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Healthy Minds Healthy College

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

May 26, 2016

I’ve got two young kids, a full-time career, a busy husband, and no parents or siblings in Manitoba. It’s it’s hard to juggle all the moving parts that come with a fast-paced life. I’m sure you can relate in your own way!

It is said that wellness is many things: a state of being, a skill, a journey. I’m writing this post to share my encouragement about what it takes (and doesn’t take) to “keep it together!” This is my first post on this topic.

I heard a working mom once reply to the question, “can we have it all?” by saying what we often hear: “Yes, sure we can! We just can’t have it all at once.” You know what? That comment falls a bit flat for me.

I’ve heard a response that resonates more deeply, which is “no, we can’t actually have it all – and when we are able to reconcile this truth and make peace with it, life actually gets happier.” Now, that’s a statement that challenges me and makes sense at the same time. Why? It’s not about settling. This is about realigning what your priorities actually are, being grateful for the things you do have, and finding peace and happiness as you are.

One big struggle I deal with on a regular basis is the lack of immediate family I have in Manitoba. I came to live in Winnipeg nine years ago with my husband, but we weren’t sure if we were going to stay after he finished law school here.

Well, we stayed. It’s not a surprise that my family didn’t follow us out here – after all, life continues for them back home, but I never realized just how much I would be longing for help, support and overall sharing of life’s ups and downs with our parents and siblings who live two and three provinces away. I openly admit that I envy other moms who tell me how their kids are going for a sleepover to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on the weekend or that a sibling is helping out when someone in the family is sick.

So when I look at this one example, can I have it all? Well, if “it” includes having family present in our daily lives, then no, I can’t – at least not in the clichéd sense, and that’s not likely to ever change.

But there’s a beautiful saying by Theodore Roosevelt that helps me with this and I want to share it with you — Comparison is the thief of joy.

What a good thing to remember. And if you are like me, I love my joy! So what a powerful thought to realize that comparison allows joy to be stolen.

When I find myself in the mire of comparison, I will sometimes have a bit of a “pity party” – which basically just means that I allow myself to feel upset without self-judgement. Sometimes, along with that, anger or resentment bubbles up in there – I know how to let that fade. It always does. But while it’s around, it’s an ugly feeling.

When we’re comparing ourselves to others,  it’s good to get in the habit of noticing it. Just to be aware what happens in that split second can be so revealing. We are conditioned to think that comparison is a motivational tool that propels us to improve our own situation, but  it’s also a dangerous mental habit. Is becoming “motivated” by the act of comparing yourself to someone actually worth your joy?

In sharing with you my thoughts in this area, I’m also happy to tell you that there is one aspect of my life where I’ve actually got this lesson somewhat figured out. It’s regarding what my kids are “supposed to be doing” at their ages (of 5 and 3). I often get asked, “so did you put your kids in soccer this spring?” “Are they in hockey yet?” “What about swimming?” “Kindermusik? It’s the must-have class this year!” It makes me chuckle when I enter conversations like this, because I have a clarity that brings me so much peace.

Here’s my clarity: I can only do with them what I can, and I can’t take both of my kids to many of those kinds of activities at the same time without being run ragged, so I am choosy. I also need my own time! And on top of this, frankly, there is simply no rush – I really can’t say this enough.

So for us, my 5 year old daughter had some dance classes about a year ago, and she had some swim lessons in the winter. Meanwhile, my 3-year old son hasn’t started a single “activity” yet. And you know what? It’s great. Both my kids are both active, joyful, social, super bright, funny, silly people who have talents and gifts – some of which are developing with mom and dad, some at daycare, some on their own – and others which will develop as time passes. I’m looking at piano lessons for my 5 years old this summer. Maybe. But you know what?  I’ll never look back and wish I hadn’t “missed the boat” on getting them into 3-year old soccer twice a week and that they’ve lost some critical developmental milestone from not having had the chance to kick a ball and eat a snack (the most fun part of soccer). I just know this.

I share this lesson with you to encourage you – if you’re feeling like your decisions are sometimes being driven by the “norms” you see happening in your peer group, take a step back and remind yourself that you forge your own norm, no matter what stage of life you’re in. Your circumstances are unique, your needs are your own, and someone else’s life trajectory will never be the same as yours, so your decisions don’t need to be the same either. It’s about letting go of comparison.

What are the things you find you struggle with comparing against others? Do you take comfort in anything I’ve shared with you? What has given you peace? How do you “keep it together?” Parents and non-parents alike, I’d love to hear your comments.