitely feel inadequate.

Each of us possess strengths and weaknesses. No two individuals are alike and that is why comparison arises.

The best thing to do is to keep your chin up, stay positive and believe in yourself.

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