We all have to live our own lives. It seems patently obvious to say this, but I find that I often measure my own successes/failures in relation to other people. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless I let it escalate to comparing in a way that makes me feel inadequate. Avoiding this comparison trap isn’t merely about feeling internally content with my decisions, it’s also about the environments in which I surround myself.
Us vs. Them
I think that, to a certain degree, we all operate from a basis of comparison. If we live in the biggest house on our street, we’ll probably perceive that we’re the wealthiest, most successful people on the block.
Conversely, if we live in a house at the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible we’ll feel our abode is subpar, no matter its actual size or beauty–the key is that in juxtaposition to our neighbors, it’s the littlest. Often, we don’t think we’re lacking in something until we compare our circumstances to someone else.
This is where acknowledgment of our environment comes into play. When we’re in the thick of pitting our lives against our peers, it’s tough to maintain perspective. Is our house actually subpar or does it in fact meet our needs but just happen to be less glamorous than our neighbor’s?
I try to remind myself that, objectively, the true measure of my life is whether or not I’m content and at peace with the choices I make. Am I being helpful, friendly, and kind? Or am I allowing comparison to make me bitter and ungrateful?
One insight that helped me transform my outlook is the realization that outward appearances and material possessions in no way connote a person’s actual wealth, success–and most importantly of all–whether or not they’re a good person. There is no “goodness” metric associated with the car you drive or “nice person” calculation based on how new your clothes are (good thing too since I haven’t purchased any clothes in two years… ). It’s all completely irrelevant to the actual happiness that one experiences, and shares, on a daily basis.
The Material Possessions Comparison Trap
I’m fully aware that my 20-year-old, severely beat-up minivan likely gives people the impression that I’ve fallen on hard times or that I’m terrible with my money or that I have no pride (even I will admit that Frugalwoods-mobile has seen better days and is sporting a rather record amount of body damage… ).
But since I know all of that to be untrue about myself, who am I to ever judge another person? And in that same vein, what’s the point of contrasting my material possessions against another person’s? What do my things really say about me as a person? Not much.
There will always be someone with a newer, better, cooler gadget. Marketers and companies absolutely depend on our desire to have the latest and greatest–after all, no one actually needs to replace their phone every year or their car every five years.
Getting caught in this cycle of one-upmanship is a dangerous slope–where does it stop? There’s always more to buy and if we believe the mentality that buying yields fulfillment, we’ll buy ourselves into debt and financial oblivion (there’s just that much stuff to buy!). It’s a much happier person who acknowledges that they have enough–in whatever manifestation that may be.
The “Success As A Human Being” Comparison Trap
While I’ve moved past the temptation of comparing stuff, the challenge for me to overcome now is the folly of comparing my skills, abilities, and output as a human to other people. Whether it’s feeling like an inadequate parent (because I have no clue what I’m doing… I’m trying to soothe Babywoods’ hiccups while typing this… ) or a fear that I’m not taking enough positive risks or just plain not “achieving” enough as a person put on this earth to do things.
I have to surmount this mentality and instead embrace the idea that what I do is enough and that my self-worth shouldn’t be based around what I can accomplish in a day.
The upside of comparison is that it sometimes has the power to motivate me to do more and do better. We don’t live in a vacuum and thus comparison is inevitable, and even healthy at times, but the crucial key is to maintain perspective and balance.
I want to derive excitement and inspiration from hearing about the achievements of other people–their successes don’t limit me, rather, they should lift me up.
I find myself citing comparisons to both the external world–advertisements and the media–as well as my immediate world–my friends, colleagues, and of course… the dreaded Facebook.
A Tangent About Facebook
I have to spend a moment on Facebook here because I have a profoundly love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, I love keeping in touch with my friends and family who are scattered across the globe.
On the other hand, nothing makes me feel more inadequate than seeing other people’s shiny, happy photos of them doing shiny, happy things (especially if their kid is clean, smiling, and not trying to eat their bib… uh, looking at you, Babywoods).
There’s no doubt that Facebook is a compilation of everyone’s best moments–after all, I’m certainly not posting a photo of how I look right now (I’m wearing Mr. FW’s old bathrobe, which is badly stained, I haven’t showered yet today, and Babywoods is sprawled across my lap in what is probably a dirty diaper and what is most definitely a filthy, mismatched outfit… but I’m loathe to move her because the hiccups have stopped and she’s asleep for the moment).
Nope, instead I post pictures like these (see faux cute pics at right and above), which are a completely false representation of our daily lives. These pics of me and Babywoods capture a fragment of time in which we were both dressed, relatively clean (don’t look too closely at my hair… ), and not crying (and I do include myself in that category). Hence, these photos are an idealized version of us.
So why do I post this type of picture? For the same reason everyone else does: I want to look freaking good for the world! Who doesn’t?! I want to convey that I have my act together and that I’m a successful, joyful mommy with a cute, bubbly baby. But it’s not the whole truth. And therein is the fallacy of comparison: we never have the full truth of someone else’s life.
We might think that their fabulous vacation photos or stellar promotion or new puppy indicate that their life is going ideally, awesomely perfect. And we might even feel resentment or jealously. But why? Why torture ourselves when we have no idea what’s happening under the surface. I shudder to think that jealousy might cloud my ability to express empathy and friendship.
In the interest of being more transparent about what my life actually looks like, here’s that picture of me right now, which is a rather accurate representation of how I simultaneously work and care for my daughter. We don’t look fabulous, we don’t smell fabulous, but we’re spending time together doing what we both love: writing and snuggling.
Goal: Compare Less, Care More
I wanted to talk about this today because it’s a goal I have for myself–to compare less and to instead have deeper compassion and to reflect more inspiration and motivation. We’re all doing the best we can and we’re all profoundly flawed, imperfect, and some of us likely have baby spit-up in our hair (speaking from experience here… ).
But we’re working it and we’re enjoying life. And that’s all any of us can hope for. Instead of allowing jealousy to creep in, I’m going to focus on how happy I am to see other people succeed and how much more productive I can be if I radiate that positivity.