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
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.
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 momsanity in my eye (I work from home full time– you may either insert pity or jealousy here. Either works).
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
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
“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
Maybe you’re struggling with an invisible
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
My last post, coupled with this one, ought to give you a good picture of why it has been so long since I’ve posted. Moving and work. Work and moving. The problem is that I had no idea how true the title of my last post would be when I wrote it. We are literally, barely moving. We have had 25 showings in the 82 days we have been on the market. It’s a very respectable number, and those showings have resulted in some lovely (and not so lovely) feedback about our house. The part of my brain that holds the fiery, sarcastic venom would love to share some of the more…interesting…buyer comments with you, but I’ll save them for late night texts, laden with obscure Emojis, fired off in whiny frustration to my parents. Not one of those 25 potential buyers has made an offer yet. So—we plod on, spending hours on end cleaning and improving, and trusting God’s timing, and wondering if we really do want to move now that we’ve finished projects we should have done years ago, and our house looks so nice… but then, all 7 of us spend a weekend in our modest little ranch house and we all remember how precious square footage can be. Plus, building on sounds like such a mess. The sawdust. The hammering. The unusable kitchen and trying to cook for 7 people on a hot plate in my living room. Bring on showing #26, I say!
So, on to the other half of my absenteeism. Simply put: being a working parent stinks. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for my job. I truly love my boss and my coworkers. The culture of my company is uh-mazing. I can wear a suit one day, and my super-cute-but-sweatpant-level-comfy boyfriend jeans the next. It’s not the job. The job allows me to pay for our home and Christian school and violin lessons and gymnastics. It allows me to give to my church and to causes I believe in. It also supports my shoe habit (which has been hindered a bit now that we are in the market for the aforementioned square footage). So, it’s definitely not the job. I manage high-profile, complex projects, and I thrive on the panicky thrill of it. God put me where I am for a reason—even when I thought I knew better. He carefully steered me right where I needed to be and has blessed me over and over and over since. It feels so good to be good at what I do. I hope that doesn’t sound braggy. I don’t mean it to be. I screw up. I have to Google unfamiliar industry terms at least 14 times a day. I just know a good thing when I have it, and thank you, God—I have it. However, being a mom and marketer is hard. So hard.
My husband is suffering from the pungent stink of working parenthood too. My oldest stepson has had two track meets so far this season, and work obligations have prevented my husband from attending both of them. Hearing his son confirm how disappointed he is pours salt on the already raw wound that all working parents have. I can’t stop thinking about it either. I remember how proud I was knowing that my parents were sitting in the stands. I hate it for my stepson, and I hate it for my husband. Last night, I was on a 12 mile run, getting panicky texts every few miles from him that he was still stuck in a meeting and he was going to miss the whole thing. Of course then I started imagining my stepson progressing through his races, realizing on the last one that his dad wasn’t going to make it. My imagination has a flair for the dramatic. I would have loved to show up to cheer for him, but we’re still at the stage of our blended family where a solo appearance from the stepmom might elicit a reaction other than joy. Hopefully that will change someday, but until then, I’m cheering for him in my imagination and will cheer for him in person, next to my husband when we can be there.
Working parents (inside and outside the home, in most cases) can’t do everything or be everywhere, and for those of us who want to excel at everything, that realization is a bitter pill to swallow. We rarely feel 100% present for anything. When we are with our kids, we worry about deadlines. When we are at work, the guilt-song of missing something important to our kids is the soundtrack for every conference call.
Today, after I picked my kids up (an hour later than I promised) from school, my daughter excitedly told me that her 1st grade field trip to a dairy farm is next Thursday. “NEXT Thursday? Are you sure?” I asked her. As she confirmed the date and went on and on about how excited she is for me to go with her, I had to break the news that I will be on a work trip in Los Angeles next Thursday. Her big, beautiful, blue eyes immediately filled up with tears. She tried so valiantly to be cool about it, but her words came out as a tragic wail. “That’s okay, Mommy. I understaaaaaaaaaaaand.” My heart scrunched up into a little knot as the Mom-guilt beat it with a baseball bat. Oh, those heartbroken little sobs. Ugh. It burns.
