04: When You Want a Different Story

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIf we were to revisit that church basement, I would also tell you that I am a comparison junkie. As I’ve searched throughout my life for identity and purpose, I have, of course, encountered those who seemingly have their own lives totally and completely mastered. They hardly have to work to earn the favor of others, and any problem they face dissipates almost instantly when up against their wit and wisdom. Like with the rest of the identity crisis, the monster of comparison reared its ugly head when I was in college. Well, if I look really closely, it actually started before college. As soon as I had registered for classes, I haunted Facebook to see who else was making plans to attend that tiny Christian school. There was Amy, with her perfectly curled blonde hair and her guitar (sitting on a sofa in the middle of a field, no less). There was Sarah, the second semester freshman who already seemed so established. There was Katie, whose high school sweetheart went to college in the next town over. Needless to say, I didn’t have a boyfriend, still don’t have perfectly curly hair, and even though one of the girls I graduated with ended up going to the same school, she was just as nervous and worried about being established as I was. Before I had even stepped foot on campus, I had found little reasons to resent half the girls that lived on the hall with me, all because they seemingly had some in that I did not.

The comparison game continued, in small ways and mostly on my bad days, until it all but eviscerated me late into my third year. Of course, by then, I had made friends and found some fairly secure footing at school. I was editing the student newspaper and participating in ministry activities, and I even had a boyfriend. But then, in the spring, couples started doing what couples do: questions were popped left and right, and I counted more than thirty engagements. I whined and complained, much to the disdain of those few friends I had, that my boyfriend was never going to propose to me, even though we were getting pretty serious.

Well, in the winter of my senior year, my now husband did get down on one knee and ask for my forever. Today, we are happily married and still crazy in love.

But putting a ring on it (let's hear it for two Beyonce songs back to back in one blog post!) didn’t put an end to my woes. I quickly moved on to comparing our engagement photos to those of other couples, gazing lustfully at wedding dresses way out of my price range online, and searching for the most unforgettable honeymoon destinations. I literally spent hours dreaming up all of this perfection, so that for once, I could be the envied one. And now that I’m married, I’ve graduated from wanting the ideal wedding to trying with all my might to be the epitome of the perfect home maker.

I’ve spent so much time clamoring at the lives of others that I have neglected the gift of my own. This is what happens when you feed the monster, or, perhaps more aptly put, when the monster feeds on you.

My Friend Liz's Story

I am afraid I am too much to handle. I am afraid I am overbearing and my laugh may be annoying. I am afraid I will talk too much or make a joke at the wrong time. I am afraid my issues will be too heavy or my friends will get tired of my problems. What if people grow weary of dealing with my insecurities? I am afraid that my ambitions will be too big and my personality overwhelming. Sometimes I get off the phone and cringe at how strong I came across. What if people  smile and are nice, but are secretly relieved when I walk away? I wish that I could be cute and sweet. But I’m not very good at that. I always end up being intense. I am afraid that people will get tired of me.

I am afraid that I am not enough. I am afraid that I will disappoint people or be a dud. What if people expect something amazing and I don’t deliver? What if I am the wallflower at the party and get written off as boring? What if I have nothing to add to a conversation and offer no value to an idea? Sometimes I leave a meeting thinking through the things I wish I had said but was too scared to. I am afraid that I will be underwhelming. The girl everyone likes but no one needs. I am afraid that there is nothing significant or memorable about me.

And so, I binge back and forth between “too much” and “not enough”. When I feel overwhelming, I gear down. Soon I am afraid I have backed off too much. Time to jump back in the game. I evaluate my environment to see where I am on the pendulum. I am constantly battling this tension…back and forth I go. Overcompensating for my perceived “too muchness” or “not enoughness”.

(I would love for you to visit Liz's blog -- she is a gem).

When I began to look at my life, I asked myself, if I met myself in the check out line or handing out coffee and donuts at church, would I like myself. Would I be satisfied with myself, in spite of all the areas of my life that I perceived as lacking? Some days, I face the reality that I probably wouldn’t. Then came the even harsher reality that it wasn’t anyone else’s fault but mine.

In her world renowned book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about coming to that realization in her own life, and how she discovered the secret truth that, though there will always be external factors that we cannot control, much of who we are and who we become is actually up to us:

"There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I can read and eat and study. I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life - whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts." Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

The truth is, I got tired of comparing myself to the people around me. When you’re constantly trying to fit someone else’s mold, you only end up suffocating yourself. I wasn’t being productive, for fear that what I produced wouldn’t measure up. I wasn’t growing, because I was afraid of acknowledging myself as a whole person: both the good and the bad. And I didn’t feel alive, because I was always too busy trying to smother who I really am out of worry that the people around me would leave when they realized how messy I can be. But maybe more so than that, I worried that if my life did happen to be secretly beautiful, I wouldn’t ever be able to maintain that beauty. There I go, trying to be totally self-sufficient again.

But now, I want to open my eyes.



The conversation starts here: 

What kinds of people do you usually compare yourself to? What do they seemingly have that you seemingly lack?

If you met yourself in the grocery store or at your child’s soccer practice, would you like yourself? Why or why not? If you answered no, what can you do to change that?

What has been your strategy for creating a meaningful life and identity? Has it worked? What has been the hardest part, or the most rewarding?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}




Some Fine Print:

This is the fourth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!