Curse of Comparisons
I admit. I compare. And I wish I didn't.
Comparing myself to another person feels like either a depressing defeat because I've deemed myself in a worse state than my contemporary or a cheap victory because I've judged myself as better off at the expense of another.
I wish I had a story about how I conquered the need to compare. I don't.
I wish I could flick an off switch when comparisons start up. I can't.
So I'm not going to make any attempts to discourage you from comparing yourself to others because the compulsion to compare is as strong as the resistance to forgive. You must deal with it WHEN it shows up, one compulsion at a time. And it will show up. But you already know that. You also know that you shouldn't do it, but you do it anyways, and that's where we'll start.
We live in a competitive world that has conditioned us to make judgments about ourselves by assessing others. Not comparing is counter to our conditioning.
Naturally, someone will be the fastest, the slowest, the tallest, the shortest, the meanest, or the coolest. And there'll be degrees that fall in between both extremes. But when we compare, we make harmful, critical judgments about ourselves in relation to where we fall on the spectrum of circumstances.
Comparing can injure self-esteem and self-worth, but there's something we can do now to quiet it and to even make the impulse work in our favor.
A slew of articles and quotes, and talks on comparing share a common message: those that you think are better off than you are human and suffering (in some way) just like you, even if you can't see the suffering. And, your situation could be worse, like many others.
The message is true. But understand that the message, meant to uplift with the promise that you are not alone, also centers around the commonality of hardship.
Feeling good based on someone else's struggles or flaws doesn't properly deal with our feelings of insecurity, disappointment, failure, or not belonging.
I'd rather feel good because I am good. I want feeling better about my life to be powered by the strength of my happiness instead of someone else's unhappiness.
Even knowing this, I don't always rise to this higher level.
When I feel like I'm about to lose a comparison, my go-to one-up is telling myself I probably have better credit than the person I'm comparing myself to.
Just this weekend at Memorial Park there was a beautiful woman walking while pushing her baby stroller. She had a great body, long strides, thick hair beautifully braided into a ponytail, dewy skin, and a gorgeous face. She looked like the type with whom you'd associate a perfect life. I'm sure her credit is great, too.
After taking stock in my own underwhelming workout look, I noticed that she was barely pigeon-toed and I found myself a little triumphant to have found, what I regarded as, a chink in her armor. I wasn't as gleeful as people who live to call out misspelled words, but still a little happy.
Then I wondered: what if her life really was as perfect as her skin? Why not be happy for her?
It was beyond absurd that I thought I'd found a flaw. Right then I made a choice to be happy for all her gorgeousness and finish my workout, which was far more productive a thing to do.
While it's true that we have our individual challenges, what if someone's life is as close to idyllic as it seems? What if someone has things come easy to them with no extraordinary concerns to speak of? What if someone else's misery or your perceived superiority could not be used to even the scales? Then what?
We should fight the urge to make ourselves feel better by comforting our egos with the suffering of others. But we should make ourselves feel better by focusing our attention on what we can be grateful for now and working to make our circumstances better.
If you're over 30 and single, then you probably know a lot about relationship comparison, especially of people you view as less worthy or deserving than yourself.
How many times have you asked yourself how someone that you find so reprehensible can be in a relationship, yet you remain single?
Or, oppositely, how many times have you evaluated yourself as good and deserving as anyone else in a relationship, yet you remain single?
How many times have you asked how in the world can someone be on marriage number 3 and you not even have a prospect for marriage number 1?
I know because it's a real struggle.
The curse of comparisons is that you, in the most counterproductive and toxic ways, minimize attributes of your life instead of tending to them.
When you feel the need to compare bubble up, here's how you use it to your advantage:
1. Let it serve you as a reminder (or a kick in the pants) to take the next step towards building your life.
2. Silently and sincerely wish the other person well in their life.
3. Compare yourself with your best self. Whether your best self existed before or your best self is ahead of you, think about that person and how to get there.
4. Find reasons to be grateful for what you have and who you are now.
I'm trying to get better at shifting my attention away from the game of comparisons to figure out how to make my life what I want it to be. This is the key to tending to your own garden.
Your plants don't benefit from you tending to your neighbor's garden. The flowers don't get watered, the soil doesn't get toiled, and the herbs don't appreciate your misplaced attention. Keep working at your life. Focus on your blooms.
Will we ever stop comparing ourselves to others? I believe the answer is: only when life makes us. Life has a straightforward way of reorganizing our priorities.
Continue reminding yourself that you're doing ok.
Nothing compares to you. - Prince, Sinead O'Connor, and me.
Photo credit: Sean Kelly via CC Flickr