I think it’s pretty hard in 2020 to be a woman on this earth and not deal with some level of nasty comparison. What does comparison tell us about ourselves? There must be a reason why it stings sometimes.
And listen, to some degree we aren’t going to avoid it, right?
Like if we really think about it, even the places that we go to find inspiration can leave us feeling a little “Less than”
It really depends on our mindset.
Did we go looking for the information or did it come to us?
For example, if we are lost about what we are going to chuck into some pans given the limited options in our kitchens stocked with shelf-stable foods, we might turn to Pinterest to find thousands of options from women who had a tighter grasp on their cooking plans that we do. And we are grateful for those colorful pictures of tasty meals prepared in clean, modern beautiful kitchens, detailed recipes.
Thank you, Wonder Moms!
We appreciate you taking the time to create this so we can have a chance to follow your instructions and maybe just maybe feed our families something that won’t lead to fighting at the table. (fat chance!)
But if we are just mindlessly scrolling and that same exact kitchen pops into our feeds with the same person sharing how she just nailed a new recipe with her kiddos, we might feel like, “Well…how come I’m not discovering new recipes? Why isn’t my kitchen like that?”
Why are we like this?
Why do we compare ourselves?
Well, there is a theory that comparison is one of the ways that we assess risk (Which we humans aren’t so great at. Our assesser is broken in 2020.)
We know that if we are in the jungle and encounter a Tiger…come on, tigers come to mind here in April of 2020…
…ok, what if we saw a tiger. We would quickly compare ourselves to the tiger and know pretty fast that we are in a bad spot. We need to react to save our lives.
Before we get mouthy with someone who has wronged us in one way or another, we compare ourselves to them to evaluate if it would be too risky if it were to get handsy.
So comparison does have some value in keeping us whole.
But this part of our lizzard brains often gets in the way with how we live our lives in regular situations.
And here is what is particularly rough: I think this shows up biggest in our lives as it relates to whatever we are most self conscious about, yeah?
Let me give you an example in my own life of something that doesn’t bring me grief compared to something that does:
I am recording this in the Spring of 2020. We are a month into shelter-in-place here in Virginia for the Coronavirus outbreak. Just last week, the world celebrated Easter with their churches, friends, and families…from home.
After a regular ol’ breakfast, our family, still in PJs and with messy hair, rolled down into the basement to watch services on our big screen where we do Family Movie NIght Fridays. It’s a special place for us.
Since our girls are involved in the elementary aged ministry, leading worship song and dance from stage, they never get the chance to join us over in “Big Church.” We just experience church apart. So I was pretty excited for us to all enjoy the message together.
And as I waited for it to begin, I scrolled my facebook feed and saw SO. MANY. MOMs. CRUSHING IT with the Easter experience.
There were families who were all dressed up in spring perfection.
Little girls with hair in big bows and dresses.
Boys in little suits looking like little princess right there in their own living rooms.
Get this: entire families smiling and looking at the camera, which had to have been on timers, and everything. Like straight out of a TV show.
Bree Van De Camp would have been so proud of you!
I saw these fabulous brunches with spreads I couldn’t manage even if we did have a house full of people I love to the moon and back.
People were doing incredible things with easter eggs (which we had not yet even decorated because I couldn’t remember where I shoved … placed the fake eggs I bought on post-Easter clearance last year. I wasn’t wasting actual, incredible edible eggs on a project when they are still sometimes hard to find right now.
And this continued all day!
When i realized around 2pm that I hadn’t given any thought to our easter dinner, I called Bonefish Grill to place a take-out order that would feel pretty luxe at this point.
And after eating it and loving every single bite, I saw these beautiful spreads on perfect tables.
And I was so filled with pure joy becuase so many people were making the most of such a strange time.
Amazing women were filling in the gaps in the ways that they knew best.
For us, the chance not to stress about finding fancy shoes that fit or keeping hair brushed, or burning the whole meal (this has happened!) that many people were counting on, felt like such a gift. I felt relieved and empowered and whole and loved. Easter was a HUGE, laid-back, success in particular Bulavko style.
For other people, the unlimited time to set the perfect table or indulge in a meal with special ingredients was exactly what they needed that day.
That evening, I was thinking about how it was one of the best Easters I’ve had in a while.
And it hit me: I don’t feel self conscious about how I run my family.
That might sound strange, but I feel pretty comfortable with my base level of Give-A-Hoot about traditional mom considerations. We kinda do the ragamuffin thing pretty regularly and I feel zero shame about it. I feel like, in general, I’m nailing this thing in my own way. I feel a whole-ness about that area of my life right now.
