The Weeds That Trap Us: Thoughts on Comparison

@priii_barbosa

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,

Ash xx


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Success and All His ‘Friends’

I watched Bohemian Rhapsody last week.

When I first saw the trailer, I remember swearing that I wouldn’t pay money to see it because it didn’t seem like my type of movie. But then life, with its funny sense of humour, dropped 4 free tickets into my inbox to see it at the Open-Air Cinema. Side note: I ended up loving the movie so much I watched it again the very next night.

As we curled up on a picnic blanket and watched Freddie Mecury transition from baggage handler at Heathrow to the lead singer of Queen, I remember wondering, ‘When is the drama going to start?’ The first 30 minutes felt like a montage of him reaching milestone after milestone. He became lead singer, got the girl, landed an international tour and become world renowned, all within 5 years.

Even though Freddie and Queen were pursuing a vastly different goals than I was, I couldn’t help but feel little aches and twinges inside as I wondered why certain things hadn’t unfolded just as easily or quickly for me. Anyone with lofty dreams and big goals knows that having high aspirations comes with conditions attached. Namely, the self-doubt and anxiety that asks: Why aren’t things happening quickly for me? Why am I not there? How come I’m not as successful yet?

I want to pause and say that I know the producers probably didn’t have time to show all the initial striving and disappointments in Queen’s first five years. And surely it wasn’t as easy as I’ve described. But sometimes I think that’s all we see when we look at other people’s lives. At a distance, we only get to watch the highlight reel of someone else’s life and a surface level indication of the challenges they’ve faced. As a result, it can be really easy to doubt our capabilities and wonder if good things are only reserved for others.

From the outside, life really looked like it was coming together for Freddie Mercury.

Until it all fell apart.

The drama erupted halfway through the film when Freddie had to wrestle with the choices he’d made and his identity. I don’t want to ruin the plot, but anyone who’s aware of his life knows there was a point where everything came crashing down.

I heard someone say that becoming ‘successful’ opens you up to more vulnerabilities. That behind all the glitz and glamour, you have to deal with the side-effects of being in the public eye or having more responsibilities. The higher you climb, the further you fall. The bigger you get, the more public opinion you’ll inevitably attract. You’ll wonder if certain friends are genuine or just wanting a slice of the pie, and you’ll clash with people who don’t have the same vision as you.

Hearing that and watching Freddie’s character fall apart on the screen got me thinking that maybe I’m not ‘there’ yet because my character needs to be developed first. A lot of us fantasise about what it’d be like once we become successful, but we don’t stop to ask if the person we are today can handle the consequences of getting everything we want.

Obtaining the dream doesn’t transform us into someone different. We’re still the same person with the same insecurities and flaws. If we can’t handle rejection now, we won’t magically be able to handle it once we’ve made it. If we attach our worth to what people think of us, it’ll only magnify once we reach our version of success.

Getting somewhere too fast, too soon can attract a bunch of gate-crashers to a party with poor security. Left unchecked, Depression can slip in and drain your energy. Anxiety invites all his other friends, like Imposter Syndrome. They can squash you and your good intentions so you can’t remember why you started in the first place.  

While it can be easy for me to get trapped in my feelings and get salty about why I’m not where I want to be, I also know that I don’t want to be someone who crashes and burns once I reach my goals. Maybe all the waiting and the lengthy distance between our goals is so we can be ready to handle the ‘consequences’ come attached with my success. Because the good and the bad always come as a package deal. Above all, I want to be faithful with the little I have now before I ask for more.

It’s a hard sentence to process when someone says, ‘maybe you’re not ready yet.’ I’d be lying if I said I handle that thought with grace and poise. In reality, I throw mini temper tantrums because it feels like everything I’m doing isn’t enough.

Someone is probably going to read this and ask, ‘But when will I be ready?’ And the truth is, I don’t know. No one else will be able to know but you. You’ll most likely hate this answer, because I did when someone else said the same thing to me two days ago. But it’s true.

Being ready isn’t a destination you arrive at. No one hands you a certificate that says ‘You Made It.’ There’s no map that marks X as the spot and the trail you use to get there. A map implies that there’s a chance you’ll go the wrong direction. But no matter how long or slow it takes, or what path you choose, everything that’s happening is refining you into the person you’re supposed to be when things do fall into place.

It’s easy to discount the places where we feel like we’re moving backwards or are stagnant. I remember having dinner with a friend last year who told me there was a time where it felt like absolutely nothing was happening for her.

“A few months ago, I landed this job, then aced this comp, and figured out what I wanted to do. And now I feel like nothing’s happening and I’m not moving forward. I just want to go back to those months where I was kicking goal after goal and winning at life,” she told me.

What I wished I’d said back then was that it’s easy to desire this idea of always jumping from one mountaintop to the other. It’s easy to crave the cheap thrill of a victory over and over again. But it doesn’t work like that. We eventually have to come down from the mountaintop and live our life in the valley in-between. Because it’s in our everyday life that we get to encounter all the things that’s going to prepare and equip us for the next victory we’re about to have. Your valley may be teaching you how to be patient with people or how to handle your finances. It may give you the opportunity to be a follower so you’ll know how to be an effective leader. And what a pity it would be if you missed all that gold because you were too busy chasing after accolades and validation.

Instead of wondering why we aren’t there yet, we have to appreciate the valley we’re in and trust it’s preparing us for the next level. So for the people who are going to read this then go back to scrolling and feeling discouraged, know that your mountaintop moment will come again soon and you’re exactly where you need to be.

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