They used to tell me: You should be the best. You should be blemish-free. You should never make a bad decision. You should be happy all the time. You should be completely fearless. If you are falling short on any of these shoulds, then cover it up. Avoid it. Sweep your dirt under the rug and pretend it’s not there. And as you do all of this, make it look easy.
They didn’t use those words, but they told me with their rejection and criticism. They passed it down from generation to generation. They left me notes on magazine covers and sent messages through the TV. They showed me at home and at school when I was compared to other kids. They told me that being myself was not enough and if someone has more then naturally I have less.
These are the messages women are bombarded with. Sometimes they boom. Sometimes they whisper. They persistently demand perfection, which is ironic since there is no such thing. What is also ironic is the very thing that will make us stop comparing ourselves to each other is knowing how imperfect we all are and how important those imperfections are to the fulfillment that we seek.
But that irony is buried under layers and layers of fear and noise. Instead of rejoicing every moment in how unique we are and how freeing that is, we squeeze our lives into a one-size-fits-all box and we complain about how it fits compared to this person and that person. We change ourselves to try and make it look better, no matter how sad or uncomfortable it makes us.
HOW TO STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
The reason many of us become so obsessed with appearances is that comparison has us thinking we are lacking something on the inside. So instead of making it our life’s work to bring more and more of our inside gifts out, we busy ourselves with attaining more and more external gifts. Possessions. Status. Approval. Accomplishments. All of these are things we’ve been taught to measure to figure out our worth. But they never satisfy and we only keep wanting more and feeling threatened by all the people who have what we want.
Imagine being able to see into everyone’s soul. If our insides showed on the outside, would we compare and compete so much? Would we make so many assumptions? Or would we be able to see more clearly that we’re all human and complex inside and out? Secrets. Problems. Dreams. Insecurities. We would see the abuse that successful woman overcame to get where she is. And we’d see the grief that one walks around with everyday–all the people she’s lost and sacrifices she’s made. We’d see how much the seemingly confident one dislikes herself and how gentle the mean one used to be before life beat all the hope out of her.
Comparison is everywhere, all the time. But if we look a little deeper, into ourselves and others, we can see that it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true, and we can choose to respond to it differently. Left unchecked, comparison turns into jealousy, competition and of course, distraction.
We have to change the message and revise the shoulds:
You should value your own approval more than you value the acceptance of other people. You should love what you love the way you love it. You should know that you cannot lose what is meant for you. You should be authentic and trust the way God made you. And if you are falling short on any of these shoulds, you should explore yourself and find all the blessings you already have, the ones you are overlooking, that cannot be taken away and cannot be compared.