We’ve all heard that expression “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s generally used in reference to shiny, glowing social media pages, as a reminder not to compare our lives to the curated glamour we see online. Let me tell you what else comparison is the thief of:
Sanity. Peace. Rest. Confidence.
I know this, because I’m sitting here at 1 am, taking a break from what I affectionately call “second shift”– the hours after my kids go to bed when I sit down at my computer again to systematically work through anything on my to-do list for that day that isn’t crossed off.
I am maniacal with my to-do lists. I go all cold and clammy without them. Sure, they keep me organized and on track, but they also rule my life sometimes.
How did I get to this point of letting a slip of paper, designed to make life easier, make me miserable instead? My obsession with my mountainous, masochistic to-do lists was born of comparison.
Let me explain.
I have a pretty sweet job in marketing for a software startup that is growing by leaps and bounds and doing some really cool stuff in our industry. I love it. It’s challenging and creative and forces me to jostle the dust off of corners of my brain that I haven’t touched in a while. And please pardon me a brief flash of ego, but I believe I’m very good at it most days.
Sounds great, right?
Now let me tell you what else I have:
An equally busy husband who is navigating his own job stuff.
A freelance writing career on the side that is producing more work than I can handle most days.
Two bio kids and three stepkids.
An acre lot with a home that never fails to produce a “This Old House” sort of project.
A cherished role as the pianist in our worship band at church.
A commitment and desire to read my Bible and pray and do the same with my children.
Two dogs, two cats and nine chickens who follow me around like a little gang, alternately making demands and rewarding me with undying love.
A chronic GI illness that I’ll have for the rest of my life.
And then add to these “big list items” all of the things that float in around the cracks and fill in any spare moments like lava—volunteering, family time, running, cleaning, cooking…
Nearly every one of these things is a huge, audacious gift. (minus the GI thing, obviously. That guy is a jerk.) But some days, I feel like I’m failing at every single line item. Why? Because I compare myself to everyone else.
Let’s start with the fact my “everyday life list” is so long. Could I whittle some stuff down? Sure, on paper. But in reality, my life would not be my life if every one of these things was not a part of it.
I love my husband and my children beyond words.
My high-maintenance, mid-century home is cozy and warm and original–nothing cookie cutter about it.
Music and my relationship with God are part of my very being. Non-negotiable.
Our pets are a three-ring circus on a good day, but let me tell you– until you’ve been heralded like a returning war hero by a flock of chickens when you return from a run around the neighborhood– well, you just haven’t lived.
The GI stuff…well…that’s my Biblical “thorn in the side.” Whatever. I’ll survive.
And writing. Writing and I have the classic love-hate relationship. I believe that the ability to write well is a gift. I cherish it. But as of late, I’ve written myself into an odd corner with my repeat clients. No joke, I have somehow earned the reputation of being the foremost authority when it comes to whitepapers and blogs about the following:
Personal injury lawsuits.
The supply chain industry.
Doesn’t get any sexier than that for a writer, folks. So why not quit? Here’s the thing: I am obsessed with having a fallback plan in case something crazy happens with my day job. I need to know that if I wake up tomorrow and my company closes its doors, that I can still feed, clothe, and house my family. Writing is that assurance and insurance.
Yes, I believe wholeheartedly in the truth that “My God shall supply all my needs.” He does. He has. He always will. However, I teeter on an incredibly fine line between that truth and “God helps those who help themselves.” (Yes, theologians– I know that’s not in the Bible. Calm down).
God gave me the ability to write about propane safety and get paid well for it. So, write I do. Onward and upward. Next time you fire up the grill and don’t go up in a mushroom cloud, you might just have me to thank.
So here’s the comparison part.
No one else on my marketing team seems as…stark, raving mad as I feel on any given day. Oh, I never let on to them that I’m one conference call away from losing my ever-loving fluff. But some days, I am so very close that the dogs even steer clear of me– having seen the glint of
I honestly don’t understand how everyone else seems so calm about their to-do lists and I am just one flu bug away from flying off the rails (Which totally happened this week. Another story for another day.).
But do you know what I realized tonight? Just NOW? I am constantly comparing myself to people who aren’t living MY life.
(Don’t go. I promise there is an actual epiphany coming. You’ll like it.)
Here’s what hit me like a ton of bricks. No one else on my marketing team is raising young kids. Or even old kids. Or any kids in most cases. No one. And let me assure you that not a blessed soul on my team has a needy 1950’s house, nine chickens, or is running a burgeoning side hustle as a propane expert.
When my colleagues book a business trip, they saunter into the home office refreshed, like they just emerged from a spa vacation. I, on the other hand, have split the space-time continuum, solved at least nine of the great mysteries of the Earth, and broken 17 Guinness World Records just to keep the plates spinning while I’m gone.
(And the litter box still won’t be clean when I get back.)
By the end of my trip, I fall exhausted into my window seat, too tired to work on the flight home, but still dreaming about work as if I had. And then I get home and I jump right back into my life and my to-do lists and I wonder and obsess about why my co-workers seem so much more in control of everything.
Please don’t misunderstand me– I know they all have busy, full, rich lives. They are wonderful people. Their brand of chaos just looks different than mine and they manage it privately, just like I do.
When I compare my inward definition of chaos to their outward appearance of calm, it amplifies everything that seems to be swallowing me whole. I let comparison whisper lies that weave into my brain like the tendrils of a weed.
“I should be able to manage ‘it all’ without feeling like ‘it’ is managing me instead.”
“I’m not doing enough for my family…my career…my church…”
“I’m not good enough at any of it and someone is going to find out and call me a fraud.”
Comparison is the bully behind it all. It doesn’t just steal my joy. It steals my light and my lightness. It makes me heavy and sluggish with dread and fear.
You don’t have to have a list that looks exactly like mine to fall prey to comparison’s trickery.
Maybe you are taking care of aging parents.
Maybe you have a family member with special needs.
Maybe you’re struggling with an invisible illness.
Maybe you’re a stay at home mom trying to keep a busy household afloat.
Maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet while the bills keep rolling in.
Our lists are different, but our human tendency to compare ourselves to others and imperiously declare to our own minds that we are not enough is exactly the same.
Enough is enough. I am enough. You are enough.
Comparison has stolen far too much from us already.