How and why to stop comparing yourself with other accountants

Dec 13, 2022 | Accountants, Key Business skills, Sole practitioners

Do you ever compare yourself unfavourably with your competition? ‘Imposter syndrome’ is very common, but sometimes simple logic can help us to look at things differently.

US President Theodore Roosevelt is generally considered the originator of the quote that “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

This is a powerful sentiment that, when applied carefully, can be life-changing.

When we compare ourselves to others, we are often left with feelings of inferiority or superiority—and neither feeling creates an emotionally healthy human being!  Indeed, this need to overcome imposter syndrome has been a recurring theme with some of my 1-2-1 mentoring clients.

Despite the common misconception, accountants are rarely interchangeable. Although you might all produce similar accounts and tax returns etc, the way you go about your work, your service levels and your interactions with your clients are as distinct as you are.

The more time you spend with other accountants discussing how you each do things, the more these differences become apparent. This is certainly the case when I listen to discussions among members of my Sole Practice Club.

Being aware that you are all different can also be helpful if you can determine the reasons for those differences and decide whether you are prepared to do what would be necessary to change, to achieve greater success or to overcome feelings of overwhelm. Often it is much easier to just accept that you are all different.

There have been at least two specific occasions during my speaking career when I recall comparing myself unfavourably with other speakers.  I hope you can draw on these experiences to help you stop comparing yourself unfavourably with other accountants.

I eventually learned how to do this – whilst still continuing to aspire to improve my performance.

I doubt I will ever be truly satisfied as I believe we are all always learning, but I no longer feel inadequate because I learned something very important.

In summary: Never compare your B game with someone else’s A game.

The first time it happened to me I had put together a new talk and presented it for the first time at a conference for accountants.

By all accounts(!) my talk was well received as it contained lots of valuable insights and commercial advice.

However, I remember later sitting at the back of the room watching and listening to the talk from an experienced speaker who followed on after me. I felt that the impact that I had was rubbish in comparison to theirs.

Later, during a tea break, I congratulated them on their presentation and admitted that I felt mine had paled in comparison.

They were very kind and asked how many times I had presented my talk. I admitted that it was the first outing for a new talk.

The other speaker said “In which case you did even better than I thought. That must be the hundredth time I have presented my talk”

He pointed out that I was being totally unrealistic and comparing my brand-new talk to one that had been honed to perfection over many many ‘performances’.

Something similar happened years later at the 2016 PSA annual convention when I was a main stage speaker.

I had crafted something special, relevant and new for the audience of speakers. I had rehearsed it a lot but presented it for the first time in front of a live audience on that very stage.

Afterwards, and despite high praise from friends in the audience, I didn’t feel that I had given of my best. And again somebody had to remind me that that was because I was comparing my new presentation to other talks most of which have been delivered many times before.

This time the lesson stuck: Compare like with like. A new talk will rarely be as powerful as one that has been properly field-tested.

As an accountant in practice you will rarely, if ever get the opportunity to compare your style and approach directly with that of your competitors. You may imagine what they do and how they do it. You may be tempted to believe their boastful posts on social media. You may feel inadequate in comparison. But, who is to say what is the reality? Are they even serving the same type of clients as you are?

If you are struggling to overcome imposter syndrome in any way at all, let’s have a conversation. Let’s see if I can help you regain your confidence. Often that is the major distinction between accountants who are more successful than others. Their levels of self confidence – especially if they can avoid this tipping over into arrogance – which is most certainly NOT an admirable quality!

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