We’ve all done it at least once in our lives. Looked the the left, right, or straight ahead, and thought, “I wish that I could be/act/look/perform/run/charm more like that person. Some (look directly at me) do it more often than we care to admit. It may be natural, but it’s not healthy (particularly if sustained).
I don’t think there is anything wrong with admiring someone else’s looks, talent, gifts, or possessions. When we turn that admiration into comparison is where things go wrong. Comparison rarely stays above the water line. No, drawing comparisons to others usually drags us deep under the water, and can lead to a slow emotional death — drowning in anxiety and self-loathing. As Theodore Roosevelt said, comparison is the thief of joy. Does I sound a bit dramatic? Perhaps, but I’ve come to realize that far too much of my life has been spent comparing myself to others. Trying to live up to, or meet, the expectations of others is another problem area, but I’ll deal with that some other time.
When I saw the quote by Roosevelt last week, I distinctly remembered an exchange with a roommate during my freshman year in college. As this guy rattled off more and more of the things he did back in his hometown, I, unwittingly, spit out comparable things that I did. It went on for a few minutes before my roommate finally said, rather stridently, “This is not a competition! Why do you feel the need to compare?” His question sank in rather quickly, and I was embarrassed. I didn’t know why I felt the need to go toe-to-toe, round-for-round with him. It’s clear, now, that I wanted to feel as needed, accomplished, and recognized for various talents and skills.
“This is not a competition!”
The question was, and still is to a lesser degree, what drives that feeling? Is it simply ego? Is it less about feeling that I’m lacking, and more about wanting to be the center of attention? Or, is there truly a sense of underachievement that hounds me? I’d like to believe it’s much more of the latter, but, small or large, we all have an ego. Mine is usually in check, though. I think because I don’t feel that I am particularly gifted (looks or talent), my ego seldom gets the better of me.
As I read more books* about finding and following a passion, I have become much more introspective about what makes me tick. What drives me. This self examination has also let me to discover what gnaws at my confidence. Drawing comparisons is often the root cause of my angst and spinning wheels. The fear of not moving beyond comparison to someone else either stifles or completely locks up my drive to pursue things. This has happened with creative interests, career pursuits, and even in my relationships. I am working on a piece about jealousy, and it occurred to me that drawing comparisons to other men (would be suitors of a woman I’m interested in, or her ex-boyfriends and former lovers) has caused pretty severe anxiety and self-destructive behavior. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not an attractive quality.
Fortunately, I’m prone to introspection and rumination. I’m willing to look at myself, with as much honesty as I can muster. I haven’t quite learned to embrace myself, warts and all, but I’m working on it. Learning to see another person and stop at appreciation or admiration is my challenge. Very little, if anything, good comes from comparing yourselves to others. I am working daily on just being myself,
trusting knowing that that will be enough.