Since her spellbinding TED Talk, sociologist Brene Brown has become one of the most recognized leaders in discussing our emotional intelligence (EQ). Her latest book, Rising Strong, has one gem in particular that speaks to an entrepreneur dilemma:

If there's one thing I've learned over the past decade, it's that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed or ranked. [However,] the refugee in Syria doesn't benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who's going through a divorce.

Comparative suffering is when you look at someone having a challenge and minimize their experience compared to the rough time you've had. Sound familiar? It is the jealousy towards the new hot shot that got serious funding and press overnight compared to the long haul it required for you to do the same, or the anger at the entrepreneur who only had to live on ramen noodles for a few months compared to the years you did. We hold our uncomfortable moments like a badge of honor, and can be quick to rank and file others who we feel as though didn't pay their dues. 

This means the reverse is true, too: You may make a significant stride towards your business goal, but don't celebrate or honor it because it feels small compared to what another person has done.

It is about emotional intelligence, or the ability to manage ourselves and take other people's perspectives into account while not being blinded by what we are feeling at the moment.


The rub is that we all have our challenges and they are all relative by their very nature. My app Cuddlr took off like a rocket while I was the main one at home changing my son's diapers. Elon Musk just had his record-breaking Tesla 3 launch as he was filing for divorce. And Steve Jobs reportedly blueprinted the next several years of Apple on his deathbed. I'm sure you have your own stuff. None of us has it easy. 

To be honest, programming and launching my first app, So Quotable, was harder than later launching my successfully acquired app, Cuddlr, simply because the challenges the first time around felt that much more insurmountable, just as my toddler looks at a set of stairs the same way I would view a 5 mile run.

On the outset, though, So Quotable seemed like small potatoes, and it was sometimes hard for me to honor the seemingly small victories, like getting the app to load properly onto the store or finally finding an annoying bug in the program. It was tough to overcome the insecurities in my head, and I know enough remarkably successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that, if I didn't avoid the comparative suffering trap, I would have been debilitated to the point of quitting. 

How are you holding other entrepreneurs down by secretly or even loudly minimizing their work? And how are you holding down yourself?