Your thirties is a really interesting decade of life milestones. There are people still getting married, people now getting divorced. People having first babies, people getting snipped. People finishing school, people starting second or third careers.
It’s all happening. And when it’s all happening, you get a really interesting mix, friend and peer-wise, of life experience.
Recently a friend of a friend had a baby. We were chatting over negronis and tomato toast, discussing how this friend “didn’t see what the big deal was” with having a baby, because “it isn’t as hard as everyone said it would be.” Cut to me rolling my eyes, saying that at six weeks old, the baby is barely even a baby yet, and things do indeed get harder, and wait till the baby is older, and she has more kids, and she hasn’t slept in two and half years, and how dare she insult parents everywhere (cough, me) by negating the experience of others.
Then I paused to catch my breath: was I really this worked up about a person I don’t even know, and a perspective I have zero insight on, save for the fifteen words or less my own friend shared with me, lovingly? Maybe her experience is really easy right now, and maybe it will stay that way. And if it doesn’t, why on earth would that affect me to the point of me sitting across from my bestie with a littany of “Yeah but, yeah but…” trying to juxtapose my own moments of parenting and infancy against hers.
This pivoted quickly into a discussion on why we are obsessed with comparing ourselves to others. I consider myself a pretty “emotionally evolved” person who has done “the work,” and isn’t daunted anymore by the process. Up until we had this chat at dinner, I would have SWORN I was above comparison, till I realized that I wasn’t. So what is the deal?
How do we stop comparing ourselves to others?
Truth bomb? I’m not sure that we can. As humans, we are social creatures, and we depend on our interdependence, and ability to constantly check in with our surroundings to adapt and evolve. Because of our social nature, we rely on constant cues and communication with others to ensure our own safety and survival; I think comparison is woven into the fabric of our DNA.
What we can do is change our reaction and response to those comparisons.
As an example, when I’m serving dessert to my kids, there is an inevitable proclamation that “she has more than me!” My answer is always the same:
“I’m interested in what you have. Forget about your sister for a minute, and tell me, do you have enough?”
If one feels like she personally does not have enough, we can solve that problem. There’s an actionable solution in there. Otherwise, it literally does not matter what her sister has or doesn’t have, because it doesn’t affect anyone but the person whose plate that dessert is on.
Let’s turn these into grown-up examples (…unless you really feel slighted by dessert portions, in which case the above still applies to you, he he he). Ahem:
She is married to the best man. Oh shit, I’m not.
He’s training for a marathon. Oh shit, I’m not.
She’s killing it at a job she loves. Oh shit, I’m not.
He’s dating four blondes a week. Oh shit, I’m not.
She’s momming three kids. Oh shit!! I’m not.
It’s the “Oh shit, I’m not” that is the problem here folks, not the comparison itself.
Our brains want to look around us and see what other people are doing, to ensure that we are doing the right thing, moving in the right direction, being a part of the tribe in a way that is acceptable and healthy. If you think about it, if we are doing something that is unacceptable, there is still a part of our brain that freaks out because it perceives that to mean that our safety is in danger.
The comparison is normal; using it as a metric of your own success is not. So how then, do we use comparison in a healthy way that moves us forward, props us up, and fuels us with momentum…instead of sucking the joy out of the room?
Your friend is married to an awesome dude? Yessss, girl, yes! USE that for your own relationship inspiration. Study their connection, what makes their relationship work, how did they get there, how do they communicate day to day to stay awesome? Does he have a brother (kidding, ish)? Believe fervently that if a love like that exists for someone else, it exists for you too, even if you haven’t found it yet.
Your cousin is training for a marathon? Wow! Way to set the bar. Ask him for tips on how you can get an exercise regime going for you in a small way, and start right now. Maybe running a marathon is your end goal, that you work each day to get healthy enough to cross it off your bucket list.
Your colleague is slaying? Gah, good for her!! What did her path look like to get here? How did she carve out a career that she’s great at, and feels passionately about? What decisions were made along the way? What does your own path look like? Is your current job one that can grow into something you love, or is this a wake-up call to get the hell out and start again? Do you use her passion as a motivational kick-off point to take the leap and do something that lights your soul on fire?
Four blondes a week?! Daaaaamn, boy. Is that what makes him happy? Is he using women as a bandaid for what’s really hurting, without treating the root cause? Are you envious because you want to get laid? Is that a conversation you need to have with your partner? Do you need to call it quits and find a partner who wants to keep it spicy? Or if you’re single, do you need to up your confidence game and just go for it?
Everyone else around you is having babies? What does that mean to you? Are you anxious to get started because you want kids, or because you’re feeling left behind and left out? If it’s something you really want and are struggling with, what can you do now to take the pressure off yourself to let go and not worry about it so much? What can you focus on instead that you won’t be able to do as easily when kids do come (hint: travel).
Here are the hard facts: you are going to be great at some things. You are going to suck at others. You will never be perfect, but if you want to, you can find a perfect balance.
Go ahead and compare yourself to others, but don’t you dare use that comparison as a measurement for your (or their) success. Instead, maybe the crass reality comes through in scoping out what the people around you are doing, and having the internal dialogue that “I really don’t give a shit what you do, as long as what you’re doing is right for you, and is benefitting the world around you. My success, beauty, lifestyle, is not a reflection of what works for you, but rather works for me. You have something I want? Wow, thank you for lighting the fire under me that I couldn’t find a match for, until now.”
We are social animals, pre-programmed to study those around us to learn and grow. Think about babies and kids – they learn everything simply by watching and doing. In that context, to evolve as a species, we MUST watch what other people are doing to continuously push ourselves forward.
Today, and for the next few days, when you’re scrolling and swiping through your day, don’t stop comparing yourself to others; instead, run the filter of your own context and reality over each photo, each interaction, and start asking the questions that will guide you home.
It’s never how much cake your friends are eating, its whether or not you have enough on your own plate. Do you have enough for you? Is your relationship good enough for you? Is your job the right one for you? If so, you can breathe easy; if not, you can choose to get started on making some necessary changes to get your life exactly where YOU want it to be.