How Comparison Steals Your Joy

Photo by  Fares Hamouche  on  Unsplash

I was reflecting about how I tend to despise my natural limitations instead of accepting them, and this graphic representation came to mind.  I hope you can gain some personal insights from it.

How it works

When I accurately see myself the way I am, with a realistic view of my strengths and limitations, I can have self-respect and a healthy appreciation for myself.

The problem comes when I get fixated on a fantasy version of who I think I should be.  In that version, my strengths are exaggerated, and my weaknesses are ignored or hidden.  It’s unrealistic, but I’m more attracted to that version.  And then when I see my Real Self in comparison to my Fantasy Self, I wind up disliking myself because I don’t measure up.  The result is deep-seated unhappiness with my core identity.

Entire industries spend multiple billions of dollars each year to convince you that you don’t yet measure up to the Fantasy Self.  They don’t mind damaging your self-esteem just so you’ll buy their products to improve yourself.  Pretty sick, huh? 

Social media makes it even worse by broadcasting images that only show our best moments and hide our real struggles.

And if you’re a high-achiever, you might be naturally prone to setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and others.

What can you do?

One plan of attack is to identify the sources that contribute to your Fantasy Self.  A short list might include: entertainment, advertisements, past messages from your family of origin, condescending friends, certain corporate cultures, and your social media feed.  

Ask yourself if these influencers are making you feel better or worse about your Real Self, and then manage or eliminate them. It’s not easy because we’re barraged every day, but a few key choices can make a big difference.

The second approach is to get a good understanding of who you really are – self-awareness.  Do the work using assessments, a coach, and feedback from friends and coworkers to get an accurate view of your strengths and limitations.  And then learn to love and accept yourself for who you are.

What’s interesting is that the better you know your Real Self, the easier it becomes to see (and reject) your Fantasy Self. 

I’ve heard it said that when currency experts are trained to identify counterfeit money, they don’t study the infinite ways the money can be imitated. Instead, they study the unique characteristics (paper type, colors, inks, images, etc.) of legitimate currency. Then if they see that one aspect is altered, they know the bill in question isn’t authentic.

The same principle applies here.  Get to know the real, legitimate you, and it becomes easier to spot the voices trying to make you into a phony.

How about you? What’s one comparison you can eliminate this year to increase your joy level?

Are Your Strengths Hurting Your Results?

Coach Pete Strengths Blog .jpeg

(Check out this sample excerpt from a coaching session)

Client: “I just love strategic planning. When my team lays out their goals and barriers, I can very quickly see the way forward. It’s like I intuitively know which path will work and which ones won’t.

Coach Pete: “That’s great. What’s the best part of that for you?”

Client: “It just brings me a lot of pleasure to contribute my best work. And there are times that I get so excited because I was the first one to see it and I just know it will work out. I feel like I’m ‘in my zone.’”

Coach Pete: “Is there any downside to that excitement?”

Client: “Well, now that you mention it, it can also be frustrating. Sometimes the answers come so fast I have a hard time verbalizing them. And when my coworkers don’t see the answers as quickly as I do, I lose patience with them and can cut them off when they want to keep discussing it. One time, someone even said I come off as condescending. I think it’s getting in the way of my career advancement.”

Perhaps this person works with you, or maybe it is you. On the one hand, you might really appreciate these “super powers,” and on the other hand, you find them “super annoying!”

Why is that?  What makes a talent so valuable in one situation, but then not so helpful — maybe even harmful — in another? The answer lies in knowing when: when to feature your talents, and when to hold back until a more opportune time comes along.

“To the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”  

- Mark Twain

Have you heard this quote before? It shows our tendency to over-use one our strengths. When we realize that we can help in one situation, we try the same approach in every situation.

In the example above, the client knew she was doing her best work when using her powerful “hammer” talent of strategic thinking. Subconsciously, she thought, “What would make the session even better? Even MORE strategic thinking!” However, seeing the solution is one thing, but building a team consensus around the solution is a separate process. The client didn’t realize the effect that her excitement was having on her coworkers. She needed self-awareness to know when to let her strategic thinking shine, and when to put it on the back burner until everyone else could get up to speed.

This exact scenario might not register with you personally, but people overplay their strengths in a variety of ways. Consider this short list of examples:

  • The harmonizer loves to help find a consensus and make peace. But, overused, they can squelch dissent and kill difficult discussions that sometimes need to happen.

  • Someone with a commanding presence is invaluable during times of chaos to clear confusion and set direction. But, when things are stable, they can be abrasive and overbearing.

  • Analytical types are great when the team needs accuracy and thorough insights. Not so much when a quick “good-enough” decision needs to be made.

