I know, I know. You’re probably tired of hearing “comparison is the thief of joy,” and “don’t compare your middle to someone else’s finish line.” Me, too. I usually don’t need to be reminded I’m not exactly feeling the joy when I’m rolling around in a pit of self loathing, and “stop it” is seldom helpful, either. I don’t know if anything I have to add will be more helpful, but I’ll just consider it a pep talk for myself if not. It’s one I needed, and needed in writing.
1. Comparison fosters contention, bitterness and gossip.
When I feel less than someone, my instinct is not to send an encouraging note or ask to collaborate or, God forbid, ask for help. I explain to myself (and possibly my golden retriever) why I don’t envy her; no, I’m feeling something much more righteous. I can’t put my finger on the word right now, but trust me, my feelings are justified. I exile this person to the island in my mind for People Who Make Me Feel Small, a tempestuous sea of bile between us — even as I hear my mom’s voice saying that no one can make me feel anything.
At best, when I’m feeling very holy and I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I might unfollow this person, or shake it off. Or at least listen to “Shake it Off.” I’ve heard (and given) the advice to simply unfollow someone if their posts make you likely to keel over from jealousy or inhale 12 doughnuts or curse their family like an Old Testament prophet. The thing is, unfollowing is the Nicorette of the soul; it doesn’t solve the root problem.
And unlike Instagram, the room mom at your kid’s school and the obnoxiously fit coworker cannot be handled with the tap of a button. They must be dealt with, hopefully with grace and compassion, and after the right amount of coffee. Envy and insecurity are bound to flare up, but the remedy is a higher value for myself and my own path, not a tree falling in hers.
2. Comparison unfairly blames soul sickness on circumstances
The logic goes that if I had the accolades, skills, money, family, confidence that she has, then I wouldn’t feel this way. Like so many negative feelings springing from the baser part of our humanity, the problem appears to be circumstances. The fear-driven ego that feeds us these lies is nothing if not creative; if we gain the thing we’ve lusted after in someone else’s life, it will feed us more conniving variations of the same. The specifics will change, but the feelings of envy and lack will stay the same; no amount of striving or achievement will stop them.
Only the repeated application of truth about my identity and my fellow humans can right the warped, soul-eating logic of competition and comparison. You know who can’t be touched by feelings of inadequacy about her place among her peers and in the world? A woman sure that Jesus is preparing a place for her in heaven, at peace because she doesn’t have to earn it. This isn’t an easily attained posture of the soul, but it’s ours for the taking should we get tired enough in our thrashing to surrender, or so compelled by the gospel that we can’t waste another minute fighting it.
3. Comparison is a cheap excuse for not doing my best.
There’s another shoddy piece of logic that says if I can’t be the best or most lauded at something, I’d be a fool to even try. There’s no shame in being somewhere down the line from the “best,” but it would be a tragic shame not to try.I haven’t watched a better show than Breaking Bad, but I’m glad someone still made Mr. Robot and The Americans and Fargo.
Too often I’ve thought someone else’s home run relegated me to the bench, and benched myself before anyone else could. Who can know what effects our efforts will have in the world? You don’t have to be the “best” mother to give your child what no one else can. You don’t have to be the “best” host to invite someone in and give them a place to belong, to meet an existential need of every soul. You don’t have to be the best for it to matter.
But you do have to try, and if you’re putting in the time, you might as well do the best you can. You might not see the impact in followers or dollars or applause (or you might, I don’t know), but what if we’re here to make an impact beyond what we can measure?
Photo: Elizabeth Ervin