The Weeds That Trap Us: Thoughts on Comparison
To know me is to know that I’m a hoarder of journals and scrap pieces of paper with ‘notes to self’ scribbled on them. I love reading the stories I used to write about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. It’s a testament to how much things can change in a single year.
As I pulled my notebooks off the shelf and skimmed through the brittle pages, a multitude of memories flashed through my mind about the angsty struggles and insecurities I used to face. Hard conversations with friends exposing where I really put my worth. Having to say goodbye to someone before their chapter was truly finished. Playing small because I was too fearful of showing up. Watching other people live out the storyline I wanted for myself.
I say I ‘used to’ face these insecurities, but really, a lot of them are still flaring up in the present. Like babies that demand your full attention, these insecurities cry out and whinge until you start devoting all your energy to them.
The loudest of these is comparison.
Comparison has always been a struggle in my life, but I don’t think I ever truly understood how much damage it could inflict until two years ago.
Even to this very day, the memory of having to watch ‘my person’ get with someone else occasionally makes me cringe. I remember feeling overcome with despair as I watched on the sidelines while their storyline unfolded. It was like a tsunami of hurt and pain flooding through me. No survivors were found.
In the aftermath, and even after the punch to my gut had faded away, I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl he had chosen over me.
“Is it because she’s prettier than me??”
“Is it because she’s smarter than me??”
“Is it because I’m not White??”
Like soldiers on a battlefield, I lined up every single one of our traits and began comparing them in an attempt to search for some sort of certainty. Some reasoning or explanation for why someone else, who was so painfully similar to me, was getting all the things I wanted.
Every single thought was like a stab wound to my heart and mind- yet somehow, I couldn’t stop indulging in the belief that she must be better than me. As time went on, my uncontrollable urge to compare myself to her, and the inevitable thoughts of discontentment, mixed together to become a poisonous concoction of pain and anger. For months, I resented this person from afar and engaged in a tug-of-war battle in my head over who was better- me or her. Yet somehow, I was always the one losing.
Maybe you’ve never experienced comparison to the same angsty and dramatic extent. But replace my situation with a dream job prospect, a competitor in your business, or someone you follow on social media, and I bet you can start to recognise the discontent feeling that tells you you’re not enough.
Like weeds, comparison begins its lifespan so small and seemingly harmless that we’re initially dismissive of its existence. It starts off with a tiny twinge here, and a throbbing ache there. Its birthed from a small question, ‘why doesn’t my life look like theirs?’ and grows into a nutrient sucking force that wails ‘why aren’t I enough?’
You become wholeheartedly convinced that you’re inadequate and you’ll never measure up. You resolve to do whatever you can to close the gap between you and this idea of ‘enough,’ only to find it’s a never-ending uphill battle. For me, I became embroiled in the lie that I was destined to watch other people live out the story I always wanted.
Distrust and bitterness grow rampant when we continue to water the seeds of comparison. Left unchecked, it can entangle us in a never-ending cycle of wondering why other people have it better and easier than us. It can choke the life out of the dreams we’ve planted for ourselves and make us question if it’s even worth tending to our garden if someone else’s is just going to look better. It can be the driving force that compels us to keep striving to prove we’re worthy- only to leave us burnt out in the end.
Nobody wins when we engage in this battle of comparing ourselves to others. Whether you’ve waged full-blown warfare against someone, or just made snarky digs at them in your mind, it’s a futile fight against the wrong enemy.
I think that comparison latches onto our hearts so easily because we want to become somebody. We just want to know that our efforts to make our lives meaningful, are going to pay off. So, when we see someone else get the things we want it can make us feel robbed. We wonder what’s wrong with us that we couldn’t achieve the same thing even with all our striving. Underlying all of this is the belief that other people deserve good things, but not us.
Two years on from that fateful event, I now know that what’s good for someone else, isn’t necessarily good for me. What one person perceives as a blessing, someone else is having to deal with the side effects that come alongside it.
