It was mid-March in Minnesota and our State was given the unusual gift of a balmy 70 degree weekend. Keep in mind that the week before we had been fighting freezing temperatures, and only a few days would pass before we would see snow flakes fly again.
But for one glorious weekend, we Northerners basked in the wonder of the moment.
The streets and sidewalks were bustling with activity, filled with runners and bikers, parents pushing strollers, and dogs taking their owners for walks. The sound of adult laughter mixing with children’s playful shouts echoed through the neighborhood.
The sunlight beckoned and it seemed like EVERYONE was outside enjoying its warm embrace.
Well, almost everyone.
Unfortunately, just as the weather began to warm up, our family was hit with a nasty upper respiratory virus. A virus with symptoms that took about three weeks to fully recover from.
So while it felt like the entire population of the North Star State was outside having fun, we were on voluntary quarantine inside our house. Needless to say, I was a little cranky about our dismal predicament.
Banished to the confines of our home, I decided to browse the internet to help pass the time. Facebook was my first stop. As I began scrolling through my news feed, a caption that a friend had posted caught my eye.
I’m ashamed to admit that my already cantankerous attitude became even more ornery after reading her post.
Can you believe that she had the audacity to post some exciting and wonderful news?! How dare she?!
The truth is, my friend was enjoying success in an area of her life that I was also striving in, but for some reason, her post made me feel terribly inadequate.
Now before you think I’m a dreadful person, I want to clarify that I was actually very happy for this talented woman. I didn’t wish away her success or secretly hope she would fail.
Come on… I hope you all know me better than that!
But here’s the thing, Instead of just being happy and excited for her good news, I made the regrettable decision to compare myself and my situation to hers.
My conclusion? I did NOT measure up.
I was acutely aware of all the great qualities that she brought to the table, and at the same time nit-picked and belittled my own. I found myself wondering: “Why can’t I get motivated enough to be that successful?” “She obviously has qualities that I will never possess.” “Why am I even attempting this?”
Writing these words now, I am painfully aware that they were totally irrational and unproductive thoughts. But let’s be real. We have all been there at some point, haven’t we?
Comparing ourselves to others tends to lead us down this path. And it’s usually an unpleasant and troublesome trail.
The fact is there will ALWAYS be someone who is more successful, smart, ambitious, talented, good-looking, etc. And if we’re busy comparing ourselves to them, we will constantly feel less than adequate.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through life feeling like that.
The good news? There is a cure for this pesky compulsion to compare!
1. Be Realistic
I recently heard a speaker share on the topic of body image. One of her first points about having a positive self-image was to have realistic expectations.
She mentioned that as a culture we are inundated with unrealistic images on a constant basis. For example, the majority of bodies that we see portrayed in the media are not even physically attainable by about 95% of the population!
The sad thing is that while we may know in our minds that what we are comparing ourselves to isn’t realistic, we often still strive for it anyway.
How often do we do the same thing in other areas of our lives?
Let me give you a personal example. I am not a highly organized, super task driven, Type A personality. I would much rather get together with a friend or go to the park on a play-date with my kids than dive full force into completing a project.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t ever get things done. I GET THINGS DONE! It’s just often done in a round-about, highly relational kind of way.
However, if I base my self-esteem or success as a person by comparing myself to my wonderful Type A, extremely organized friends, I will always come out wanting.
It’s not that I can’t strive to be a little more organized and efficient with my time and energy. We all have areas we can work on! But, honestly, it would be unrealistic and a dis-service to myself (and to the people in my life) to try to be someone who I’m not.
I will probably never have an immaculate house, but there will ALWAYS be an open invitation for you to come and hang out with me anyway. You just may have to move a few Lego’s and unsorted socks out of your way.
2. Be Thankful For What You Do Have
Instead of focussing on and lamenting over the things that we don’t have, we need to embrace and celebrate the things that we have been blessed with!
Every person has a unique personality, abilities, and experiences that are different from anyone else. We each have things that we excel in. And EVERYONE has something that they can contribute to the world around them.
I love music and really enjoy singing (even if it’s only belting out tunes for myself in the shower!) I used to watch American Idol, and I still like to catch episodes of “The Voice” when the opportunity arises.
I am continually amazed at how many talented singers there are, and how beautifully unique each voice is.
But what if those artists had decided not to audition and chose to never sing their songs, just because they didn’t sound like last year’s winner? Sadly, the world would be robbed of the opportunity to experience and enjoy those talented individuals. And the artists would miss out on the opportunity to uniquely shine in an area of personal excellence.
The same principle can apply to any area of life! Whether it’s how you work, or parent, or spend your leisure time, we all bring different strengths to the many circumstances of life.
Instead of comparing ourselves to others and wishing we had what they had, or down-playing what we have to offer, we can choose to boldly and thankfully embrace the special talents and personal traits that we have each been given.
When we choose to put our own “unique voices” into practice, we have the opportunity to shine in our own right!
3: Bring Your Best
Comparing ourselves to others rarely brings out the best in us. It creates a natural competitiveness that is usually less than friendly. Either we are dogging ourselves because we don’t measure up, or we are insecurely bolstering our own ego by pointing out someone else’s faults or misfortunes.
Neither of these are healthy or productive.
Look, there will always be someone who is better or worse than you at something. That’s not the point. The point is, that we need to strive to be the best that WE can be at whatever it is we are pursuing. You don’t have to BE the best to BRING YOUR BEST!
I was a runner in high school. When I think back on my years in Track and Field there are two girls that usually come to my mind. Surprisingly, they were not the fastest or the most talented athletes on our team. In fact, they were basically the opposite of that!
They were sisters, both of them short, and even a little on the husky side. They were NOT very fast. Actually, it wasn’t uncommon for them to take last place in their running events.
But those girls brought something to our team that was more profound than first place finishes. They brought heart and determination. They never gave up, despite their inability to win races.
We all knew that they were far from the best athletes on our team, and yet they never hesitated to BRING THEIR OWN PERSONAL BEST when they competed on the track.
While I have a lot of admiration for the girls who worked hard and really excelled in their particular events, it’s the memory of those sisters that really inspires me to keep running on the days when I feel like It would be easier to just quit.
Likewise, if we are willing to bring our best to the table – however inadequate it may seem in the moment – we may be surprised at the impact it ends up having in the world around us.
I will probably never be a contestant on “The Voice” or make a multi-platinum record, but I can belt out the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” like nobody’s business, and that brings joy and significance into the lives of my children and to my job as a parent.
I will also probably never be a New York Times Best Selling Author, and may never have a blog post that ever goes viral. But if my words have a positive impact on even one reader, then it was worth the time and effort it took to to put them on paper.
The temptation to compare ourselves to others will always be around. But we have a choice. We can succumb to the compulsion or curb it before it drags us down that dead-end trail. Having realistic expectations, thankfully embracing who we are and what we have to offer, and bringing our best to our life circumstances is a great place to start!
apples and oranges don’t compare. Picture credit: en.wikipedia.org