  • You need creative idea people when you’re innovating and pioneering. But those same traits can be disruptive when your team is in strict execution mode.

  • The ability to enforce policies consistently across an organization leads to sense of fairness and stability. Taken too far though, it becomes rigid, even when flexibility is needed.

  • Personalized attention to develop a customized solution will delight a client. But, that approach won’t scale if your team wants to reach a broad market.  

Making it work

So how can you find balance? Anyone can develop the ability to manage their talents, but you’ll probably need some help along the way. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Self-awareness. You need to be able to clearly understand and articulate your talents. After all, you can’t manage them if you don’t know which ones you have.  Having a clear framework and a language to describe them is crucial.

  2. Gallup CliftonStrengths is a good place to start. Their new report format has some big changes that are worth checking out. If you took the assessment a while ago, dust it off and go online to get the Full 34 report. It’s filled with new insights customized to your unique strengths combination.

  3. Get coached around your strengths. I’ve seen firsthand how my clients gain huge insights from the WeAlign approach in order to maximize their strengths and manage their weaknesses (disclaimer: I’m a WeAlign Certified Coach and partner).

  4. Find an accountability partner to give you feedback when they see you overusing your strengths. Actively solicit their observations when you work together.

  5. Practice. And be patient with yourself. You may not see immediate changes, but over time, anyone can increase their self-awareness. Like any other skill, if you stick with it long enough you can get good at it.

Which of your strengths might you be overusing? Did any of the scenarios listed above touch a nerve? Has anyone ever told you to tone it down a bit? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the subject.

My Day with the Relief Bus

I’m taking a break from my normal blog to highlight a non-profit that I believe in, New York City Relief. They’re doing really great work with the homeless in New York and New Jersey.

NYC Relief is super effective in training and deploying volunteers. I just finished my fifth trip with them, and each experience has been worthwhile and fulfilling. Getting right into the mix to hear these people’s stories, lending a hand, and just showing some kindness has taught me a lot about the common needs we all have.

Handing out socks, hygiene kits, and offering prayer

Handing out socks, hygiene kits, and offering prayer

Making new friends - you definitely get back more than you give.

Making new friends - you definitely get back more than you give.

David is a Bahamian immigrant who works a security job, but arthritis in his ankle forces him to use crutches and he can no longer walk his rounds. He was thankful to get soup and bread to help cut costs so he can pay his (subsidized) rent. And he was grateful to receive prayer for his ankle, but mostly he was glad to just be able to tell his story to someone who was willing to connect with him and appreciate him.

Maria was one of several mothers who come to get bread, socks, and anything else we have to help her family. When I asked her if she would like us to pray for anything, it was all about the needs of others - not for herself. These women are doing their best to hold their families together against tough odds, and I have huge respect for them.

Shiv struggles with alcoholism. He hates it and wants to quit, but hasn’t beaten it yet. He’s currently living on the street because he’s had bad experiences in shelters. He has a family in LA that cares and prays for him. He really hopes things can turn around. The Relief Bus is able to direct him a number of services for housing healthcare, work, and addiction treatment.

It’s far too convenient for me to lump people into a category like “homeless,” especially in New York. But I try to remember that we’re all people, and we all need dignity and respect. Each one has a story, and very few chose the circumstances that landed them in their situations.

I count it a privilege to be used by God to share his love and care for each of the people He loves so much.

Here’s their home page
Here’s how to support them

If you live in the greater NYC area, I highly recommend volunteering on the Relief Bus sometime soon. It’s well run, safe, and the experience will give you a new perspective on life.

The Two Maps Every Business Needs

Pete Cafarchio Treasuremap.jpg

There’s an old Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs,” which summarizes the fact that life doesn’t always go as planned. Entrepreneurs and startup pioneers know this truth especially well. In fact, having led several startups myself, I’ve come to expect that the path to success will almost never be what I had originally planned. That introduces a quandary into my planning process - since I know that the plan won’t ultimately work out, why should I even try to make a detailed plan? Granted, that sounds silly, but for someone who isn’t a natural planner to begin with, it’s caused me a good amount of angst. But somewhere along the way, I discovered a metaphor that really helped me make sense of things: effective planning requires both a Treasure Map and a Road Map approach.

Treasure Map

Think of the treasure maps you’ve seen in fictional stories. They’re sketchy, not drawn to scale, show a circuitous route from landmark to landmark, and sometimes have hidden clues along the way. When you follow a treasure map, you’re in for an adventure, and it’s not for the faint of heart or those who get hung up on details. And when the going gets tough, it’s the allure of discovering the treasure that helps the explorers persevere. I can’t think of a more fitting metaphor for the journey of growing an early-stage company. Even though there are general success principles to follow, the path doesn’t come with clear instructions - it’s a journey with only vague milestones for guidance, and plenty of learning opportunities and plot twists along the way. The treasure map approach has some real limitations when it comes to planning. When it comes to execution, your team needs a solid plan with action steps, timelines, and measurable goals. A treasure map provides none of those.