I wish I had some poignant encouragement for all of you parents out there who are going through the same stuff. You know those “Dear Mom Who Thinks She’s ______ (insert failure of choice)” blogs? The ones that make you want to stand up on your office chair and yell “I’m flawed and that’s awesome! Go me!” Yeah…this isn’t one of those. The push and pull of work vs. life doesn’t seem to get any easier. Ever. Next week, I go to Louisville to Chicago to Los Angeles and back, and I know that every minute, I’ll be wondering what my kids and husband are up to and counting the hours until I get home to the sweet monotony of cleaning my house for showings and packing lunches and listening to spelling words. It’s hard, but it’s reality. It’s okay because it has to be if I want to continue to be the kind of parent who not only provides the necessities of life for my kids, but models hard work to them too. Whether you are a stay at home parent or a corporate road warrior, I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me, okay? All God requires of us is to give our best. If my best is awkwardly crying into my airport burrito while my daughter goes to a dairy farm without me, then that’s my best, and that’s okay. God will handle the rest.
One final note…I can never unsee the “miracle of life” that was the calf being born when I went with my son on that same field trip. The memory is still so fresh and…squishy. I have been mentally preparing for two years to see it a second time with my daughter’s class, but work has intervened at the last moment, like a governor with the 11:59pm pardon.
Now that I think of it, maybe being a working parent has its perks…
If you are a working mom (or dad…or human…), you’ve likely suffered at some point from PVD—Post Vacation Dread. It starts out like any other virus–a little twinge here and there on your departing flight. A nagging little reminder on your return flight of the aches and pains to come. At my previous place of employment, PVD was a pandemic. During vacation season, it was nothing but bleary-eyed colleagues, staggering around the halls in a caffeinated haze, clutching their smoking laptops and pathetically asking “what happened while I was out of the office?” So many things, friend. So. Many. Things.
If you would have asked one of them (or me, for that matter) if it was “worth it” to take a vacation, knowing what awaited upon the return to the office, the answer would have been, at best, “I don’t know.” We were given a generous allotment of vacation time each year, and in the 7 years I was with the company, I used all of my vacation time only once. Once. I didn’t even come close the other 6 years. Why? It just wasn’t worth it. Instead of enjoying a stress-free, blissful vacation with my family, more often than not I found myself skeptically enjoying the first three days, and then spending the last four days nervously checking my inbox, panicking about the requests that steadily streamed in. You can’t recharge your batteries that way, and you can’t be an effective employee when you get back to the office. It just isn’t worth it.
In my current role, the PVD is less like the bubonic plague and more like that “food baby” feeling you get from eating too much pie. It’s a little unpleasant for a while, but totally worth it! We receive the same generous allotment of vacation time here, and I just realized today that I am going to use every last hour of it this year. Even more mind-blowing than that—I don’t take my work laptop on vacation with me anymore. It’s amazing how something that weighs about 10 pounds can feel like 100 pounds when you have to lug it around on your time off. I am so grateful for the opportunity to unchain myself from that weight.
One of the things I love about this company is that we use what we sell. For example, at any time of the day, any one of my co-workers can see my “status” and know if I am working, at lunch, on vacation, or if I don’t want to be disturbed. (It’s not creepy–I promise!) It’s very useful, but unless your company embraces a culture where that status is respected, it doesn’t do any good. The work/life balance is revered here, thankfully, and it shows in the loyalty and commitment the employees have for this company and its leadership.
I took several days off last week to go to the Grand Canyon with my husband and the two kiddos who were on Fall Break. I checked my work email three or four times while I was out, and while emails were coming in, the demands were not. The tone was that of respect for my family time and understanding that I would get to it all when I got back and had time to do it. Most email subject lines were “please don’t read this on vacation.” I am still working to catch up, but the level of understanding from my colleagues that I can’t do that in a day–or even a week–is so sweetly refreshing. Instead of spending this week in fetal position under my desk, I have spent it diligently plowing through my inbox and project list, my precious vacation memories intact, and with no regrets for daring to have a personal life. It was totally worth it.
I spent far too many years caught in the death spiral of a culture that treated me like property instead of a partner. The guilt of making your career a priority over your family when you feel like you don’t have a choice, is suffocating. Of course we love our families more than our employers. But if you love your family, you feel an obligation to support them and provide stability for them, yes? How can you do that if you refuse to give in to the soul-sucking demands of corporate America in an effort to keep your job? Believe me—I’ve been the mom on a conference call during a field trip. I’ve created Excel spreadsheets at soccer games. I’ve stepped out of school programs to email files that “just can’t wait.” I’ve even violated the sacred ritual of date night with my feverish email-stalking, waiting for data that I “desperately needed.”