IN fact, I’m in sweatpants (not the cute joggers… but no kidding walmart sweatpants) and a sweatshirt right now, actually. It’s cold out!
So seeing other people hitting it right out of the park doesn have any impact on me other than just a pure outflowing of joy for them.
But I could totally understand other women scrolling and feeling a punch from the left with every picture of a perfectly clean and dressed family and a hook from the right with every perfect meal.
I understand it because those hands come at me in other areas.
Wherever our tender spot is, that’s where the beast of comparison hides…waiting to pounce.
Here is where I feel the sting of comparison:
For me, if I am searching for some specific information about a triathlon problem or reviews for a new thing I’m considering buying, I always receive 2 distinct messages in the marketing on the internet about my value in the sport:
- Triathlon is mostly male dominated
- The women who participate are more fit and beautiful than I will ever be
Yup. I am telling you that as I look for a new wheel riser to use with my trainer or tips for activating glutes or whatever it is…. I get a little side dish of “You will never compare.”
Because as you may have noticed, youtube is filled with male triathletes. Packed.
Where are the women?
Oh you can find them. They are on Instagram..running in their bra & teeny shorts or sitting on the pool deck in a skimpy bikini.
And on gear websites? With the exception of companies that are women run and marketed specifically to women, like Coeur sports, Betty Designs, Smashfest Queen or Liv cycling, the product promotional images and videos are again, men or incredibly fit women.
And I’m not saying this to minimize participation from men or fantastically beautiful and athletic women! No, I am genuinley happy that they have found their space.
It’s that this is where the comparison game enters my life.
And sometimes, in weaker moments, definitely leads me down a road of paralysis.
It’s raw. It’s delicate. It’s a little rough around the edges.
And it’s the place where I’m most determined to succeed.
WE SHOULD EXPECT IT IN THE AREAS THAT ARE FRAGILE
We need to just know that when we declare into the universe that we are going to move in a direction of improvement, we will find immediate push-back.
When you first mount your bike, that first push off requires more force to get the pedals moving than subsequent pedal strokes. You need to get some movement under you.
The first mile of any run tells us that we aren’t up for the challenge. It tells us all kinds of lies about ourselves and our abilities.
The start is hard.
It’s physically hard. It’s emotionally hard.
I think that’s because we are fragile at the start. We have declared we want something; a transformation, and improvement, an addition, a change, a deletion, and (and this is the important part) we have proven to the world that we mean it by taking a step.
And now the world gives us the push-back.
What separates the wheat from the chaff is the ability to keep going.
We have to be able to hold both our desire to improve and the idea that there will be pushback.
And the easiest cheap-shot around, the one that we find the world giving to us most often, is the sucker punch of comparison.
WE HAVE TWO CHOICES
And hey, when the circumstance is binary, a simple x or y, we know that its going to be HARD, right?
We can allow comparison to break us or we can use it for motivation.
Notice I didn’t say, “Or we can ignore it.”
Nope, we all know that isn’t possible! Remember the lizzard brain? That’s reeally just the part of our brains called the Amygdala. It’s part of our limbic system, our emotional center. It controls our fight or flight mechanism.
And we don’t have the option to turn it off.
But luckily, you aren’t just a product of your amygdala. You are capable of all kinds of higher level thought.
You can recognize comparison. And you can recognize the feelings that come up when someone is excelling in the areas that you want to improve. You can decide to turn envy or self-doubt into motivation.
You can decide to go for it anyway.
In this season, I want to encourage you.
If you are holding back from making the big declarations that are on your heart, I say, “The time is now.”
Later, Lizzard brain.
If you are comparing yourself the the never ending feed of fast, slim runners who post their stylized shots of themselves with the garmin pace and distance overlay and feeling like less of a runner, I have one question for you:
-Do you move forward with one foot in front of the other in rapid or rapidish succession?
Excellent. You are a runner.
It’s not a sliding scale. You’re in. Welcome to the club. We have shirts.
Would you like to have access to more weights and machines to take your strength to the next level but youre nervous about going to the gym because other people might be further along than you?
Every expert was once a beginner.
Go to the gym. Focus on yourself in the mirror. Snatch that weight.
Struggling to get yourself to the bike shop because you don’t want to feel silly with the experts?
Just show up and place yourself in the space. In time, it will feel more normal. Give yourself the opportunity to get there.
Are you ready to slip into the stretchy clothes of a triathlete and race your first sprint but you’re worried about allllll the things that could go not-quite-as-planned and other people might laugh?
Guess what, that is very likely to happen. There, I solved the mystery.
