Comparison is sneaky. It waits in the shadows, but all it takes is a little gust of wind to flare up.
Whatever our self-made trap – beauty, work, a relationship, even (for me sometimes) running – and whatever our reasons – a childhood without unconditional support, a friend or relationship that held back on the love we craved – comparison pours water on the beautiful fire of our soul. So now, I want to be honest about how it feels. To use those dirty, dark words. Envy. Jealousy.
For me, comparison seems to dwell with one foot in envy and one in inadequacy. When it hits that weak chink in our public-facing armor, sometimes we see someone whose light is shining bright – brighter than ours – and it can deflate our sense of self-worth, and confidence.
THE LIE OF COMPARISON
I read that comparing our reality to someone else's social mask is a “fool’s errand.” We hold the flawed, unpleasant details of our all-too-real lives up under the microscope, right next to the shiny, curated, polished outer shell of someone else’s life we see through binoculars. And in this pointless contest, we will always come out the loser – because we are privy to our own dirty laundry and secret shames, never theirs.
The flip side is when that “better” person compares herself to us, she too comes out the worse – because she knows all the shitty, embarrassing, lonely, aching parts of her life, and doesn’t know ours – just the fresh-faced public mask we show the world.
Comparison, shame, and self-doubt are SO familiar to me. Sadly so. I deal with that shit daily. So I wanted to talk about it, open up the moldy cookie jar so to speak, because I think a lot of us – a lot more of us than might admit it – are held back by these stupid ankle weights of shame and wishful thinking.
For me lately, the familiar ground has been that of imposter syndrome. I’ve been pursuing new activities and a new career, and while part of me loves being a beginner, another part is terrified that I don’t – and won’t – measure up. That I don’t belong “out there,” whether “there” is in a boardroom meeting or 15 miles back into the literal wilderness.
They say to succeed, we should surround ourselves with successful people. And yes, absolutely, we learn a lot from them and are inspired to greatness... It’s a great way to find our own success IF we can avoid holding the candle of comparison too close and burning ourselves.
I’m privileged to work with some brilliant, kick-ass women, women who operate from abundance mindsets and teach me their insights and bring me into the fold of knowledge and experience with open arms. And I’m learning to feel comfortable and confident going into the arena with them. Part of that is embracing how vastly more experienced they are than I am. There’s a part of me that loves being the shadow to the master if you know what I mean. A significant factor in feeling great about and grateful for those relationships is that “abundance mindset” – believing DEEP in one’s SOUL that another’s light does not diminish our own.
If there’s a quicker way to self-confidence that you’re aware of, I am all ears. But for me, the biggest factor has been time. Trying again and again and again. Putting myself into the arena in SPITE of fear of being “found out” as someone who doesn’t belong, who can’t hack it. My personal “issue” manifests in self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and CRAVING the approval of those around me. I’m nowhere near there yet. But what began as a greater monster has decreased in power – what began as a fear of abandonment settled into good ol' fashioned people pleasing, and is now a mere gremlin of craving others’ approval. “You belong, we’re proud of you, you’re doing well” is like heroin for my wounded soul. I know I shouldn’t need that approval, but my god does it feel good to hear.
MY SELF-DOUBT WATERSHED MOMENT
Last weekend, I completed my first ultramarathon. It was a huge deal for me. I haven’t been running for long, and I’ve had a fair amount of injury over the years. My coach delicately balanced encouragement with realism… don’t push too far and fast, don’t re-injure yourself, keep the big picture in mind. Going into race day, I wasn’t even sure I’d feel pain-free and strong enough to complete the whole 31 miles. And I couldn’t help from thinking about all the strong, experienced, fast women and men who clearly deserved to be out there more than I did… what the hell was I doing racing in a field like that?
I was lucky – my body held up beautifully. I didn’t suffer the knee or foot pain that’s been so familiar for months, even years. And the aggressive 4-hour cut-off time at the halfway point, which 10% of the runners didn’t make in time, I sailed through with plenty of time and energy to spare.
But it still took me until goddamn mile 22 to stop feeling like a fraud out there. 21 beautiful miles that I carried the extra weight of self-doubt in my silly little running vest. Yet I didn’t even realize I’d been carrying that weight until I felt it loosen and drop off. And then I was free – freer than I’ve ever felt, stronger and more powerfully ME, relishing in the strength I’d built up, knowing that dammit, I DID belong out there.
I’m not sure what the difference was between mile 21 and mile 22, but it felt like night and day. For the last nine or so miles, I feel free, and full-hearted. And I think it’s rooted in the little pinprick holes in my bucket of self-acceptance. I let go of waiting for anyone else to stop up the holes and just did it myself.
Whether it manifests as comparison, or jealousy, or whatever it is for you, I think we all have little pinprick holes in our self-worth bucket. When we pretend they’re not there, we perpetuate the cycle: I don’t feel great about myself, so I present a manicured social mask, and Betty sees just the pretty parts, not the ugly shit, and compares it to her emotional dirty laundry, and it continues, insidiously.
Talking about it SUCKS, it asks for a lot of vulnerability. And to be vulnerable actually takes a lot of strength and courage. But we’ve gotta start somewhere. The big goals, I think, are self-acceptance of our dark sides, which frees us to actively choose compassion over comparison. And maybe, in some twisted sense, comparison isn’t all-bad – perhaps it highlights for us the qualities we admire, the qualities we want to be curating in ourselves.
But we’ve gotta start talking about this stuff. Taking responsibility for our own healing starts with accepting that we might be a little bit broken. <3