Comparison and Why You Should Stop “Trying”

An anti-New Year’s resolution-themed article…
A revised version of this article has been published on Psych Central.

GrayArea
The Gray Area

I used to be a big New Year’s resolution girl. At the end of every year, I would like most people, do a recap of all the things that happened, re-live the memorable moments, cry over the not-so good moments, and reflect on all my “failures” and “achievements.” Somehow at the end of every year, there often comes a little light at the end of the tunnel, an illusion that somehow magically everything bad from the previous year will hopefully fade away and new hopes and aspirations are awaiting in front of us.

Many people decide they want to change their diet, follow a regular exercise routine, quit smoking, learn how to play an instrument, pick up a hobby, work less, take a vacation, find a job, volunteer more, get married, be a better example for your kids, etc. The list goes on. Somehow many of us get a feeling that THIS is finally going to be the year when something is going to take off and happen. Well for me, this year my resolution is to have no resolution.

The problem with resolutions is that it can place you on a danger course of comparison. We all do it. We compare each other’s looks, status, children, wealth, skill-sets and values. You name it: we compare it. At first glance, comparison can be a good thing. It is actually quite essential. We all need a parent, teacher, co-worker, mentor, pastor, friend or role model to guide us and learn from. We are not meant to always be isolated creatures and to only figure things out solely on our own.  Unfortunately the “I” driven “independent” mentality in America has proven to come crashing down on us several times (that can be a whole separate article). We are dependent creatures and need to reach out to others for support and help.

Most times your mentor or friend may know something more than you, hence the obvious comparison: You know more. I know less. Therefore, I want to know what you know. Or the triple comparison: he is “better” than me, but at least I’m “better” than she. One tricky comparison is that of suffering. For example, someone’s family member dies (physically leaves the planet) and another person’s 30-year marriage is over. Who’s suffering more? Both are exactly the same because they are both experiencing the same feelings of pain, grief and loss. To compare the “extent” of one’s trials is something not so important in my opinion.

The catch 22 is that we will never be able to learn, develop and progress unless we go through a process of comparison. It is human nature to want to grow and evolve (some more than others). And while we all have this inner desire to do so, comparison can quickly take a nasty detour into the realm of envy, resentment and jealousy.

One of my friends recently tried out for an audition and became completely devastated she didn’t get the role. She poured her heart and soul out, wanting so much to be recognized and heard, compared all the groups that tried out before her and logically reasoned why she would be fit for the part. When it didn’t happen, she felt like a failure. I assured her she was not a failure, and reminded her that there is much beauty to be had and much to be gained in the entire process that happens before even stepping foot on the stage. Of course everyone wants to win the “prize,” but the “prize” is always short lived. It’s in the sweat, tears, and heartache, the camaraderie gained in working with others on a shared vision, the pouring out of every ounce you have until you can’t do it anymore, where lasting growth takes place (versus merely trying so hard to achieve an end result or goal).

I recently watched a few minutes of the VMA’s (video music awards) on MTV at my parents’ house. I don’t currently have a television at my place, so it’s always interesting to see what goes on when a remote falls into my hands. I was semi-captivated, witnessing all the “stars” receiving their trophies. It must be a surreal feeling to reach that level of fame and be recognized for your achievements, but how much of that stuff really matters?

And the real question is..

  • Once you get the “prize,” what are you going to do with it? Place it on your shelf to gawk at?
  • Once you reach a certain level of influence, how are you going to translate what’s been given to you?
  • Are you going to help, inspire and serve others? Or simply build up and inflate the kingdom of yourself?

Another question to ask is…

  • What do you do everyday and what are your most simple pleasures?
  • Do you wake up every morning thankful to be alive and loving what you do? If not, what are you doing and why are you doing it?
  • Is there a block stopping you from pursuing your passions or have you decided to give up your passions to serve others?

Sometimes we have to do things we hate, and sacrifice a part (if not all) of ourselves for an extension of ourselves (family, students, population in need).  Are you striving to serve a higher purpose beyond your own gratification and needs?

Every year I make a CD for my family of some piano songs I learn throughout the year. I’ve started a tradition and even created a special coding system where you can compare how a song was played in year 1 versus year 2. First of all, why would anyone even care about something so trivial? Second of all, why do I feel the desire of having to compare myself? I constantly compare various seasons of my life (past with present, present with hopeful future). For example, “when I was raver, I acted like that. Now that I’m a Christian, I act like this. When I’m single, life is like this. When I’m in a relationship, life is like that. When I’m at work, I need to be like this. When I’m with friends, I can act like that.”

The bottom line is to stop “trying.” Stop trying to be better than your neighbor and stop trying to be better than the standards we self-impose and create for ourselves. Who are we trying to prove ourselves to? The reality is who cares if your neighbor has a bigger HD TV or a prettier lawn, the person you love chooses someone else over you, you’re co-worker gets the promotion even though you “deserve” it, and the other person has better skills according to a group of “judges.”  Yes, sometimes we are faced with unfortunate situations, however, perhaps it is in the way we handle and process a particular circumstance that can “make” or “break” us.

Another tricky comparison is that of status and values. Many of us take pity and feel sorry for those “below” us: the homeless man, the abused child, or the lost wayward criminal. At first glance, you may appear to be a righteous, “self-less” person with a huge caring heart, always wanting to help others in need. But the reality is we’ve all felt unsatisfied or without a “home,” have been abused in various forms, and felt lost at some point in our lives or another. We are not “above” anyone and need to stop comparing. Just get up and do what needs to be done, whether that’s lending a helping hand or not.

We can’t really “earn” our way through life (or into heaven if you wanna take it there). No matter what, we will never live up and will always fall short. And that is absolutely OK. Once you open your heart to accepting this, it is actually quite beautiful and freeing. All we have to do is relax into each and every moment that’s been given to us. Wake up with a purpose. And if you don’t know yet what that purpose is or are constantly unsure, in the words of Stevie Wonder, “when you feel your life’s too hard.. just go have a talk with God.”

—-
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2014

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