How do you know how well you are doing unless you compare yourself against what other people are doing? Some say that we should just be content with who we are but, how do you know who you are unless you compare yourself to who you are not?

We all use the circle of comparison to gauge our own degree of success or failure. To not do so can lead to the X Factor syndrome where our isolation can lead to the problem of thinking we’re much better than we actually are! To measure ourselves against others, we often use three different circles of comparison.

THE BIG CIRCLE
Firstly, we can create such a big circle of comparison that we stick every legend that’s ever lived within it. There’s two problems with doing this – firstly, it’s incredibly unfair on you. Their starting point in life was very different from yours, not to mention their giftings, purpose, time in history as well as the unique set of unusual circumstances that surrounded them. Secondly, if they’re a ‘legend’ then generally what you’ve heard about them isn’t really the entire truth. There’s a thing called the ‘halo effect’ that causes us to think that if they’re good at one thing, they’ve also got a great marriage and probably never had need of a dentist. The ‘halo effect’ makes everyone look more successful than a person actually was. It creates testimonies like ‘I started with nothing’, when the truth was they started with a great team and a big secret inheritance! The good news for our souls though, is that we limit how many people we put in our large circle of comparison – enough to make us feel small, but not so much to crush us! A small degree of ignorance is bliss.

THE SMALL CIRCLE
The second circle of comparison is often the most deadly. It’s quite a small circle that only includes those who are struggling a bit at the time of our comparison!

They say that happiness isn’t earning millions, but just a bit more than your wife’s sister’s boyfriend! Humans get a kick out of being a little wealthier, a little wiser and a little more spiritual than those around about them. If pride had an incubator, then this is it!

THE INFINITELY SMALL CIRCLE
The third circle of comparison is the infinitely small one – so small in fact , that only you can fit inside it. The trick is to keep reducing the circle by excluding everyone with a different age profile, different starting position, different gift mix, different calling and different set of abilities and disabilities. Eventually – you’re the only one left standing! In this circle you’re royalty! You’re an original! It’s not Gold, Silver or Bronze that counts, it’s PB – your Personal Best.

RUBBISH AND ROYALTY
You’ll never get away from the fact that in some circles you’re going to feel like rubbish, and in others you’re going to feel like royalty. It’s managing these two emotions that is the key to great success in life.

To feel unimportant and under-recognised by others is the only fuel we can ever take to the eternal flame of the love of God. Before Jesus had accomplished anything worthy of reporting and at the age of 30 when many of his friends had moved up the ladder of success, the Father had something to say – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17). God was declaring his real identity – an identity based on relationship and not on performance. And it’s this intimacy with Christ that changes everything – that a God so big should grace a speck so small.

We don’t need New Year’s resolutions as much as new identity revelations! Stop asking God what you should do when the answer is in who you should be – His. Forever. Covered. Valued. Forgiven. Called. Protected. Sent.

MAKE FAILURE A FRIEND
Because we see small as a possible sign of failure, we’ve developed some self protection to avoid it. It’s called cynicism – bringing other people down to a less intimidating level. Fault-finding and sarcasm are signs of our own inability to be comfortable with small. All of us have a fear of failure that we need to beat. They say that golf professionals will try harder and succeed more when they are one over par than one under par. Their fear of failure is greater than their actual will to win.

It’s time to make friends with failure. Failure means we gave life a go. To no longer fear it is to know that our true value isn’t in success but in our new identity as a child of God.

NO MORE KARAOKE
To celebrate our royalty is to invite a revelation that there’s no one like us on the planet. We’re tailor made, bespoke, perfectly placed and fully equipped to do all God has called us to do. The more you embrace your originality, the more you exercise your gifting, the greater your success will be. Beware of Karaoke – trying to be who you’re not.

The secret to life is to embrace both small and special, both rubbish and royalty. If you neglect taking your smallness to Jesus you’ll shrivel up. If you spend too much time on being royal, you’ll swell up. We all need to live with these two conflicting emotions, using them as fuel for the fire of God’s love and power.

SELL THE BOXSTER
Ok, and by the way, if you do earn that little bit more than your wife’s sisters boyfriend, or if you find yourself in a remarkable summer season, don’t gloat. All you have ever received is by grace and not by works. Be generous to others in need, help those who are helpless and avoid at all costs the evil of pride. Remember the scripture that says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ James 4:6.

Recently a rich man by the name James Hong sold his Porsche Boxster and bought a Toyota Prius. He’d made a lot of money from the internet and had become good friends with the founder of Peypal who was worth tens of millions of pounds. No matter how much money he had, someone else had that little bit more, and he was simply never satisfied. He decided that the craziness of his circle of comparison was just two much for him. So he broke it by buying a Toyota.

He said “I don’t want to live the life of a Boxster, because when you get a Boxster all you wish for is a 911. And you know what people want when they’ve got a 911 – they wish they had a Ferrari,” The more you have – the more you need.

It’s time to be content with our smallness, celebrate our specialness and squash our hidden areas of smugness. There lies the keys to great success.