Each summer, two of my dearest friends and I get together, sit under the pier, catch up, and do a lot of laughing. When I spend time with these ladies, they do not divulge the details of their exploits to make me feel less important than them. They just want to include me in their lives, and I want to include them in mine. Maybe I do work from home and do not go on as many exciting adventures as they do, but comparing my life to theirs only leads to disappointment.
And as much as I love being with them, there is always a part of me which slips into an old bad habit: comparing my life to theirs.
- She flew to seven different countries this year. She has seen the world. She is doing so much more with her life than I am.
- She met a hundred new people this year and talked about Jesus to dozens of lost people. She is doing so much more with her life than I am.
- She is so intelligent. Nothing gets past her. Her witty personality is delightful. I wish I were half as funny as she is.
- She is so likeable. Everyone laughs their heads off around her. I wish I were as likeable as she is. I wish I could make friends as quickly and easily as she can.
But, they love their boring Heather! Why should I not be contented with myself? Even as children, I was the homebody, and they were the imaginative explorers. The paths we have chosen are no surprise to anyone who watched us grow up. If I had the choice of living my life or theirs, I would choose mine just as they would choose theirs. I like my cozy home and staying close to the familiar. Every now and then I need to step out and force myself to sweat a little; but, all in all, I am satisfied with my predictable life. Whereas, their adventurous lives suit them and their personalities. They would lose their minds if their day to day lives were as repetitive as mine!
Constant Comparison can Damage Relationships if We Are Not Careful
Do find yourself playing the comparison game? Have your friendships or relationship been negatively affected by your (or their) comparisons? In the early days of our marriage, Eric and I struggled because I compared myself to him frequently:
- He is so much smarter than I am. I just hold him back.
- He is so much more disciplined than I am. He is a more productive member of society.
- He is so much more confident than I am. He does not second guess himself like I do.
Day after day, these unhelpful messages repeatedly played in my mind. Like water torture, the gentle tapping of “you are not good enough for Eric” bore a hole in my heart. In reaction to my self-inflicted pain, I would approach Eric irritably and complain about our differences, or I would sorrowfully express my frustration that he was “so much better than me.”
After a while, Eric became weary with these conversations. “This is not a competition. We are a team!” he would insist emphatically. He said it so much that it irritated me – much like my constant self-deprecation irritated him. But, he was right. Dwelling on our differences – and, more specifically, the areas where he outshined me – did not accomplish anything. In fact, it tore down the life Eric was trying to build with me.
Rather than zeroing in on how I paled in his shadow, I should have discovered and applied my own gifts. Tragically, for most of my life, I have depended on other people to tell me when I was excelling.
- Great job on that song, Heather! It was beautiful.
- You got an A on that test?! Way to go!
- I saw the way you stood up to those bullies on the playground and I was impressed.
Such verbal praise tends to wane when we reach adulthood. “That report looked great, Sharon. Way to go!!!” is not something we typically hear in the workplace. Without other people continuing to tell me I was on the right path, I felt lost. My negative traits felt massive while my positive qualities became obscure.
At this time, I needed to take a step back and evaluate: Yes, Eric is smart, frugal, and confident, but you are kind, empathetic, and calm. He needs to glean from your ability to feel what others feel. He needs your warmth at the end of a long workday. He needs you because you are different and you fill in his blind spots.
Had I stopped comparing myself to him, and started looking for ways to complement him, it would have saved us both some frustration.
If you are caught in the never-ending hamster wheel of comparison, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I know the whole story? “The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick. Everyone to whom we compare ourselves also struggles. No one has the perfect life, home, personality, career, or relationship. When tempted to compare, consider what you do not know about the other person. Then pray for God to minister to him or her in the hidden places only He sees.
- Is this person trying to highlight his or her strengths to belittle me? “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt. If the person to whom you compare yourself purposefully tries to make you feel inferior, he or she is not a quality individual to have in your life. Otherwise, encourage and compliment his or her talents to them and build them up. Rather than focusing on how you do not measure up, write down your gifts and talents. Go looking for them. Then, focus on how your gifts can work together and strengthen each other.
- Am I improving in the areas which matter to me? “The only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday.” – Unknown. Never in my life did I desire to be a world traveler, yet as soon as my best friend started seeing the world, I started feeling inferior. But why? Because the world praises travel and yawns at domestic duties (I yawn at them too!). Did I want to travel even a tenth as much as she was traveling? No, I really did not. I have had nightmares about traveling. There are a handful of places I would like to go; but, otherwise, I am happy in my serene, familiar surroundings. So, how much sense did it make to spend my energy feeling down about the differences in our lives? None… none at all. Rather than focusing on how she was living, I should have asked myself, “Heather, what matters to you? What do you want to do? Where do your interests lie? When you get to the end of your life, what memories will matter to you? How do you want to improve?”
- Do I genuinely want what they have? Maybe you do want to pursue a lifestyle similar to your friend’s, cousin’s, or partner’s lifestyle. Even then, comparison is unhelpful. Kicking yourself for not being where they are will only keep you down. Instead, count those others as resources. Pick their brains. Ask for their advice and guidance. Had I wished to become a world traveler, I would have gladly been offered advice and had all my questions answered. Cut out the comparison and turn on the questions.
- How is comparing myself to others improving my life? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV) Some call this verse the Philippians filter. It is wise to filter our thoughts through it to evaluate if they are positive. Often, we cannot get past the first test: is it true? Our comparisons are rarely dripping with truth. The pedestal we erect for others is not nearly as high as it seems from our vantage point. And, even if our comparisons expose the truth, is thinking about them lovely? Does it inspire excellence? If not, replace those thoughts with helpful thoughts. If your comparisons are not improving your life, then they are counterproductive and not worth your energy.
Sometimes, I compare myself with those who do not struggle with comparing themselves to others. ~smile~ The habit runs deep! But, it is not too late to pursue freedom from comparison prison. And it is a prison. We cannot grow and reach our potential when we are wallowing in what we do not have. Those walls close in more every day.
As with any habit, it is unlikely that we will break out of these chains instantly, but we can start where we are. We can make little changes. We can take thoughts captive (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5). We can focus our minds on what will improve the world and our relationships (cf. Romans 12:2).
As Eric often says, “Comparison is a road which always leads to disappointment.” Write that down and post it all over your house until it becomes an automatic thought.
Keep breaking free!!!
Do you struggle with comparing yourself to your friends or partner?