There are many moving parts to a triathlon. Just know it will feel funky at first. Don’t compare yourself to the people who have been at the start line many times. They have been where you are.
To be clear, we aren’t going down a rabbit hole here about comparing your comparison to someone else’s. My hope for you is that you recognize it creeping up in you, realize that it likely means that you care about your place in this topic, and use it to move you forward.
Now, if the comparison game has become so deeply entrenched in your life, we are going to have to take a few steps to mash that first hard pedal stroke towards change.
First: Accept imperfection
Face it, you aren’t perfect. There. I said it.
Could you imagine how boring life would be if we were all perfect? If we werent always on some crazy voyage from where we started to where we could go?
What fun would life be if we had nothing to explore? No boundaries to press? No limits to smash?
I’m an enneagram 7, which I’m sure is shocking to zero people. The Enneagram Instutitue describes us as: “The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered”
Sidenote: if you have never taken an enneagram assessment, I highly recommend it. You’ve got nothing but time right now!
I’m also a Sagittarius. We are born to explore.
For me, a life where I declared myself at the start to be unfit for the challenge and then quit before I began would be suffocating.
That’s a life that never began.
So instead, let’s recognize that there is no way to be perfect, ever. We certainly aren’t when we start. And here is an important piece: the person you are comparing yourself to also isn’t perfect.
The goal isn’t perfection. It’s presence. Meaning, you don’t have to have perfect form and crazy pace when you are running to find joy in it. You just have to be running.
The very act of feeling your feet move beneath you, of having the blood pump through your major muscles, to exchange bad air for good, THAT is the goal.
There is nothing to compare that to!
Second: Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides
I love this image that circulates around every so often.
There’s so much that we don’t see when people succeed. To be the best, are you willing to commit and do the hard stuff day in, day out? My #cartoon here: https://t.co/WA2cHzx59s #GRIT #hardwork #success #habits #Behaviour #choices pic.twitter.com/fetva1B4qi— Office Guy Cartoons (@OfficeGuyToons) March 12, 2018
Social Media is a Highlight Reel
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but just as a quick reminder: social media is a highlight reel, friend. So when you see a picture of Momma killin’ it with a perfect house and a wonderful meal enjoyed around the table with her perfect little cherubs and hard working, devoted husband…you have no idea what it took to get that picture. None.
I’m gonna call this out because we have been in self-isolation for too long and I’m feeling fiery: from what I’ve seen lately, it might have taken a half bottle of cheap wine to make it happen.
It could have come together because mom had an anxiety attack an hour before and now Dad has the kids on their very very best behavior for as long as it can hold.
It could be that mom had to sacrifice her work-from-home, constant crushing deadlines and tasks for the last two days to clean the house that was robbing her of her joy. Taking the picture could be to remind her next week that it’s possible for everything to fall into place for just a minute.
Maybe her priorities are just different than yours!
Keeping with perfect-Picture Polly here for a minute, maybe she doesn’t exercise and you do.
Maybe she doesn’t spend her time cooking and you do.
Maybe reading doesn’t light her up, but cleaning does. And you’re the opposite.
All I’m saying here is, BOTH OF YOU DESERVE A BREAK from your comparison.
The part that you see is what she chooses to show you. The part that you know of yourself? Oh, that’s everything. That’s the wonderful and the not-fit-for tv. You know the things you are longing to change. You know the parts that are wounded and raw.
When you see only the highlights of someone else’s life and compare them to your whole human person, you’re never going to measure up.
That’s not a fair fight. Don’t pick that battle.
Not to mention, those highlights? Those parts that she is sharing? Those are from the things she likely prioritizes and works super hard for. How do you know? Well, because she chose to snap that image out of the 86,400 seconds in her day to share with the world.
So you build this perception about what her life looks like from that. Seems a little strange, right?
We all do it. We curate our image from these carefully selected shots, whether we spend much time thinking about it or not.
I’m gonna be super real with you for a second: sometimes, I even wonder who people think I am. When people who have only known me from the internet meet me in real life, will they be super disappointed?
It’s a highlight reel, friend.
Want to know the craziest part? There is a pretty good chance that the next time you post something from your latest adventure, our good friend Picture Perfect Polly is going to feel the little gut punch of comparison. Because now she is looking at your highlights.
And social media, which I love for so many reasons and, like almost anything worthwhile, is so complicated, allows us access to an endless stream of other people’s achievements, 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. We can quietly compare our rough edges to everyone’s smooth, filtered, polished, & edited highlights whenever we want. What a time to be alive!