Road Map

A road map approach reflects a very different mentality. Think of the maps app on your smartphone. It calculates the fastest, most direct route possible with step by step, turn by turn, directions. It tells you exactly what to do, and when to do it. Your expectation is efficiency, accuracy, and no surprises. And when things get confusing, it serves as a reference guide for the team to keep executing on the plan. When it comes to operational planning and execution, a road map mentality works well. Seeing the end from the beginning helps the workers plot incremental steps for success. Budgets, timelines, and resource planning all contribute to ensuring the plan runs as smoothly as possible. However, over-reliance on the road map approach isn’t wise for early-stage companies. Your team can get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. And when a major disruption comes (and one will – count on it), the plan will need to be modified and the previous efforts that went into planning the details get wasted.

True Story

Take the example of one of my startups to see how these dynamics play out. We were the first commercial anti-spyware company back in the early 2000s, and we built the company from zero to $16 million in revenue in just three short years. Sounds great, but we had to make some major pivots along the way. Our team knew the anti-virus industry players very well, so we thought that working with them would be the obvious path to success, but that wasn’t the case. Neither the vendors nor their end users wanted to admit that their existing AV products didn’t catch spyware trojans, so our positioning strategy quickly hit a brick wall. Ultimately we found a different pathway to success (contact me if you want the details), and we wound up getting acquired for a healthy multiple by an industry giant. Now, if our team had only used a road map approach, we would have given up when we hit those dead ends, because they looked like an apparent failure. The treasure map mentality allowed us to pick up some fresh clues along the way and follow a non- obvious path. If we only had a visionary treasure map mentality, we wouldn’t have executed well enough to drive up the revenue so quickly. Our chances of getting acquired would have been greatly decreased.

Getting Practical

The reality is that you need a high-level vision and you need tight execution. It’s not an either/or scenario; it’s both/and. So here’s my recommendation the next time your team has a planning session. First, lay out your treasure map the way you think it will work out over the long haul (multiple years). Identify your big landmarks along the way, and define what the treasure is at the end of the journey. (Tip: this exercise is great if you use non-traditional, visual methods to build that map – dream big and have fun!).

Second, identify the next landmark/milestone on the treasure map. That might be the next product ship date, when you acquire a certain # of customers, or simply the next calendar quarter. Whatever it is, don’t let it extend beyond three to six months.

Third, map out a detailed execution plan (your road map) between the planning session and that milestone. Consider expenses, realistic revenue projections, resources needed, timelines, and use best practices project planning. Don’t plan beyond the stated Milestone.

Now, go execute according to the road map. And stick to the plan. New opportunities will arise. Disruptions will come. You might get bored. It doesn’t matter - stick with the plan. Unless there’s a real situation that threatens the very viability of your entire company (very rare), everyone sticks with the plan.

When you reach the milestone (or even if you missed it), pause and do your planning again. Debrief with your key stakeholders. What part of the road map worked? What didn’t? What did we learn? What do we need to change? What do we need to keep on doing?

Now go back to the treasure map. View the answers to the debriefing questions in the previous step as if they are the clues that you needed to gather along the way in order to discover your next landmark. Get agreement on what the next landmark should be, and repeat the cycle all over again.

Next Steps / Challenge to Action

In the end, the maps are more than just guidance tools - they reflect different mentalities. Knowing which mentality to adopt for which purposes will go a long way in charting your path and leading your team to success. I hope you found this helpful. Let me know what’s worked for you – I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Want to hear more of my thoughts about these two maps? Watch my video below.

Coach Pete explains the differences between "road map" planning and "treasure map" planning, along with the benefits of using both for your startup.

Brokering "Ah-ha" moments


One of the best parts of coaching is helping clients discover new ways of thinking.  There are moments during a session when a brilliant flash of understanding breaks in on their mind, and they suddenly see things from a completely different vantage point. People use different terms to describe this phenomenon such as “revelation,” “epiphany,” or even “prophetic.”

No matter what term you use, it’s become one of my favorite aspects of coaching. Especially when my client is the one producing the “ah-ha” moment on their own and I’m just the facilitator.

After I reflected on my many coaching engagements, I noticed five different patterns of ways these tend to occur.

  1. When my client is stuck in a certain situation and I’m able to suggest a new perspective that they hadn’t considered before. That opens up new ways of thinking which rapidly spawns fresh insights on how to get unstuck. Mind blown!

