They call it the thief of joy. It’s a creeping, sneaking, dirty little snake, sifting into the dark corners of your mind when you least expect it. It starts as a tickle, then an itch, then a full on throbbing headache. It whispers lies to your soul. “You’re not good enough, why even bother?” “You’ll never be able to do this. You’re nothing but a failure.” “If only you were as smart as them, you would have gotten the job.” These lies that feel like truth and cut us to the deepest places of our cores. Those whispers of poison that slice our heart strings like knives. Comparison. It is a cruel, cruel villain. It will keep you running on a treadmill of despair. It will stop you in your tracks. It will indeed, steal your joy.
Although malicious, comparison isn’t the most creative of beasts. It tends to attack the same places again and again. For me, I find comparison attacks my values. For example, I value relationships and creativity, and these are the areas where I compare myself the most. We don’t tend to compare ourselves in areas that we don’t really value. The same comparison that steals our joy can also steal our confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. We all offer valuable gifts in this world, but comparison convinces us that everyone else has something better to give. When we compare, we lose sight of who we are and become less passionate and purposeful in pursuing our values because we feel insecure. Comparison’s main agenda is to trick us into doubting our own abilities so that we will stay stuck. If given enough power, comparison will make us an ineffective people who spends most our time looking at others, while completely forgetting the potential that lies within ourselves.
Life hands us all kinds of lessons, and it’s handed me a few about the futility of comparison. However, one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned about comparison came from a rather unlikely place… the airport.
I have a weird love of airports. The whoosh of cold air, the clean efficiency, the excitement in the air, and the fresh smell of Cinnabon wafting through the terminals. I love the hustle, the moving sidewalks, the sense of satisfaction when you finally find your gate, and that perfect moment when you realize there’s a Starbucks in your terminal. But my absolute favorite thing about airports is the people watching. The wide variety of people all headed to different places is astounding. I love to make up stories about the people around me, watch their mannerisms, their family interactions, the way they carry themselves as they make their way to somewhere, someone, something. A common theme I’ve noticed is that in airports, people walk or wheelchair roll with purpose. There are a few outliers of course, but for the most part, people are walking or rolling with their eyes ahead, a purpose in mind, taking great strides ahead toward their final destinations. What people don’t do is stop, look where others are going, think “Hm, I bet where they’re going is better than me, I’ll follow them instead,” and then change their path to follow that person. They don’t look at other terminals and think “Where I’m going isn’t nearly as good as that! I think I’ll get my flight changed”. No, people are confident in where they’re going and they keep their eyes on their own path. I’m sure they’re happy for others to get where they’re going too, but what matters most is that they reach their own final destinations.
I think we can learn a lot from these airport people. What if we walked through life, and not just airports, with this same sense of purpose? Maybe we’d all reach our final destinations a lot more quickly. If I can be sure of my purpose and my path, then I can be happy and excited for others, while staying true to the path that was meant for me. I can stay focused on my own goals, while letting others pursue theirs, knowing that we all have different gifts, talents, personalities, and preferences. I can stop comparison in its’ tracks.
Let’s look at this in the context of health goals. Let’s say I’ve recently established a new habit of eating healthy and moving in a way that feels good to me. I am choosing more vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and I’ve even incorporated 30 minutes of walking into my daily routine. I am proud of my accomplishments, and I can already feel and see the differences in my body. All of a sudden, Joe Macro walks by, looking happier and healthier than ever, bragging that CrossFit and green juice have been the keys to his health, happiness, and six-pack abs. I immediately begin to compare and feel insecure about my measly walking. I decide I will purchase a CrossFit membership and find out what on earth is in green juice. Just then, I run into my good friend Sandra Stretch, glowing that yoga is changing her life and that following a vegan diet has already lowered her cholesterol 10 points. Comparison rears its ugly head again. “Hmm,” I think to myself, “Well I need to do what she is doing! She’s so far ahead of me!” That night, I sign up for CrossFit and buy enough tofu and kale to feed a small vegan nation. One month later I’ve abandoned my daily walks because “I ‘should’ be exercising at CrossFit” and have given up my balanced meals because “I ‘should’ be eating vegan,” but as it turns out, I really hate both. I feel down in the dumps, believing the lie that others are better and more successful than me, and I will never achieve my fitness goals. As I’m cleaning rotten tofu from my fridge, it dawns on me that I should have stuck with what worked for me. I was instead, fooled by the comparison trap.
This is a silly example, but it hits all too close to home. Maybe you haven’t had an experience this extreme, but I know I’ve been guilty of comparing my exercise routine to “theirs,” and feeling inadequate, or my work performance to “hers” and being jealous. It hits us when we least expect it. We’re content with the progress we’re making until we see someone else who looks different than us. Whether it’s relationship goals, career goals, or nutrition goals, it’s easy to become distracted by what others are doing and to believe that their path is better than our own. But when we start trying to follow their path instead, it often takes us much longer to reach our own final destination.
Whatever I’m pursuing, I want to be a person who is true to my own path, and to give thanks that the path I’m on is meant just for me. I believe that every person on this earth has something unique to offer, and by keeping our eyes on our unique destinations, we will be better equipped to fulfill the purpose we were meant to fill in this world. I also think we’ll be better equipped to love one another more genuinely because without comparison, others are no longer a threat. So here’s to being true to ourselves, staying on our own unique paths, knowing we each have purpose in this world, and cheering each other along on the way. Let’s stop comparison in its tracks!