(One of my best friends from Chicago shared the above quote with me a long time ago, when we worked side-by-side in a tiny downtown office overlooking Michigan Avenue. We met as strangers fresh out of college -- eager to make a difference, passionate about words, curious about our faith-- and when we both moved on to other endeavors, stayed close. She is a soulmate friend; we don't talk or see each other as frequently as we'd like, but when it happens, it's like no time has passed at all. And every time I read or hear this quote, I think of her, grateful for our deep connection and the different things she's taught me.)
In today's world, it's easy and tempting and common to get distracted by how something looks instead of how it feels. We pin our dream kitchens and brilliant craft projects. We tweet our accomplishments and funny jokes. We post professional photos of our families and positive life changes. We instagram our beautiful meals, our perfect relationships, our uncluttered desks, our carefully curated outfits, our commitments to exercise or positive thinking. We like to share using these mediums because we think it allows us to connect, and we end up spending an inordinate amount of time looking at what other people choose to share.
A fine line exists between connecting and comparing; the two may look identical, but one feels good and the other doesn't. It's that simple, and yet, it's more complicated. Connecting can bring about feelings of warmth, vibrancy, inspiration, closeness, joy, love, humor. Comparing often results in jealousy, pettiness, bitterness, angst, depression, paralysis. And every time we're presented with the snapshots of someone else's life, we likely feel the comparison part FIRST. Because we're human, and human beings are always on the lookout for ways to be better and have more.
- Maybe you read something fantastic by a writer, or see some incredible photographs (insert creative product here), and think, Wow, he/she is so talented, this novel/photos are great, which means I should probably never try to do XYZ again because all the good things have already been said or done and it'd be a waste of time.
- Or maybe you go to a yoga class, and the person next to you is offensively flexible, choosing all the up-levels for every single post, in a trendy yoga outfit, or you see a cool yogi picture online somewhere, and you think, Must be nice to just go to yoga all the time, this person probably doesn't have responsibilities or a job and that's why he/she can look so good and spend so much time being good at yoga, plus he/she was just BORN flexible which isn't even fair, how come I can't do handstand that gracefully? I suck.
- Or maybe you get a text from your college friends at a party six hours away from where you live, and think, Now they've got all these inside jokes that I won't ever be a part of, why do I live so far away, I hate that I can't go to everything and see all my friends all the time, my friends here are just not the same so this weekend I'm just going to stay home and pout about it, I mean it's cool that they had a good time but they didn't have to flaunt it all over Facebook.
Truth time: all those examples are my own. I'm human so I think not-nice thoughts sometimes. I know you do, too, because we all do.
But do I really believe that because other people wrote great books, the universe is like, "Oh, sorry, our quota has now been met for books written, you're out of luck." Of course not. I remind myself that someone else's creative journey or output has nothing to do with my own. The time I spent feeling sorry for myself? Could've used it for writing. Can I still be inspired by the things I read? Absolutely. But I want to use it as fuel for fine-tuning my own voice and encouragement for sticking to my writing habits and goals.
Do I really believe that I am terrible at yoga because of the person's practice next to me? Of course not. Focusing on someone else during yoga is the opposite of the whole POINT of yoga. It can also be the quickest route to acute distraction, or maybe even getting hurt, and therefore cultivating nothing positive out of my own experience. I remember one of the first classes I ever went to, where I felt dumb because I didn't know where to put my stuff in the studio, and self-conscious because the lady on the elevator was all decked out in expensive yoga clothes whereas I was wearing a t-shirt and random capri pants, and embarrassed because I had to take about 47 million breaks in class because I forgot water and didn't know it was even going to be a hot class plus could hardly hold myself up in plank.
Seriously -- I came across this anecdote in an old journal recently, and laughed out loud at my pitiful self. Because the thing is, that lady on the elevator probably didn't even give me a second thought. Everyone in that class probably didn't give me a second look, because they were (hopefully) focused on their own practice. It's not like that teacher from so long ago says to her friends, "Ha! Remember that one girl who came to class once and totally sucked? Man, I hope she's not out in the world, still practicing yoga." I mean, at the time, I thought I was terrible, but it had nothing to do with anyone else. Other people spend way less time thinking about you then you think they do.
And do I really believe my friends should never get together unless I'm in town, and that they should hide evidence of doing so online to protect my delicate feelings? Of course not. I just miss them, that's all, and I wish I could be there, too.
On the other hand, I also forget that the highlight reel I choose to share can cause other people to have these same reactions. For example, during a recent dinner with friends, we got on the topic of the mermaid pose I had put on Instagram. Someone said, "Oh, I saw that, and then I thought, great, good thing I just sat on my couch all day like a loser instead of working out. Thank goodness you said how long it took you to get that pose!" She said it with kindness and laughter, but it got me thinking: when I share things online, I don't think about how it might make other people feel. I assume everyone else is just living their life. What I choose to share online is the good stuff of my life, the I-wanna-share-this! stuff, and the same goes for everybody else. So why do I insist on an apples-to-oranges comparison, one that brings me down?
I mean, I want a life that feels good to me, no matter how it looks to anyone else. And I want that same thing for the people I love as well as total strangers. How things or people appear is just that -- how they appear. Maybe true to real life, or maybe not. What we highlight in our quick conversations with coworkers and friends and family, what we share on social media -- those things are usually completely different than the behind-the-scenes footage of our lives.
Here's another example, one that has to do with minimalism. I love to think that I want a white, empty home with beautiful furniture and glossy countertops and everything in its ideal place, and I will pin the shit out of those images online for some reason. In my mind, that kind of style equals a type of person I want to be, or a point in time I want to reach -- one that is clear and direct and without mess or fuss or distraction. Which is an illusion, because I've never been that type of person.
I'm a let's-take-the-long-road kind of person who sometimes isn't as direct as she needs to be, who often creates messes and enjoys the spontaneous nature of them, who likes stories and vibrant people and big love and exciting adventures, who is constantly distracted by the thirty different projects she's got going on. That means my home is always going to be a bit cluttered and eclectic and lived in. Do I ever wish I weren't like that? Sure. Am I always like that? No. I'm a complicated individual, just like everybody else.
All those people you've ever been jealous of, that you've compared yourself to? They've got their own smudged facets of life. Their own stories of love lost or deep depression or fear or loneliness or insecurity. When I remember this fact, I stop the comparison game. I can make all the assumptions and judgments I want about a person, but I actually never know what else they might be dealing with. I don't know all their stories, and vice versa. Still, our minds immediately jump to comparing, so it takes real mental strength and sense of self to slowly back away from that negativity. It's also a never-ending practice. Your ego wants to fluff itself up and hold fast to the comparison; heck, sometimes it's even satisfying to give into the jealousy and spite for a short moment. But it's not productive.
Or think of it this way: there's literally ALWAYS going to be someone that is "better" than you -- more attractive, smarter, funnier, richer, more organized, kinder, more stylish, more eloquent, more popular, more talented, and on and on. Always. So let the comparisons go, because you can't win. Which is sort of a relief -- when's there's no prize, you get to stop playing the game. In the game of comparisons, when you stop, you get to simply be you.
All that time you've spent in the past comparing yourself and your life to other people is gone. You can't get it back. You wasted it. All that time you spend throughout your present days scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through all kinds of feeds to see what everyone else is saying, thinking, creating, doing ... that's also gone. And you have little to show for it. All that time you spend considering the future, when you'll be better or more than, is a distraction.Because all you have is right here, right now, with the body, mind, heart and soul you were given.
Don't let comparison steal your joy.