  2. After listening to all the component parts of a situation, sometimes I can connect the dots in a different way than my client had been associating them. Same facts + new relationships between the facts = new outcomes.

  3. At times I’m an editor. As a neutral party I can help them selectively delete what isn’t critical as they sort through an issue. By the time we’re done only the essential factors remain, and the path forward becomes crystal clear.

  4. Retelling the narrative of their past.  Past events don’t have intrinsic power - it’s your narrative of those events (the story and meaning that you ascribe to them) that holds the power.   I have a gift to help people consider alternative explanations, and at times it’s truly transformational.

  5. My favorite of all these has to be when I get to call out someone’s destiny.  Clients know when that moment connects because it reverberates in their soul. They get that sense of “This is what I was born for - my purpose in life.” In the midst of that clarity, peripheral issues quickly take a back seat and it becomes obvious what needs to take priority as they move forward.

In reality, these moments don’t just happen in isolation. They usually sneak up unannounced in the midst of a coaching engagement. But when they come, they literally have the power to change a life.

Just another reason I decided to become a coach.

How about you?  Was there a time when an “Ah-ha” moment changed the way you think?  Tell us about it below.

Three Ways to get More Focus and Discipline

I am NOT naturally gifted in either focus or discipline (just ask my wife).  So why did I decide to blog about them? First of all, I have huge appreciation for people who are strong in them. And second, there are important life lessons you can learn when you have to operate in your areas of weakness.

In this blog I talk about ways to stop beating yourself up for what you’re not, and find other strategies to help supplement your weaknesses. These principles work for any area where you may lack natural talent. I hope they help you as you watch the short video below.

Five Mental Hacks to Help You Delegate Better


I've recently coached several clients through some barriers they have when it comes to delegating.  It's interesting how the same issues come up over and over again across different settings and with different people.  So I thought I'd share some of the insights that I've picked up along the way.

One particularly significant shift happened along the lines of issue #5 in this week's video blog.  Despite logic, encouragement, and setting multiple deadlines my client just could not let go of a certain role he was filling.  So instead, we devised a new role and new title for him that would bring him into the next phase of his life.  He agreed he didn't have the energy to do both, so as he embraced his new role he willingly let go of the old one, and only then was he happy to delegate it to someone else.

I hope the insights in this video give you a new way of looking at things, especially where you might be stuck holding on to things that you should hand off to someone else.

How about you?  Do you struggle with any of the five issues in the video? How about one that's not on the list?  Please share any insights you've gotten so the rest of us can benefit from your experiences.

Blessings on you.

How to get your ideas unstuck

Does this scenario sound familiar?  "I have a great idea, and a vague picture of how to make it happen, but it’s not crystal clear to me.  I’m fuzzy on the details.  So I’m going to think about it some more until I can get more clarity."  Then one, three, or even five years later you’re still thinking about the same idea and haven’t done anything about it.

That’s me.  And that happens far more often that I’d like to admit.  Here’s why...

To stay inspired, download the "Action Begets Clarity" poster here

Success In Every Season


Lately, I find myself looking forward to the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall.  Manhattan is an odd culture - the place pretty much shuts down over the summer.  Or at least it slows way down.  Lots of people leave for months at a time to escape the crowded city craziness that you learn to both love and hate.

So summer is not what you would call a “productive” season business-wise.  People aren’t setting aggressive goals, they are harder to reach due to travel, and they don’t make many spending decisions.  

When I was in IT sales, Summer was always the lowest revenue quarter.  We would often get frustrated because the leaders setting revenue projections didn’t take into account seasonal variations, so it looked like we underperformed during the summer.  Every.  Single.  Year. 

Thankfully, over time the CEO finally saw the pattern and learned to adjust expectations accordingly.  And that right there illustrates an important key to satisfaction -  know what season you’re in, and make realistic goals that consider the unique variations.

Notice I didn’t say LOWER you expectations.  Instead, I suggest a SHIFT.  If you know that your business cycle slows down in summer, then take advantage of that time to shore up critical systems, marketing materials, and customer service processes.   If you go to a lot of industry conferences in the Spring, then combine your travel with visits to key customers.

Things get a lot easier when you learn to work with the rhythms and season of life.  Those variations are a gift.  But if you fight against them expecting consistent performance all the time, you’ll be constantly frustrated.  And I don’t want you to be frustrated.

So what about you?  Is there a certain period each year that you’ve come to dread?  Write it down. What’s unique about that season?  What is it trying to tell you?  Now ask yourself - how have your expectations been fighting against the natural rhythm?  And finally, how can you adjust your expectations and activities to leverage that season to your advantage?

Bonus tip: this works in all areas of life - not just business.

I wish you well.