It’s not fair! Ever start looking around at other people in a restaurant eating pie or cheesecake while you have to opt for dessert later since there’s no gluten-free option and begin to wonder why they have it so much easier than you? Ever feel annoyed when you sit empty handed while the rest of the office is oooing and ahhhing over a box of cupcakes they’re consuming?
Once you allow that comparison thought train to begin, does it gain steam down the track and cause you to compare, and compare, and compare until you’re sure you’ve gotten a raw deal as compared to everyone else? Now that you’re on the comparison train, do you move from feeling annoyed to feeling downright angry? Does this anger interfere with your compassion for those to whom you compare yourself?
How well do you know those who you believe are less encumbered? Is it possible that you don’t really know them at all? Is it possible that they are deliberately projecting a certain image in public that hides their grief, sorrow, shame, loss, confusion, or anger? If so, have you considered that although they can eat dessert immediately, their lives overall may not be easier or better than yours?
It’s easy to jump on the comparison train if we’re feeling a bit deprived, scared, unworthy, or sad. Focusing on someone else allows us to avoid feeling our real feelings in all their depth, breadth, and height. We may even know the comparison train never takes us to a positive destination, but jump on anyway in an attempt to get away from our internal noise.
When you’re looking across that restaurant or gritting your teeth while the office eats cake, are you seeing the whole picture before you begin comparing? Even if you’re at your grandmother’s dining table, it is possible you’re missing some pertinent facts?
To help us get a better visual picture, let’s play a game about perspective and perception.
The following list describes real people. The second list describes their real characteristics or actions. Match the description in the first list to the action in the second list you believe best fits each description.
1)Perfectly Coiffed, Suit Wearing Executive
2)Highly Educated Teacher with 3 Advanced Degrees
3)Successful Business Owner who sits on Multiple Governing Boards
4)Single Mother Earning Poverty Wage
5)Married Woman Pregnant With Baby From Affair
6)Mechanic at Tire Store
7)Award Winning Financial Advisor
A)Home is filled with trash and rotting food.
B)Poops on sidewalk outside hotel.
C)Daughter wears doo rag to church funeral.
D)Volunteers time to adult literacy organization.
E)Frequently travels to Europe to value antiques.
F)Blackens his wife’s eye, sprains her fingers, and holds her down on regular basis.
G)Chairs yearly high-profile charity event for a nonprofit organization.
While you were making your choices, were you focused on actions that you would expect from the description? Did you stop to think for a moment about the things you do in private that may seem incongruous with the persona you deliberately project to the public? Do you recognize that many comparisons are based on assumptions derived from a public persona that only partially reflects the internal state of the person to whom you’re comparing?
Now take a look at the real matches. Remember these are real life people and none of the actions are made up.
1)Perfectly Coiffed, Suit Wearing Executive…C)Daughter wears doo rag to church funeral.
2)Highly Educated Teacher with 3 Advanced Degrees…F)Blackens his wife’s eye, sprains her fingers, and holds her down on regular basis.
3)Successful Business Owner who sits on Multiple Governing Boards…A)Home is filled with trash and rotting food.
4)Single Mother Earning Poverty Wage…D)Volunteers time to adult literacy organization.
5)Married Woman Pregnant With Baby From Affair…G)Chairs yearly high-profile charity event for a nonprofit organization.
6)Mechanic at Tire Store…E)Frequently travels to Europe to value antiques.
7)Award Winning Financial Advisor…B)Poops on sidewalk outside hotel.
Did you get a perfect score? If even one of the answers surprised you, it can serve as a reminder that each of us knows very little about most of those with whom we interact every day. Because of this, comparisons of ourselves to others are futile.
The next time you hear the voice in your head saying, “It’s not fair that Marjorie’s eating my favorite chocolate cake and I can’t have any. Not only that, she’s tall, thin, blonde and can run a marathon. She has it so easy. I wish I had it so easy….”, perhaps it will be helpful for you to know that she also has high blood pressure, takes numerous meds, and lost her daughter in a car accident a year ago. There is always more to the story.
Yes, I realize when we stop comparing, we have to do something else to get through an uncomfortable moment. The easiest thing I know is to substitute gratitude. The minute I hear an “It’s not fair!” in my head, I stop and say, “I am grateful for (fill in the blank).” At that moment, I may grasp for anything: I’m grateful the sun is shining, my car is full of gas, my afternoon appointment canceled, my hair looks good today, this chair is short enough for my feet to reach the floor, they painted that wall purple…. Once I’ve found the first thing, 10 more will come rushing behind it and that chocolate cake seems less and less significant.
Gratitude may not be the only thing that works to get past a temptation to compare. Tell us what your technique is. We’d love to hear what works for you!