We are always told to be comfortable with who we are. But when it boils down to real-life situations like work and life where we are judged by our performance, we often can’t help but look over our shoulders and compare ourselves to others.
Having been a competitive water polo player for almost a decade, Isaac Chan, President of SMU Aquatic Sharks, has seen the dangers of comparison. He now aims to live by this quotation from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” which argues that comparing yourself to others will only serve to bring unhappiness.
SMU Snapshots met with Isaac to learn how he stays content, even on days where life feels like a giant contest.
Do things that make you happy
Last year, Isaac was part of the Singapore university team that came in top as water polo champions in the 18th ASEAN University Games (AUG). This was the first year that water polo was recognised as an AUG sport.
Being a niche sport in Singapore, water polo players are familiar with each other, especially if they started as young as Isaac did – playing throughout secondary school, junior college and even through national service to university.
“It’s nice because many of us have grown up playing with each other, so we all know each other well. That’s the greatest takeaway now – playing with friends whom you’ve known almost all your life.”
One way to stay content is by doing things that make you happy and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals. Studies have also found that spending time with friends is one of the most enjoyable things you can do.
“The best part about water polo, really, is being with my teammates. I still hang out with my old teammates regularly. And of course, I play water polo because I truly love the sport.”
Comparing yourself to others is a losing battle
“We should strive to be the best that we can be and to become the best versions of ourselves,” Isaac added after sharing with us his favourite line by Theodore Roosevelt. “Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.”
For someone who grew up playing competitive sports, Isaac is very intent on looking inward rather than at others.
What caused the change?
He saw how friends with good grades would compare amongst themselves and end up feeling inadequate and unhappy. Teammates who trained everyday and compared themselves to those who trained less also wound up frustrated with their performance. Isaac came to realise how this act of comparison caused people to feel down even when they were doing well.
“There’s always someone out there who is better than you,” Isaac said. “Now I just try to do my best and be happy for others while pursuing my own path. Everyone is born with a unique set of skills and everyone is different, so just go about and do your own thing. Perhaps for me that might be aquatics, and for another, it could be a passion to serve?”
In order to make the most out of life, Isaac has made the decision to compare himself only against his own achievements.
When asked if the trick is to simply focus on our own lives, Isaac elaborates.
“We still need to care about how others are doing because we must show concern for our peers. We must build a culture of care while aiming to do what we can to our best capabilities, instead of constantly comparing accomplishments.”