Inadequate Billionaires and Facebook Depression

Recently, I had dinner with a “conscious business” consultant. Over a wedge salad and pork tostadas, he told me about his accomplishments ranging from playing professional basketball to starting two software companies. He now works with some of the wealthiest executives in America.

A while back he said he conducted a workshop with a bunch of executives who are worth $10 million or more. My friend asked them to throw up their arms and shout, “I’m powerful!”

They wouldn’t do it.

One particularly stubborn billionaire (his company is worth over $2 billion) said, “But I’m not the most powerful. There are many people who have much more money than I do. I’m simply not accomplished enough to claim that I’m powerful.”

So, here’s the thing: if a billionaire is feeling inadequate in his ability to make money, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I mean, really? A billionaire who doesn’t feel financially powerful?

The Truth: You Will Never Arrive

I spent most of my twenties striving for perfection. I’d tell myself that my life would be complete if I made a certain amount of money, bought the right car, looked like a super model, married the right man or impressed the right people. But, it was an illusion. By most people’s standards, I did make lots of money. I did buy a nice car. I achieved and achieved and achieved, but there was no end in sight. There were always people who were more accomplished. There was always a better car to buy. There was always more money to make. No matter how hard I worked, I could never get ahead.

There is always going to be someone who is…

  • Prettier than you.
  • Thinner than you.
  • Richer than you.
  • Smarter than you.
  • More talented than you.
  • Happier than you.

Blah, blah, blah.

When we get into a comparison mindset, we can’t help but feel inadequate — even when we are in the upper, upper 0.1% (like Mr. Billionaire). Your company can reach the $2 billion mark. But, hey, there’s still that competitor who’s worth $5 billion. And what about Bill Gates? It’s not like you are at his level. Guess you aren’t so special after all…

There was a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (Steers et al., 2015) that found that comparing yourself to people on Facebook is linked to depression.

Mai-Ly Steers, one of the study’s authors, says, “Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare.” Not only that, Steers concludes that this phenomena is made much worse because we 1) never know what information our friends are going to post and therefore can’t control it, 2) our friends tend to post the good and leave out the bad, making their lives seem much better than they actually are.

Now, before you delete your facebook account or unfriend everyone in sight, understand that Facebook in and of itself doesn’t cause depression. It’s the act of comparison that causes depression.

Interestingly, the study also found that it didn’t matter if you were comparing yourself to someone who was either better off or worse off than you are. Whether it’s viewing a friend’s exciting vacation photos or reading about someone struggling with cancer, just the act of comparison deflates your mood.

Steers says, “This research and previous research indicates the act of socially comparing oneself to others is related to long-term destructive emotions.”

Freeing Yourself from the Comparison Trap

How do you stop comparing?

The key is to spend more time “linking” rather than “ranking”.

In her book, The Undervalued Self, Elaine N. Aron writes about the difference between linking and ranking. She writes:

“Much of what we do every day is to compare ourselves to others and to strive for respect, influence, and power. That is, we rank ourselves among others. Equally often we link with others by expressing affection, caring, and love, to feel connected and secure. At times we combine the two, for example, by using our rank in the service of a link when we want to improve another’s live, as when we teach or advise someone or parent our children.”

Aron goes on to write:

“When we undervalue ourselves, we are ranking ourselves too low. Often we drop into an all-or-nothing feeling of worthlessness or shame as we identify with a part of our personality we would otherwise avoid — the undervalued self.”

The way I understand it is like this:

Ranking: Let’s say you go out to dinner with a colleague. During the dinner, you feel inadequate because you notice your colleague’s flashy watch and cufflinks. You associate these items with higher status. And because your watch is not nearly as expensive, you feel deflated. Now, your colleague makes it even worse by bragging about all the money he’s making and the beautiful women who are falling all over him. You make some comments about the work you’re doing and he cuts you off by saying he was doing that stuff ten years ago and already has it mastered. You immediately clam up and change the topic. You spend the rest of the dinner listening to him drone on about his stellar accomplishments and wonder why you are not nearly as far along in your career. After your dinner, you feel worthless. That’s ranking.

Linking, on the other hand, plays out this way: You go out to dinner with your colleague. You and he talk about a bunch of random topics. He leans in when you speak and acts genuinely interested. You feel heard and valued. You listen to him and value what he says and the conversation flows back and forth. It’s not about getting his approval (that would be ranking again) or him proving he’s superior, it’s about connection. It’s simply about having a fun time and enjoying each other’s company. After dinner, you feel good and connected. That’s linking.

The more you link, the better you will feel about yourself and it has the added bonus of making others feel great too. I’ve found what works for me is to talk to people without trying to prove myself or push my agenda. If I can focus on making a genuine connection and helping the other person feel valued, it seems to break down my feelings of inadequacy and all that’s left is love and curiosity. (Unless, of course, the other person is intent on making me feel small — then I have to walk away.) There is still a role for ranking (i.e. competing in sports, for jobs, for promotions or even for a life partner, and it can be exceptionally helpful in leadership roles), but too many of us focus way too much of our attention on it at the expense of our self-esteem.

A strong self-esteem comes from being who you are. I know this may sound super simplistic, but many of us forget it. What we do instead is tailor our personalities to fit the people we are surrounded by. In other words, we want approval from our comparison-seeking peers. In social situations this often goes in one of two ways: 1) we inflate our value or 2) we deflate our value. Either approach is exceptionally harmful and will leave you feeling bad.

When I meet new people and, especially, when I’m in a social scene that is intimidating, I have to constantly remind myself not to over inflate my ego or shrink. It can be scary. What if the other person doesn’t like me? What if I’m not good enough? What if I sound or look stupid? What if I can’t relate?

These comparison algorithms are constantly at work in my brain. It’s when I quiet them and focus on true connection that the magic happens.

All my love,


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Showing 4 comments
  • Steve

    Good writing, Laura! I’m reminded of Susan Sontag’s words about her book on photography: “The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only photographs.”

    I agree with you that we compare ourselves to others never in the full context of who they are—we see only “photographs,” or the individual moments, often without context, that they choose to present to the world.

    We do not use those moments as reminders of a larger and more nuanced context that is always someone’s life and circumstances. Instead, we fool ourselves into thinking that our life must collectively be filled with triumphs, purchases, and adornments.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog. Thank you for sharing, and I like how you end each one!

    • admin

      Thank you Steve. Love the quote from Susan.

  • Norman Hallett


    • admin

      Thank you Norman!

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