Once I could separate myself from the poisonous fog that was clouding my mind, I could see that what I so desperately wanted was (thankfully) never supposed to be mine. I could see that, though my vison and goals looked similar to others, I was on my own, unique path that nobody else could claim.
Comparison is not something you conquer. It’s something you continuously acknowledge. I don’t think it’s something that we triumph over once and then move on with our lives without ever measuring ourselves again. Rather, we must intentionally uproot the lies every time it strikes our most vulnerable areas.
Although I’ve moved on from that event, I can still feel comparison’s snare around the parts of my life that I’ve invested in. I may not be competing for a legal job anymore, but I’m still wondering why other creative businesses are flourishing more than mine. I may not be competing for a guy’s attention, but I’m still fretting over why certain relationships in my life look different from other people’s.
Comparison recently flared up again when I was scrolling through the posts of a writer I deeply admired on Instagram. Though I owe a lot of my bravery and wisdom to her, I couldn’t help but feel familiar twinges of discontentment whenever her posts popped up on my screen.
“I wish I could be as cool as her,” was the thought that kept circling through my mind as I watched her life play out on the screen.
‘Why is she making more of an impact than me?’
‘Why is she more successful than me?’
‘Why can’t I be more like her?’
It got to the point where I had to sit down over Skype and have a conversation with her about what I was feeling.
“I fear I’m trying to become too much like you and it’s manifesting itself in the way I write,” I told her.
“You’re not me and you never will be,” she told me. “You have you own stories to tell, and dreams and wisdom that’s yours and only yours. Focus on that.”
The lesson I learnt that day?
We were never created to be like someone else. We were never meant to follow someone else’s story. There is a plan and a path of your life that’s reserved for you and you only. Though you may be aspiring for the same things as him or her, and though they may have gotten it ‘first,’ it doesn’t detract from the truth that there’s something out there for you too.
There are stories only you can tell. There are gifts only you possess. It’s not a cliché to say you’re unique – it’s fact. You can’t compare two vastly different lives.
The irony is that, while you’re over here looking at another person’s life, someone else is probably wondering why they aren’t more like you.
And how heartbreaking would it be if you never discovered your full potential because you were too busy trying to imitate someone else.
So let me leave you with this, dear reader.
There is a seat for you at the table.
There is enough blessings and abundance in this world for both you and her to achieve the things you want.
Someone else’s success doesn’t take away the fact that there is so much purpose and impact running through your veins.
No amount of striving will change the fact that you’re already enough.
Though you may not see the path laid out before you, rest assured it’s there and it’s not going to be like everyone else’s.
How boring would it be if we all received the same things at the same time? What kind of storyline would that be? There wouldn’t be any room for redemption and triumph. No euphoric, uplifting thoughts of ‘it was all worth it.’
So how do you remove the weeds of comparison from your heart?
You unclench your fists and bless the other person. You stop thinking of them as someone to compete with, and wish them well on their journey. You pull on your gloves and start uprooting the lies that you are inadequate and that other people are better than you. You sow the seeds of truth that good things are on its way to you too.
I don’t promise it’ll be easy. There have been so many times where I have wished blessings over other people’s lives only to still feel angry the very next day. Even in the middle of writing this, I saw a post from someone else and got so triggered I had to stop writing.
But there is value in uprooting our tendency to compare. There’s gold in remembering who you are and the fact that you’re one of a kind.
You’re on your own journey babe, and nobody can steal that away from you.
Encouraging you always,
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so true! 🙂 comparison is the silent killer of our authenticity 🙂
Ash this was a beautifully written post, and definitely a timely post for me. Funny enough the image is what caught my attention on Pinterest, and I was so intrigued it brought me here to read your piece.
This is something the social media generation continues struggle with daily, which adds to the depression and mental health issues we continue to go through. I wish I could get all women to read this!
Thank you so much for reading – I’m so glad you found your way to my words! Even after writing this piece, I still struggle with comparison on a daily basis, but it helps knowing I’m not alone.
You have to put the artwork credits to pri barbosa