That Crazy Comparison Thing
I know a woman who has such a story to tell, and what comes up from inside her is to write it. Terra is one strong woman, and whenever I'm in her presence, I find myself appreciating and admiring everything about her: her death-brushing and maybe death-defying experience; her energy that's a mix of sweet, soulful, super smart, no-nonsense, and irreverent; her through-and-through beauty. Terra doesn't write her story, though, because she can barely get a few pages out before she worries that she's not as good as [whoever's really good at creative nonfiction—Anne Lamott, Audre Lorde, Wendell Berry?] and this, to her mind warped by this thought, makes it ridiculous for her to write. She can just hear her imaginary critics ranting, Who is she to waste all of our time with this pathetic effort? Ay.
In my coaching work, people tell me their thoughts that compare them to others. They often then rush in to assure me they know the comparison thing is a bad idea. Is this you? Do you know this? Do you know it vaguely or with crystal clarity? Do you know it like you know not to eat rat poison, or do you sit there sticking your finger in the stuff and sucking on it?
I invite you to crystal clarity: it's really, truly, absolutely a bad idea to compare yourself to others. Let's face it: you don't compare yourself to connect to the spiritual truth that we're all one, or even that all human beings are created equal. You compare to prove that some are more equal than others, usually from the angle that finds you less than.
It's absurd (and mean and rotten), considering there are billions of human beings on the planet, to hone in on one or a few particular samples chosen as comparison models to highlight whatever you're lacking. You might have perfectly fine skin with the usual minor flaws but you stare at the one with such amazing complexion (Wait, she can't be air-brushed if I'm seeing her in the flesh, right?) that you may as well be the poster child for ravaged faces. You could be entirely skilled enough to start that cooking class you can see (feel, hear, taste, smell) in your mind, but you fixate on someone whose culinary brilliance so outshines yours that you become the kitchen idiot by comparison—and then what are your chances of acting with joy and confidence to get that class from vision to fruition?
When you compare yourself with others who outshine you, here's the rat poison of it: It takes you out of your power. It costs you your energy, sometimes plenty of it. It throws on the brakes when it's time to go for something full-throttle. It makes it very hard for you to be a beginner, which is a necessary prerequisite for getting good at anything, never mind becoming an expert. It keeps you from seeing (honoring, celebrating, focusing on) what you're doing right and doing well. It keeps you from assessing your skills and talents clearly, never mind shining as brightly as you can at your current point of personal evolution.
If, as a beginner, you compare yourself to the expert (as if the comparison were relevant!—let's compare how Baby Sally walks to how Johnny runs!), you may find yourself to be so lacking, you'll just give up, maybe before you even start. At any stage in a process, in fact, you can always choose to compare yourself to someone who's ahead of you in the game. Or you could choose not to, and simply measure your own progress as you walk on down the road. Anyone have a preference here?
Consider going for personal best, which is just about you beating your own best prior score or outdoing your own best prior effort. Go for self-referral, which involves looking inside rather than out to determine your own standards of excellence or your criteria for self-evaluation. A simple exercise I've created to foster self- referral is to have people in a group face one another and say, “I am not less than you. I am not greater than you. [Name], I honor you. And whether you honor me or not, I honor myself.” This is a stance toward others you can consciously foster as a way of life. You may notice it's pretty much mutually exclusive with a stance of comparing.
And what about those compelling comparisons to family-of-origin members? To my mind, these are just as random as any other. I don't mean to negate the significance of those you grew up with. They're powerful characters, especially during those growing-up years. But I like to get “That was then, this is now” about it—especially if you've already reviewed it all in therapy or in late-night talks with lovers and pals. It's actually optional to keep sucking juice out of it forevermore. It's optional to keep getting I-dentity from it. I hold a healthy respect for the fascinating life factors each of us grows up with that put in bold relief the themes we seem to be here to work through and master; and most of us, let's not forget, had instilled by those same people some positive traits and beliefs that bolster us along the way. Look, something had to lay down the plot line: why not your particular story with that particular wacky crew (their brand of cluelessness and unkindness included), and all the things they said, and all the ways you came to think you were, by comparison, incompetent, not smart enough, too big for your britches, too fat, too puny ... or whatever it was.
So you've found the pluses and minuses of your growing-up reality and can identify how it all left you poised for what you've set out to do, create, and become in the ensuing years. Great. Now drop your self-comparisons to the other characters in the story. You don't have to live in reference to them any more than to anyone else on earth. You don't have to live in reference to what your sister did better than you or make your life a defense against something your brother decided about you or follow your parents' dreams instead of your own. You don't even have to be in contact with these people, but it's a fine choice if you want to be—especially if you hold the clear boundary that differentiates me and them or, even better, what I think of me and what they think of me—and resist those crazy comparisons. Resisting, by the way, can simply mean catching yourself when you indulge in it and bringing yourself back to you.
All you're ever doing when you reach for someone specific to compare yourself to is locating proof for some painful thing you're believing about yourself that's either exaggerated or untrue. Ultimately, the whole comparison game is as insane and painfully poignant as the anorexic who stands in front of the mirror hating the fat girl reflected there. All that's being reflected, really, are her thoughts. Do we ever see ourselves clearly when we make random comparisons designed to show that we're wrong, we're not enough, we're not okay? Ultimately, the act of comparing keeps you from any prayer of achieving your full potential, or even from having all your energy available to move in that direction with any modicum of efficiency or ease.
So will you take this comparison thing seriously? Will you stop sticking a finger in the stuff?
Final questions: How are you like Terra? What's the thing you don't do or have to over-exert yourself to do just to push against the crosswinds you churn up with crazy comparisons from left and right field? There's so much writing (painting, playing, directing, teaching, organizing, ...) out there of every kind and caliber. If you have something to write (paint, play, direct, teach, organize, ...), isn't there a place for you in the greater scheme of things? I'm thinking there must be, because here you are and here's that urge that comes up from inside you to express in that particular way. Do you need to sit around comparing before or after you write (or whatever your thing is)? Could you, would you, just make it between you and you, and tell or do whatever comes up from inside you to tell or do? Go ahead: just say yes.
love & blessings, Jaya
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The Universe is willing to fill whatever container you show up with. It's good to notice what realm of life you bring a thimble to, and start at least imagining an upgrade. ...
Locate anywhere you think someone owes you something. Why? Because that's where you haven't fully forgiven. That's where you're still a victim. That's where you've given your personal power away to someone else. And, ultimately, that's where you're not free. No one owes you anything. When you believe this, you're fully free to create a life of well-being and total fulfillment.
When you react in a way that feels mean, judgmental, disconnected, unforgiving, sad, hopeless, despairing—go ahead, name your ugly—can you make space for that, too, instead of then turning all of that on yourself? What if this too is admissible as part of the growth process you know you're showing up for? What if your essential beauty is still intact?
When you don't get it yet, there's no problem. If you're thinking you should get it, and someone else would've gotten it by now, and they think you should get it, and they think you're an idiot, and if you don't get it by [whenever] you won't be okay ... then there's a problem. Drop those thoughts, and there's no problem. So you don't get it. You're in a process of getting it. You can ask questions. You can ponder. You can wait. All is well.
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