No more. My life is going to be worth it. Every minute of it. Please don’t misunderstand me—I work hard and I bring the most value that I can to my employer, with the intent to constantly increase that value. As a Christian (and frankly, as a responsible member of the human race), it’s my obligation to do that. I just want to encourage you, if you feel like you are shackled to a job where anything outside of it “just isn’t worth it”, to take that terrifying first step to make a change. It might sound silly, but when I realized that I couldn’t take any more, I forced myself to apply to three jobs a week. They weren’t even things I was necessarily interested in or qualified for, but exposure to the application and interview process really helped me get my confidence back. I didn’t think I wanted the position I ultimately took here, but after my second interview, I knew that this was exactly what God had in store for me, and I haven’t stopped thanking Him since. I checked Glass Door for EVERY company with which I interviewed, to ensure that I didn’t jump out of the frying pan of misery and into the fire of a new hell. There is a lot of truth in that website. Check it out.
This random topic was on my heart today, so thanks for sticking it out with me if it doesn’t really apply to you. If it does, and you are mired in a career that is beating you down, let me know (privately, if you wish). I would love to pray for you and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that can help you feel like your life is worth it again—because it totally is. Go get ’em!
For the past 6 months, my husband and I have been attending classes at a Bikram yoga studio. If you aren’t familiar with Bikram, here’s what you need to know:
Okay, okay. It’s more than that. For people like me, with digestive tracts made of rotting garbage and fire, it’s actually very beneficial. It releases toxins through the 3.72 gallons of sweat I provide during each 90 minute class and it also increases the blood flow to my ungrateful pancreas and ill-tempered liver. A bummer for me, however, is that heat exacerbates my digestive disorder in some pretty spectacular ways. It takes the worst parts of my illness and amplifies them.
There are classes where I feel like a Zen-master. I bend and stretch and ohm in ways I didn’t even know my body could, and I feel great. I barely notice the 104 degree heat and that it’s so humid in the studio that it’s about to rain. Then there are the other classes. The ones where it’s too much work to just lay like a melted marshmallow Peep on the mat, and my internal dialogue sounds something like this:
“Why did you do this to us?”
“Shut up. It’s good for us.”
“I am going to make you pay. I’ve been talking to Stomach and Colon, and we have a plan.”
“Try me. Look at your husband back there. HE’S not panting like a Chihuahua during a thunderstorm. What’s YOUR problem?”
“It’s not a competition.” (silently competing harder)
(Instructor) “Now, let’s move on to Wind Removing Pose.”
“Oh, no. NoNoNoNoNo. Dear Jesus, please put your hand of embarrassment-prevention on my belly. Silence the evil of Stomach and unleash your righteous fury on Colon, telling him to ‘just be cool, man.’ I know I’m not supposed to bargain with you, but if it helps, I will cover myself in sackcloth and ashes and sing of your mighty works on Monument Circle—just please, please get me through the next 30 minutes with my dignity intact.”
Jesus, in His infinite mercy, always heeds my prayer and I make it through. I roll the dice again in the next class, not knowing if it’s going to be 90 minutes of magical, organ-compressing bliss, or of pure, vomity torture.
When the heat gets intense, my worst parts act up. It’s the same way in my non-yoga life. As work and motherhood and day-to-day pressures start to make me sweat, I am no longer the flexible and focused wife, mama and stepmama that I want to be. Anxiety and crabbiness start pouring out of me and my inner dialogue gets downright mean. So how I do silence it? I am slowly learning, but I have a long way to go.
More than anything, I have to ask for help when I need it. I’m going to make a confession to all of you: I enjoy a little self-imposed martyrdom now and then. I just do. It’s easier to let myself wallow in my “Poor me! I have to do this all by myself!” than it is to just ask for help and admit that I can’t stand the heat of life. Don’t be a grumpy hero, y’all. Ask for help.
Secondly, I need to let go of the way that I do things and realize that my way is not necessarily the best way, and it’s certainly not the only way. I can’t tell you how many times I have refused the offer of help from my husband or one of the kids because I thought “I’m just going to have to do it over anyway.” Why? Because they put the bowls in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of the bottom? Because they use a little too much furniture polish when they dust? The horror! Instead of letting the people who love me most show me that love by helping me when I need it, I load the dishwasher and dust the furniture my way, and then feel sorry for myself because of it. Goodness. That’s embarrassing to see in print, but it’s true.
