Although I’m a little behind schedule, I’m still participating in the 40-day Inner Mean Girl Cleanse. This week, the trait we’re supposed to transform is comparison — the nonstop tendency we have to compare ourselves with everyone else and, of course, always come up short. The assignment for the week was to become aware when comparison begins and to try to replace it with inspiration, appreciation and gratitude. In other words, the intent is not to replace negative comparison with positive comparison (i.e. finding areas where you feel superior or better off than someone else), but rather to find inspiration from and appreciation for the person(s) you may be comparing yourself with and gratitude for what you already have in your life.
I didn’t get much into the transformational aspect of the assignment this week because I was sick, but I did spend plenty of time reflecting on where comparison arises for me. Negative comparison is probably my most toxic self-sabotaging habit and the way in which my Inner Mean Girl can almost always “get me.” There are three main areas where I compare myself incessantly, feel inferior in the comparison and end up feeling bad, if not terrible, about myself. It’s painful even to write them down, but here they are:
- Writing. Everywhere I turn it seems there is someone who is more disciplined, more dedicated, more talented, more creative, and therefore, more successful than I am. You can read countless stories featuring the “superwoman” who became a successful author despite homeschooling eight children, coaching the Pee Wee soccer league, making a home-cooked meal every night, having her home featured in Architectural Digest, sitting on the Board of the Arts Outreach Program in her community, and founding and running her own nonprofit to help impoverished children in Africa. Meanwhile there’s me, who can’t seem to overcome a large pile of laundry, much less any serious obstacles in my path to becoming a writer. At least, that’s what my Inner Mean Girl would have me believe. I know this kind of thinking chokes my spirit and my creativity, and I’m sure it comes from the fear I have of failing at writing, especially now that I’ve given up my “real” job.
- Housekeeping. My Inner Mean Girl tells me that my house is a wreck compared to everyone else I know and that there’s no excuse for it. She says I’ve never been a good housekeeper and never will be. According to her, I’m lazy, unmotivated, scattered, unorganized, and all attempts to change those traits are futile. Meanwhile, so many women I know have houses that are so beautifully kept up I truly can’t fathom how they manage it. I know they don’t all have full-time housekeepers and landscapers. In this area, especially, I know it’s completely pointless to compare myself to others because everyone’s schedules, priorities, and external circumstances are different. Still, I can’t help but feel I should be doing a much better job every time I see the clutter that accumulates or the jungle that substitutes for our landscaping.
- Fitness/Physical Appearance. What woman doesn’t have this one on her list? In this case, I can tell you that this is one area where living in Boulder doesn’t help. This place is teeming with über fit people. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the mother of one of Em’s classmates, with three children herself, is a former Olympian who was once featured on the cover of Runner’s World. I found that out when I sheepishly offered to help form a running club in the elementary school a couple of years ago. I quickly handed her the baton. After the meeting, I heard her tell her husband (also an Olympian) that she was just going to nip out for a quick ten-mile run. Anyway, there are no shortage of people here with multiple Iron Man finishes, six-pack abs, zero body fat and perfect figures. And that’s just the people in their sixties… Lots of room for the Inner Mean Girl to thrash about the 30 extra pounds I’ve put on since high school, the jeans that fit just a bit too tight, the lines showing up around my eyes and the fact that I should be able to find time at least once a week for a run longer than 3 miles. After that, she’ll sit me down for a chat about that cheeseburger I ate for dinner tonight.
The reason it was so painful for me to write these things down is because there is a big part of me that still believes the Inner Mean Girl is right on all of these counts. I still have a lot of work to do before I’ll be able to adequately muzzle her. I realized during my reflection this week that my Gratitude Sunday posts, and my gratitude practice in general, is one way that I work to combat these unnecessary and negative comparisons. The rest (inspiration, appreciation) needs more focus.
One thing I am exceedingly grateful for, however, is that my Inner Mean Girl is pretty quiet on the subject of motherhood. I’ve shut that down as a potential source of abuse. I am not a perfect mother, and I make plenty of mistakes. However, my children and their well-being has always been and always will be the top priority. No matter how many mistakes I make with the kids, I know deep within myself that I am doing the very best job I can and that my children know how much they are loved. Now if I could only take that wisdom and apply it to the other areas where I feel so woefully inadequate…
Tough subject, but in what areas of your life do you sabotage yourself with comparison and criticism? Have you been able to get beyond it? Are there areas that are untouched by comparison?