I haven’t posted for a while, but there’s something that’s been bothering me lately, more so than usual, and I feel the need to share it.
Why do we constantly feel the need to compare ourselves to others, and why are we always trying to be better than everyone else? Why does our self-confidence so often rely on other people, and why do we instinctively feel the need to judge everyone around us?
And don’t even tell me that you don’t compare yourself to others, or that you don’t judge anybody else. Even if you consciously work NOT to do these things, we have all done them in the past, and it’s extremely difficult to go through a day without a single comparison or passing of judgment. There is no shame – only knowledge and honesty here. If you’re going to get upset and uncomfortable about introspective questions, then you should probably stop reading.
I have seen the devastating effect that comparing and judging can have on friendships, relationships, and families. I don’t understand why we do it.
Well, maybe I do understand, a little bit. Our society breeds us from the very beginning to be this way. We are constantly bombarded by images of skinny, “perfect”, beautiful people, wearing the most expensive clothes and shoes and make-up and perfume. They are flawless – and a completely unattainable ideal that we are told is real. In addition, we are also told that we can do whatever we want, and be whoever we want if we “just work hard enough” – when really, that isn’t necessarily the case. Not everyone can be an astronaut. Not everyone can be a doctor. Not everyone can be a famous actress, or be good at math, or be a groundbreaking scientist. Not everyone can be a CEO, or make six figures a year. And you know what? That’s completely okay! It’s the reality of life. Unfortunately, many of us are told differently.
We are taught to look pretty (or handsome), be smart, and be the best at everything we do. For many of us, if we aren’t the best at something, it means that we are a failure – whether we’re told or not. If we can’t be perfect, like the characters we see in the movies, the models on the runway, or the people we look up to, then we have let everyone around us down… whether they were expecting perfection from us or not. Somehow, we grow up learning to put pressures on ourselves that may or may not truly be there.
Even with the amazing new videos out there showing us how many advertisements are photoshopped, and even with the “love yourself” campaigns, and all of the actors and actresses coming out against the ridiculous amounts of pressure we put on ourselves – we may logically know that our ideals are grossly unrealistic… but when it’s all you see on the street, or all you see on social media, or when the boys at your high school make lists and rankings of the “hottest girls,” or when women are constantly looking for men who have a six-pack set of abs or a super status high-paying job, or when your friend gets cat-called and you don’t, or when the girl you like goes for the football captain instead of you… it’s a social and psychological epidemic that seems to have no “cure,” because we can’t even see what the problem itself is.
It’s not something that runs consciously through our minds – it’s just part of how we function in everyday life.
Here is my own, personal example.
I quit my previous job because I felt like the values of the people I was working for were out of line with my own, and it just wasn’t a good fit. I am having a difficult time finding another job – no matter where or how often I look. I have a master’s degree in a growing field, and a pretty solid resume… but still, nothing. So, inherently, I feel like a failure. I feel like I’m just a housewife, doing nothing, using her husband’s money. Worthless, except for cleaning the house and cooking dinner. I have never wanted children, but have considered getting pregnant so that I feel like I have a purpose in life, something to do. I have considered going back to school for another degree, and I say it’s because it’s something I’ve “always wanted”… but I struggle to commit, because it might also just be to fill a void.
When I feel like I’m failing, I usually also feel the need to be the “best” at something else. Whether it’s being the skinniest, or prettiest, or having the cleanest house, or cooking amazing dinners, or being the “best” wife, or having the “perfect” marriage… something. I need something to work on, something to perfect, so that when I talk to other people… then they can say “well, at least she’s got a rockin’ body”… or whatever.
It’s ridiculous. Absolutely, mind-blowingly ridiculous. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. When something goes wrong in one area of our lives, we often overcompensate in another area, in order to create a balance and feel okay.
I know I’m not a failure. I live in a depressed area, with few jobs in my field. Even so, being a “housewife” is in no way a failure, and I know that my husband would struggle to do all of the things I do every day if he was expected to do them alone. Nobody has told me that I’m a failure. In stark contrast, everyone has been extremely supportive, and not even the least bit condescending. But still… the feeling of failure is there. The pressure is a pressure that I put on myself.
Maybe it’s because of where I grew up, and the people I was friends with as a teenager. Maybe it’s because I just spent a huge load of money on a master’s degree that isn’t doing me any good at the moment. Maybe it’s because all of my friends have jobs or seemingly fulfilled lives and I feel like I’m lagging behind. Maybe it’s because of the media. Maybe it’s because I’m bored. Maybe it’s because of some deep-rooted psychological issue that I have yet to resolve. I don’t know. Maybe it’s for no reason at all.
I credit yoga with keeping many of these thoughts and feelings at a reasonable distance. Thank the stars for yoga, because it has – in the most beautiful way – given me a strength and calm and confidence that I never knew I could have. It has allowed me to begin accepting myself for who I am, and who I am alone – not compared to anybody else. This confidence allows me to say “SCREW what everybody else thinks. It’s none of their business, anyway”, and actually mean it.
So, even if we know why we feel the need to compare and judge, who’s right is it to judge me, anyway? What right do I have to judge others? Everyone makes their own decisions, and has their own path. Some paths are handed out, difficult to change, and others are chosen with purpose. Either way… I can never understand someone else’s path. And nobody can understand mine.
It hurts me to hear my friends when they compare themselves to others – because I think that they are beautiful, and strong, and amazing just as they are. It hurts me that sometimes I feel the need to compare myself to others, because I don’t feel good enough the way that I am.
It’s awful. We were taught never to “settle”, to constantly work harder and longer and be stronger and better. This, inherently means comparing yourself to others. How can you know if you’re the best at something, if you don’t have a reference point? But, in the struggle to be the best at whatever it is you’re working for, you also run the serious risk of losing yourself and your happiness along the way, and in the end, is that really worth it?
For me, the answer is a resounding NO.
So, in writing this, I ask everyone who reads it to give yourself a little love – or a lot of love – any and all kinds of love. Reject the norm and your instinctual tendency to judge or compare yourself to others. Start working to understand that you are beautiful just as you are. Love yourself and the path you’re on, learn to embrace it’s twists and turns, and learn whatever you can from the things that come your way. Be open and honest with yourself and with others, and if others won’t accept you for who you are, then find people who will. Do what makes you happy – not what you think you’re “supposed” to do, and not what you’ve always been told to do. Find an outlet that calms your mind – and make time for it, no matter what. It’s amazing what loving yourself can do for you – and it’s amazing what loving others can do for you, too. 🙂