If you find yourself doing the same things, I hope you can join me in the effort to let go of the grip we have on our to-do lists and just ask for help when we can’t take the heat. Like Bikram, it takes a ton of practice and patience with yourself, but we can do this. Namaste.
One of my friends used to lament to me that “everyone aspires to be a business traveler–until they get their wish.” I have to say that I agree with that statement for the most part. Something struck me two trips ago, however, that I have to share with my fellow parents and wives (working, stay-at-home or somewhere in between): There is great blessing in being alone. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. I am not talking about being lonely. I am talking about having time alone. And by “alone”, I mean without your family. You can be surrounded by thousands of people, in the middle of Times Square, and still be this particular type of “alone.” I can almost hear your maternal gasps of horror from here. Relax. You can be Supermom and admit that you need time to yourself, away from your spouse and your little Dewdrops from Heaven.
When I travel for work, my second goal, aside from providing value to my employer, is to see/do/find/taste/experience something new. I have visited Prairie Dog Town and the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, Texas; I have rigorously taste-tested gelato all over Little Italy in NYC; I’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; explored cemeteries in New Orleans– you get the idea. If there is a “World’s Biggest” or “Guinness Record Holding” something in a city I am scheduled to visit for work, I’m there, iPhone in hand, photo-documenting every bit of it. If you have to leave your family, manage the childcare jigsaw puzzle, and suffer through the delight that is traveling by plane in 2014, why not make the most of it?
About a month ago, I had to travel to LA. As usual, I spent a few minutes on Trip Advisor, researching the area in which I would be staying, and discovered that Redondo Beach was a) where they filmed the TV show “Baywatch” and b) that there had been an unusual number of great white shark sightings lately. Sold! Alas, I didn’t see any sharks, but as I was catching up on emails from the beach, I looked around at the vacationing families and laughing children, and was hit with a surge of love for my own family, which was immediately followed by the realization of how desperately I need my sporadic alone times.
In the summers, we have all five of our kiddos every other week (and two every week). I am so grateful for the extra time as a family of seven, and I wouldn’t trade one day of the crazy, ear-splitting loudness. However, I have to sheepishly admit that sometimes it just feels like too much while I am living in it. We’ve all had our moments of martyrdom, where being the mom, the maid, the chauffer, the bank, the personal attendant, the provider, the referee, the counselor and the disciplinarian feels like it is going to crush you. I had plenty of those moments this summer. More than I would even like to admit. However, sitting on that beach in LA, I realized just how much I desperately love and need each member of our crazy family. Distance and separation have a way of bringing clarity to your heart and mind in a way that counseling and Prozac never could! If you are in the middle of one of the “crazy moments”, where it’s all just too much, I would encourage you to find some creative ways to give yourself the gift of a little smidge of distance. It’s medicinal, and it works.
If you don’t have the sort of vocation that calls for periodic jaunts to the 4 corners of Earth, here are a few ideas:
1) Don’t undervalue the healing power of a few moments with a friend. Doesn’t have to be out of town– make time to have coffee or dinner with that one person to whom you can be completely honest about how crazy you feel at the moment, get it out, and then enjoy the perspective that only distance can provide.
2) Take time for something that is just for you. A fitness or art class, or a cup of coffee and people watching–whatever it is, schedule it into your calendar like an appointment and set the expectation with your family that this thing is just as important as a medical checkup or work obligation. You’ve heard that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”, right? Truth. Everyone will benefit from your rabid insistence that they honor your “alone” time. Do not feel guilty about this (and do as I say, not as I do while you’re at it…).
3) If you do travel for your job, I encourage you to step outside of the hassle of it all the next time you go somewhere, and breathe in the sights and experiences around you. Take note of the good and the bad. Enjoy the strangeness of navigating a new place by yourself and on your schedule. Let yourself miss your family, and enjoy the opportunity to miss them.
It’s such a strange dichotomy to let yourself bask in the chance to be independent of your mom-ness and wife-ness for a moment, but for your heart to long for your family. That is the blessing of being alone. I am grateful for the distance that allows me to refocus on what is most important in my life, and return to it with a renewed spirit and mind and with gratitude for being trusted with the exact life I have been given. I hope you can use your “alone” for the same purpose.