Growing up, I always felt a little lost, like everyone else had more of how to do this thing called life figured out than me. I assumed everyone else knew what was going on and how to do things and I was the only dummy in the dark. I believed I was not smart enough, and I came to believe that by comparing myself to those around me.
The truth was that most other people didn’t have anything figured out any better than I did. And I eventually figured out that I am plenty smart, but, by that time, the habit of comparing myself to others was deeply ingrained. I found that there were plenty of other things I could use as a measuring stick to see how far short I fell: grades, athleticism, money, attractiveness, height, size, clothes, cars, titles, houses… I even compared how clean I kept my house, my cooking and baking skills, my etiquette, popularity and parenting skills. Everywhere I turned, there were shiny, tasty apples, and I was an orange.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy. – Theodore Roosevelt
I even find this with silly little things, like a new smartphone. I will no sooner get the latest and greatest device than bam! A new, jazzier one is released. It makes me wonder if consumerism is to blame, or if I am just a pawn in the global marketing game. But I don’t think so, really. I think that marketing and the appeal to consumerism is only effective because it appeals to something within us – two core desires:
To fit in: No one wants to be an outcast. We are hard-wired for connection, for community.
To matter: Each one of us wants to know we count, that we have significance.
The trouble is, that when we look to external trappings to meet these two core desires, it’s a black hole that is never filled. There is always someone smarter, prettier, stronger, richer, more influential… whatever. I’ll always feel that I am at a deficit and in a position of lack, as long as I look at what everyone else is or has as a measure of my worthiness or community standing.
Shame Runs Deep
I was raised in a very religious home, the daughter of a minister. As such, in addition to comparing myself on all those fronts I’ve already mentioned, I compared myself to my peers in terms of my standing as a Christian. Was I a godly wife, mother, woman? Was I “doing it right”? I made so many decisions in my life on the basis of trying to prove that I was a good person, but I always had this uneasy feeling that, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t measure up.
I also remember being a young mom with kids in school. The pressure to be a rock-star mom was enormous! And it seems to have only gotten more pronounced, as I now watch young moms try to work, be at the school every other day, make sure that the snacks and costumes are homemade, the science project is NASA-level, the kids are in designer brands and they look like they did all that in between photoshoots for a glamour magazine.
Whyyyy do we do this to ourselves?
Oh, right – I already said why.
How do you like them apples?
Well, okay, then, so what’s the solution? How do we break free from the crippling, killer comparisons?
Here are some thoughts on how we can stop hopping into the apple crate of comparison:
Only compare yourself with yourself. Just look at how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown as a person, and all that you’ve accomplished! Not as it compares to anyone else, but just you. Your journey. Your path. Find the things you have done and become that are good. Focus on that. Celebrate that.
Take control of what is yours to own and let go of everything else. Let’s say you are allergic to apples. You can spend your time bemoaning that fact and enviously watch while others eat them, or you can just let it go, and grab an orange.
Celebrate others. Sometimes, comparison leads us into envy, and instead of being happy for others and what they accomplish or have, we stay silent, as if shining light on them casts shade on us. It’s not true! You are not diminished by lifting up others. There’s enough sunshine for all of us and we’re all better when we praise each other.
Practice gratitude. The benefits of having a grateful spirit are many, but this, of all these points, will result in the most meaningful change in your mindset. Gratitude brings with it a lightness and freedom to which little else can – er – compare.
I happen to know that you’re amazing. Your body is a wonder, your mind is a marvel, and your life – despite whatever challenges and obstacles – is good. We need you, your gifts and voice and talents and skills and ideas. We’re better for having you in our lives. So you be an apple and I’ll be an orange and together, we’ll make an awesome fruit salad (okay, that was super corny, but you get the point).
Until next time, stay sharp!
Why Comparison is a Killer:
- It kills your spirit. It makes you play small and hides the real you.
- It kills your unique potential. You are not the same as anyone else. You have your own special personality, talent, and skill. You can’t be the best you when you’re trying to be somebody else.
- It kills your relationships. Comparison makes us want to hide and withdraw from those around us. We need friendships and connections, and comparison is a barrier.
- It kills your joy. Let’s say you just finished your first painting and then Picasso turns up with his; total buzzkill, right? It doesn’t have to be. Take joy in your work and your accomplishments. Let them stand for what they are: a joyful experience. Don’t let comparison rob you of your joy.