I used to get growth envy when I looked at how other companies were performing. Here’s how I stopped.
About a year ago, we hit a huge (to us) growth milestone.
I was ridiculously excited.
We all were.
We had set our eyes on an ambitious goal, and through hard work, perseverance and a lot of messy lessons learned, we achieved it.
It certainly wasn’t our ultimate goal; there was, is and always will be a lot of work left to do. But it was something we were very, very proud of.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a bit of an extra spring in my step in the days that followed.
Around a week later, I had a call with a SaaS founder who had reached far, far higher levels of success. He built a product that we—and I suspect many of you—use almost daily.
I had reached out to him for guidance on overcoming some growth challenges we were working on.
As he shared a story about how they tackled something similar, he said: “a year in, we were doing around $200,000 a month.”
That comment wasn’t the point of his story.
It wasn’t meant to make me feel bad.
It was simply to give context to a much more important point: the strategy he had used to get out of a growth slump.
But as soon as he said it, the balloon that had been floating over my head—filled with excitement, happiness and a feeling of accomplishment—popped in an instant.
I barely even heard what came next, drowned out by the sound of my own inner monologue.
It took us twice as long to get to a fifth of that!
How come we couldn’t do that?
Am I even cut out to be a founder?
I had growth envy.
Here’s the worst part: I didn’t say anything about what I felt.
Not on that call, not after.
I was too embarrassed.
As I’ve learned since then, if I had actually mentioned it right away, I would’ve learned something that would’ve eliminated my self-doubt right away: nearly every single founder deals with this.
And while there are some successful hyper-competitive types who are forever driven by making more than everyone around them, many successful founders have overcome growth envy in order to be happier, more balanced, and more focused on their business.
The Problem With Comparing Yourself To Others
I’ll be the first to admit that benchmarks are useful.
Knowing how other companies in similar positions are performing, at the very least, gives you a starting point from which to set your own goals.
But judging yourself based on others’ metrics also has a very dark side.
Most of the time, when we compare ourselves to others—whether in business or life—we have little to no context around the actually metrics we’re comparing against.
In my story above, my brain did a very simple equation:
There are a ton of reasons for the actual differential. These three only begin to scratch the surface:
- Their product is priced much higher
- They started with VC funding and thus were able to spend a lot on sales and marketing
- Their founders were already successful and seasoned when they started; they had already learned a lot of the lessons I still needed to learn
But of course, to my brain, that didn’t matter.
We simply weren’t good enough.
That happens to a lot of founders I talk to.
We see our peers being more successful than we are. And rather than see the reasons why, we simply see the massive chasm between us.
Rather than positive emotions and motivations, we get filled with jealousy, hopelessness and self-doubt; the symptoms of growth envy.
And worst of all, it can be truly depressing. When you spend your time thinking about other people’s milestones, it can make your own road feel much, much longer. Like what you’ve accomplished isn’t actually worth a damn.
In a world where most of us are already fighting a tough battle that promises to drag on for a very long time, that’s a crushing blow to your psyche.
Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple exercise that I learned from another founder that can help you take a much more productive and positive approach to seeing other people succeed.
How To Look At Other People’s Success The RIGHT Way
We’ve established that when we get growth envy, most of the time we’re doing it with very little context around the other person’s situation.
Further to that point, we’re often comparing our metrics right now to someone else’s metrics who’s a lot farther down the road than we are.
There’s a quote that I love, though I’ve seen it attributed to so many different people that I have no idea who’s ultimately responsible for it:Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Click To Tweet
How often do you compare your beginning to someone else’s middle? Or your middle to someone else’s end?
It’s a toxic, self-destructive habit.
So here’s what I’ve learned to do instead:
When you see someone more successful than you, say this phrase to yourself:
“Wow, that’s impressive. I’m excited to get there myself. How can I learn from their success?”
It might feel weird the first couple of times that you do it. But if you follow through and turn this into a habit when you see growth envy setting in, you’ll actually change the way you think.
This exercise accomplishes three very important things:
- It makes you happy for other people’s success. I can’t quantify this, and I can’t prove that it does anything. But it does. Learning to be genuinely happy for other people’s success will make you happier yourself.
- If reframes the comparison. Rather than focusing on where the other person might be, it focuses you on looking at their success as an inevitability for yourself if you keep working hard.
- It sets you up to learn and get better. Most of the valuable lessons I’ve learned in business have been from people in their “middle” helping me out in my relative beginning.
And because you’re happy for them and excited to learn, most people will be more than happy to answer questions about how they got there.
It’s Not Their Milestones That Matter, But Their Methods
At the end of the day, you get very limited value from looking at another business’ growth numbers.
But the value that you get from looking at another business’ growth strategies and tactics can be tremendous.
Rather using people’s success to compare yourself to them, use it as an indicator that there might be something valuable that you can learn from them.
Study the businesses that you otherwise might have growth envy of.
Try to understand:
- The things that they do differently from other companies who aren’t as successful.
- The ways that they’ve overcome specific challenges and growth obstacles.
- The reasons that their customers love them.
- Their strategies for growth, hiring, management, customer support, operations, etc…
That’s what I’m trying to achieve with this blog; the revenue numbers at the bottom aren’t meant to make you jealous (they’re really quite small in our market, and we have a very long way to go).
They’re meant to provide context for the lessons in the content, which I hope are far more valuable to you than our revenue tracker.
There will always be businesses bigger and more successful than yours.
But by turning your growth envy into curiosity, you can become smarter, happier and more successful.
How to Apply This to Your Business
Growth envy is a problem that eats at the confidence of many founders.
I know, because it used to eat at mine.
And I’m not perfect; I still get jealous from time to time, and when I do, it hurts me and my business.
But the lessons above have helped me get a lot better at turning growth envy into something much more positive.
And I hope it helps you, too.