Comparison is the thief of joy: Day 3

(Me right after doing yoga!)

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Thinking on this I have concluded several things.

First, there is a specific paragon, or model, of excellence or perfection which we all visualize. I do not know how it is for everyone, but for me it has always been difficult to see myself as something miraculous when my accomplishments always fell short of someone else. I had above average but never superior grades, I displayed sufficient physical ability but was never good enough for varsity, I was incredibly well read but always fell short in reading comprehension tests, etc. . ..

Honestly, I believed I was average and unspectacular because I never measured up to these ideals of excellence. But really, what was I comparing myself to? Others my age who felt just as insecure and unsure about their abilities as I did.

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Second, we treat meeting these standards like a race or competition. It is like the story “You are special” by Max Lucado. In it there are a people called the Wemmicks who daily give each other golden stickers for beauty and ability or gray dots for being uglier or less accomplished. For their society, whether one was completely covered in stars or dots, determined an individuals worth. Consequently, the marks made from these stickers caused many to doubt their worth or be consumed by pleasing others.

I believe it is a natural reaction to try and better ourselves, and even more so do measure by comparing our strengths and weaknesses to others. We compete and compete believing if we are the best at chess, can do a specific move, sing immaculately or dress the best we will be accepted. But thinking on it, is it really worth it? In the end, there will always be someone better than us at something.

Third, too often our worth stems from our strengths and if we have weaknesses we assume we have less worth. Elder Uchdorf said in his talk “Forget me Not”,

…we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.

My mother often quoted Albert Einstein who is attributed to saying, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I know for myself I often felt like that fish. As though I would never measure up because I couldn’t fit into my own expectations.

Fourth, most importantly the good we see in others they can also see in us. One day I sat and wondered, “Am I someones ideal? Do other people wish they were me?” In the moment it seemed ridiculous, but now I am not so sure.

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One of my favorite stories is Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. Tohru, wondering how to help two boys who seem lost in their hatred and envy for each other, creates an analogy which I have kept with me for a long time.

If you think of someone’s good qualities as the umeboshi in an onigiri, it’s as if their qualities are stuck to their back! People around the world are like onigiri. Everyone has an umeboshi with a different shape and color and flavor. But because it’s stuck on their back, they might not be able to see their umeboshi. (They think) “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just white rice.” (And I think) That’s not true. There is an umeboshi — on your back. Maybe the reason people get jealous of each other, is because they can see so clearly the umeboshi on other people’s backs.

I often thought of this analogy in Russia, where the unspoken pressure to learn Russian and be “the perfect missionary” was an unfortunate driving force among us. Thinking back on my fears, despairs and silly expectations I wish I could tell myself everything would work out, that I would learn Russian and be able to help a lot of people because of who I was, not because of who I wasn’t. I wish I could say, “Aubrey, focus on your strengths and God will make your weaknesses become strong.”

Lastly, everyone is on the same journey and is experiencing the same things as we are. But despite this, everyone is different.Also from Fruits Basket, Takaya’s character Tohru surmised, “Mom taught me that people’s differences are something to celebrate.” Our path will be different than others, because we are different. Our weaknesses do not demean our worth and our strengths don’t determine who we really.

Thank you for reading my random thoughts. These posts and my goals to see myself better have really helped me and I hope I can help others who are struggling with these same insecurities.

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