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Compare and Despair: How to Stop Sizing Yourself Up Against Other People
When we come home for the holidays, many of us encounter family members and former classmates we do not see very often. We can’t help but look at their lives and compare them to our own.
Maybe you have a golden boy sibling for whom everything seems easy, or a childhood friend whose career and gorgeous offspring make you feel like a loser. Holiday homecoming, combined with end-of-year reflection, can make you size yourself up against others and, inevitably, find that you come up short.
If you want to stop the misery of comparing yourself to others, your first defense is to recognize how unfair it is. Because the only mind we can read is our own, we tend to pit the worst in ourselves against the best in other people, and we don’t stand a chance in the fight.
In order to compare two things, metrics are required. Ask yourself, what standards are you using for comparison? Financial stability? Life milestones achieved? Fitness level? Can you accurately measure these things in other people? When you break down the standards you are using, you will often find that they are superficial. Is your self-worth really determined by homeownership or marriage or being thin?
Everyone has different challenges and struggles, therefore the definition of success is different for everyone. We have to acknowledge our successes instead of discounting the good things in our lives because they aren’t as good as what other people have. When you catch yourself feeling crappy, remind yourself of something good that happened for you or that you did in 2014. There is inevitably something to be proud of, so recognize it!
If you had a pair of cookies on a plate from two different recipes, your experience would automatically turn from enjoying the treats as they are to comparing the two. It is human nature to perceive reality in terms of contrasts, so the best way to eliminate comparison is to eliminate the thing we are using for comparison. In other words, to eat the cookie and enjoy the cookie alone for what it is. This does not mean murdering your siblings and friends (even if that sounds appealing)—it means to view yourself as being on an independent journey, not a race. Compare yourself only to yourself.
Feelings of intense jealousy and inferiority are a problem of perception, so consider reframing the way you see other the successes of other people. Envy is often a side-effect of scarcity thinking: we unconsciously believe that there is only so much happiness to go around, and if someone else has found it that means there is less of it left for us. Try to remember that the world is full of great opportunities, and that there is plenty of happiness for everyone to have a piece. Whether or not you feel like your piece is big enough, know that the Grand Pie is bigger than you can imagine, and there is plenty left for you.
If feelings of low self-esteem persist, they are sometimes a signal that we have to change something in our lives. If you have a healthy attitude toward the successes of other people, but your dissatisfaction with yourself remains, take a look at whether a positive change is needed. Perhaps your feeling of not being good enough is a sign you should find a new career path, quit a self-destructive habit, or otherwise improve yourself. Practice rigorous self-honesty. Every day is an opportunity to become the person you want to be, whether it is simply your attitude that needs changing, or something more.
Mandy Learo is a yoga teacher, blogger, and ChronicleMe community member living and working in Central New York. Read more of her writing at oknamaste.com.