“Stop comparing your journey to others, you have your own race to run!”
It’s difficult not compare yourself or what you are going through in life to others. People’s “perfect” lives are plastered on TV, social media, magazines, and we even see it in person.
You know, that mom who is wearing a scarf that matches her shoes while she drops off her kids at school. After she ran 3 miles at 5 A.M., then made cinnamon French toast and fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast. While you’re happy that you got to brush your teeth after putting on your yoga pants and pulling your hair into a ponytail.
In addition to the “perfect” people we compare ourselves to, we also tend to compare our struggles in life; dismissing the importance of your battle or frustration because you believe someone else’s hardship to be more significant.
You then feel guilty for expressing your grief or frustration as if you aren’t worthy of expressing your emotions.
I was in a minor fender bender this weekend, in my new car that I have had less than five months. A man was backing out of his parking spot, apparently he didn’t see my SUV in his review mirror, and backed right into my driver’s side door.
As I got out of my car, my immediate response was anger. I looked at the damage, said a few profanities under my breath and walked over to the man, who was apologizing profusely, to exchange our information.
As I headed home, I looked at the mountains and, in the distance, the smoke from one of the eleven wildfires that are burning in Colorado caught my eye.
I stopped cursing the dent in my car while I thought about the people that were being evacuated from their homes. What were those people going through, knowing they might never get to go back home?
At that moment I was reminded of a previous blog I wrote about comparison. I feel extreme heartache for what is happening with the wildfires (on top of all the other craziness people are facing in the world right now) but was I still allowed to be upset about my recent fender bender encounter? Damn right I was!
I had every right to be upset with the situation that occurred in the parking lot, even though there are other world-altering events happening everywhere. I am certainly not comparing a dent in a car to a wildfire…NOT AT ALL and I’m so very heartbroken over what is happening to the families who have lost their homes, and the damage these fires are causing.
I’m simply stating that you still have a right to express your feelings or frustrations with what is taking place in your own personal life, even when the world is facing COVID-19, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes or [fill in the blank].
After I got home, took several deep breaths, a walk around the block, and I accepted that what was done, was done. I would now focus on how to get my car fixed and move forward.
I can, have, and will always do my best to find the positive in situations and to be grateful:
It could have been A LOT worse; I am grateful I was not physically harmed
It’s just a car, it is still drivable and I’m grateful that I HAVE a car
There are people being evacuated from their homes, I am grateful I get to be safe in my home tonight
However, finding the positive in situations and being grateful doesn’t take away the fact that you also can still feel anger, frustration, hurt, and sadness in life when you’re going through a difficult situation and/or something unexpected happens.
Being aware of what others are going through doesn’t mean you have to compare their situation to yours, but it can allow you to have some perspective.
The Social Comparison Theory was introduced in the 1950’s by Leon Festinger. He proposed that people have an instinctive force to compare ourselves to others. He divided this into two categories, Upward and Downward Comparison:
Festinger stated that Upward Comparison takes place when we compare ourselves with those who we believe are “better” than us. These comparisons focus on desires.
Downward Comparison take place when we compare ourselves to others who are worse off than us. These focus on feeling of gratitude to subjectively feel better about what you do have.
There is debate over Mr. Festinger’s theory, but in terms of his thoughts on downward comparison, I personally don’t believe that assessing your situation to cultivate a more optimistic outlook is as much comparison, as it is perspective. Of course, after you have been authentic in expressing your feelings that have arisen due to said situation.
Having perspective and comparing are not one in the same:
Compare: Estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between
Perspective: A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view
Having perspective allows you to be humble, empathetic, handle conflict more peacefully, be less judgmental, value differences and act in ways that are supportive and kind.
Whatever you are going through, you are going through it, no one else is. You should not feel ashamed for having bad days, admitting that you’re sad, that you’re grieving, you’re angry or that you wish things in your life were different.
Does someone right now in the world have things worse than you, yes! Does someone in the world right now have things better than you, yes!
That does not mean what you are going through should be compared to anyone else’s life.
When we compare our struggles, suffering, bad days, or our lives to others, we shame ourselves for expressing perfectly legitimate emotions. We all struggle. We’re all allowed to feel and express our feelings.
Even when I have faced more emotionally draining experiences in my life than a dented car, I struggled allowing myself to accept that it was ok to feel upset when I knew that my battles weren’t as “significant” as what others have overcome.
That shifted when I accepted that there is a difference between comparison and perspective.
Comparing your life, your struggles, your journey or whatever you are experiencing isn’t healthy because you are diminishing what you are enduring.
However, having a little perspective and being grateful for those things you do have or what “good” is happening in your life can assist you when overcoming the difficult situation, you are struggling with.
Remember, You Got This!
My thoughts are being sent out to those families that have lost their homes and are personally, being affected by the wildfires that are affecting the United States right now. And to those that are facing any hardship, whatever it might be.