Since early in my childhood, I’ve always had a tendency to compare myself to others. One of the earliest memories I have was from 2nd grade. One of my fellow classmates and I had been chosen for our district Spelling Bee, and this particular day, we were going to meet all the other class representatives from our school. I struck up a conversation with one girl in particular. She was only a grade above me, in 3rd grade. Obviously, at that age, there’s not much to talk about, so the first question out of our mouths was asking about age. It turns out, she was a whole grade above me, but a month younger than me. For some reason, that conversation began to bother me, and fester within me like an ugly disease. I went home that day and asked my mom (while sobbing) Why, why I couldn’t just be in the same grade as that girl. Why did I have to be older than the other kids in my class? If there was nothing wrong with me, intellectually, why couldn’t I just skip a grade? In my 8-year-old mind, that would solve the world’s issues.
I became keenly aware that boys tended to get ‘held back’, while all the other girls were not. With that, another comparison/self-confidence negative spiral also began. Not only was I stupid, but I was a stupid girl. And regardless of the stories or examples of a few other kids in similar situations as me, it always circled back to that comparison. I would look at others and always feel like I was behind.
For years — years on end, I would bring up this grade-age comparison, and the negative thoughts would begin to flow. I was older than my classmates. Therefore, I was stupid. Why couldn’t I just skip a grade. Why was I so dumb that I couldn’t be like all the other kids my age?
The comparisons of grade and age (finally) stopped after I graduated high school. But this first, and earliest comparison stole many years of happiness away from me.
As I got older, other comparisons took place. Achievement — such as why ALL of my classmates could take all the AP/Honors classes and be able to manage on 4 or 5 hours of sleep, but I couldn’t. Leadership — Why could a girl who wasn’t as ‘good’ as me at music could be the section leader in band. Friendships — why certain people around me always had friends who checked in on them, dropped off gifts, threw surprise birthday parties, but I didn’t.
Through years of therapy, and working on negative/anxious thought spirals and self-confidence, I’ve worked to re-frame those comparisons and consider accomplishments that I have made without comparing myself to others. (Yay, CBT.)
However, recently, I’ve found myself in the comparison trap yet again. Maybe it’s the time of year, and maybe it’s because everybody posts only their accomplishments on social media. Thoughts such as: I’m 30, and look at all my peers who: Have their PhDs, Are dating/engaged/married/have 1-4 kids, Have nice full-time jobs and careers they are satisfied with, (and more recently) Are homeowners.
And the comparisons start yet again. What am I doing with my life? I feel so worthless compared to all of them. What have I accomplished in my 30 years of life? (Silence…) NOTHING! (Which, in CBT/therapy exercise, I’d be encouraged to think about the things I have accomplished…and to challenge that thought. To critically question… Have I really accomplished NOTHING in 30 years? But I digress….)
Today, after reading a blog post a friend posted, I’m reminded to be patient with myself, and to continue to challenge the tendency toward comparisons and anxious/negative thought spirals. I have overcome and continue to deal with struggles and challenges that many of my peers don’t have to think about. The convoluted road I’ve taken toward my career goals has given me perspective and life experience that others might not ever encounter in their career journeys. And I can’t tell you how many of my peers who may have had picture perfect marriages at 25, 26, but are, at 30, now divorced, or on the brink of divorce. And is that something I want to compare myself to? Is it even a necessary or useful comparison?
I must also continue to remind myself (and to those reading) that many things posted on social media are glorified in a positive light. Comparison is truly the thief of joy. I will continue to challenge this tendency toward comparison, and remember to be patient with myself in my life journey.