The third way that we are going to acknowledge the comparison game in our lives, you guessed it, is to physically move our bodies.
Y’all. You knew it was coming!
I admit it, I feel like movement is a first step in solving so many of our problems. Those rooted in an over-anxious, hyper-competitive mind, which probably descibes all of us at this stage in the human game, can clearly be at least ever-so-slightly improved by shaking it out.
I’m not saying that you have to plunk down your savings to run a marathon (though I am rooting for you if you do! Let me know!)
Even just putting on some music and swaying a little while you make breakfast can help.
Taking a walk around your block can help.
If there were normal times when we wore bras during the day, I’d say to bust out a few jumping jacks every hour, but i’m living the safe-at-home life like you. I know that’s unlikely.
My daughters have this video game called Just Dance 2020. You try to follow along with dances to popular songs (and some K-pop? Odd choice, but I’m liking it more than I expected) and then you get a score based on how you did. Let me tell you, I am WIPED after a few songs on that game and the girls and I laugh the entire time.
Can you shoot a couple of baskets in your driveway?
How about taking advantage of one of the many many home workout apps that are giving free trials right now?
Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect! You don’t have to do it simply to have a wonderful picture for the ‘gram. You can move your body just to relieve some tension. There is value in that.
I was talking to a girlfriend the other day, a 5k runner, and she was telling me how she is collapsing under the weight of all the constant, conflicting information coming in all the time coupled with the demands crisis schooling being dropped from the sky, trying to keep the house from becoming eligible for an episode on some HGTV show, and then there is even work!
(Yes, I get allllll of this!)
So I asked her, as I always do, “Soooooo when was the last time you worked out?”
That’s what I suspected.
Because when we get really busy, training is normally the first thing to go from a woman’s to-do list. It feels like it’s one of the few selfish things we do, so it’s easy to drop. It’s only you who is suffering.
Uh-Uh. Nope. No way. YOU don’t get an “Only” qualifyer anymore, friend.
Because it’s not selfish at all!
You cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot pour life and genuine encouragement from a pitcher with freshly brewed anxiety, depression, and a budding addiction.
And releasing tension, through movement, helps to renew the good stuff.
When you aren’t walking around wound up like a top, then you are substantially less likely to fall trap to the comparison game.
Lessons from a puppy
We have a one year old austrailian shepherd. If you don’t know much about the breed, they have been bred for almost 200 years to WORK. These dogs are meant to be running around the fields from sunrise until sunset, devising plans to keep unruly livestock from doing whatever it is that farm animals do.
They have this way, unlike any dog I’ve ever owned before, of communicating with humans. It has been selected for and amplified in the breed all this time because a dog on the other end of the pasture needs to know what the shepherd wants so that he can act.
Well, we picked this breed for our final addition to the family because I thought it would make a perfect training partner. I needed a pup with endurance, who likes to work, and would protect me when I’m out late and night or before sunrise, my favorite times to run.
Enter: Maui. He is kinda lazy.
He doesnt really like long runs.
But, his brain is still always in work mode…and often, so is his body.
If we haven’t given him a task to complete in a while, like a treat puzzle or a game of fetch, or hide & seek, or forced him to run with me…he goes BEZERK.
He get’s so wound up that he can’t contain himself. He runs around the house barking at everyone and everything. He starts doing foolsih things like jumping over the couch and running around in the zoomies. It is impossible to get him to focus on a task when he gets this way. The only solution is exercise. That’s it. No movement. No thinking.
I don’t believe you if you try to tell me that you don’t understand that feeling. That wound up, tense feeling.
And right now, where does it come from the most? I’m willing to bet that it’s comparison.
When you feel like everything is spinning out of control and everyone else has it together.
When you feel like other people are improving so fast or are so fit and you arent.
That comparison winds us up and threatens to make us feel so low, that we quit.
But it’s just another form of tension.
Just like with Maui the aussie, you have to release some of that tension before it blows out of control. You have to move your body.
Alright yall. I’m getting lonely around here! Come join me on Faceook or Instagram at Finding Finish lines and let me know what some of your strategies are for dealing with comparison when you feel it trying to steal your joy.
How are you using those feelings of comparison to identify what really matters to you?
And finally, how are you staying active right now?
Until next time, carry on, women of valor.
Before you go, you might enjoy:
- YOU NEED TO KNOW: WHOLE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT
- WILL YOU BE A YES TO RACING WHEN THE TIME COMES?
- LIFE IN 2020 IS RUNNING IN THE HEAT
- FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: LOVE IS NOT CANCELLED
- BREAK THE CHAINS: THE SECRET RUNNERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MOTIVATION