The Importance Of Teaching My Child About The Two Sides Of Comparing Yourself To Others

Comparing yourself to others is a pest. I’ve been fighting it for more than ten years. “Make the best out of who you are!”, I used to tell to myself. Yet, my mind kept on assessing the life of other women. Before I could be able to stop assessing, I found myself sad or even depressed that other women are much better in every single aspect of their lives or physically more appealing. In 2008, during one of my meditations, something miraculous happened to me. I started crying and my soul was overwhelmed with kindness as if I had been embraced by the divine grace. Happiness and self-content stepped into my life. After that moment, this automatic mental assessment still happened but I was able to stop it and replace it with the thought, “Each person is different.”

I was able to control my tendency to compare myself to others until the day I became a mother. My mind became more fragile than before. Comparing myself to other mothers became daily routine. I felt I did nothing right – my baby hardly touched the food, he did not sleep for an entire night. Other mothers seemed to have everything under control. I desperately started talking with my mother-in-law who very wisely pointed out to me that my baby has me as his mother and whatever I do, that is the best thing for him.

We are all wired to compare ourselves to others. Some of us enjoy measuring their results against other person’s results. And there are others whose benchmark is themselves one year ago or five years ago (http://tinybuddha.com/blog/stop-comparing-yourself-to-others/). Even for the latter group of individuals, comparison with others is a mental mechanism which has been built in us ever since the beginning of human kind and it springs from the competition between individuals.

Parents raise their children in the spirit of competition (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creative-imperative/201108/killing-yourself-comparison). When you hear your parent bragging, “My kid is the best in class.”, you grow up fighting to stay on top. Or when you keep on hearing the disappointment of your parent, “Why can’t you get an A as Julie does?”, your self-esteem becomes flimsy.

Now when I am a mother myself, I have a double challenge: to stop comparing myself to other mothers and to raise my baby in the “find inspiration around you” spirit. Comparison may not be entirely erased since it’s so well printed in our genes. However, I do believe that it can be turned into the positive habit of getting inspired by the persons with whom we interact. This is what I want to teach my baby – to look for inspiration around him.

Staying on the negative side of comparing ourselves means living under the rule of jealousy, envy and anxiety. They can stifle all the creativity, like the creativity which comes from hearing stories of success. I am talking about stories which are not making headlines. They are stories of people very close to us – of our childhood friend, our room mate or why not, our grandmother. We have so many lessons of life to learn from one another, though we need to be careful to be authentic and not to imitate. For example, I find inspiring Michael Nobb’s story about how he stopped trying to follow in the footsteps of the artists he admired (http://www.sustainablycreative.com/dont-compare-yourself-to-others-just-get-on-with-your-important-work/).

Parents want the best for their children, they want their children to be happy and successful in life. If comparison has negative effects on our inner lives, why do parents raise their kids in a competitive/comparison state of mind in our modern society? Are the end results more important than the state of mind of our children?

The main culprit I could come up with is the educational system. I remember the feeling of victory when I used to get an A. There were only two or three other classmates who took the same grade. The rest were others who were not as good as us. The performance measured in grades resulted into an automatic comparison between myself and the others. Later on, when I competed for the study right at the university, it turned out that the grades from the previous years were one of the criteria for admittance. I can only conclude that the design of the educational system supports the negative side of comparison with others. How can I help my child not get brainwashed by this kind of performance measurement of pupils/students?

Focusing on your talents and desires is a possible mission in life. We come into this world endowed with one or more talents and it would be a shame not exploiting them. The subjective experience of cultivating your talents is more important than the objective measurement of the results. In addition, if we can learn the lesson of cooperation, we may reach amazing results – both subjective and objective. Cooperating on projects of similar interests is the best way to personal and professional development. Great ideas come from talking and working with people. If you find your true calling, you’ll find your place in the competitive society more naturally.

Last but not least, I’ll be talking to my child about the importance of being humble, which is the prerequisite for staying on the positive side of comparison with others. At the end of this life, we are all going to die. The least we can do is to make it our own way through life.

Who Said That It Is Easy To Follow Your Dreams?

The world is full of people who feel that their current job is not reflecting their values. The more the time passes, the bigger the gap is between who you are and how you earn your living. Your current job provides you a steady income to support your family’s needs. Yet, you feel you are withering inside each day when you step into your office. Your inner voice shouts inside, “Stop pretending! Find your true role in society, that role that represents who you really are!” You have two choices: ignore it or listen to it. Ignoring it means continuing a life of professional frustrations. What can happen if you listen to it?

Take as an example a mid-thirties woman who is a hairdresser but her dream is to become a medical nurse. How can she start the process that will lead to having her dream job? Take small steps to continually improve your life – this is the advice of Robert Maurer in his book, “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way“. Based on my own experience, the first step is the most difficult in this kind of situations.

Moving away from your comfort zone may be the most daring action you’ll ever do (if we don’t count the one when you get married). Fear is the biggest impediment. In order to overcome the fear, you may want to develop a new set of beliefs. Patience is a virtue so try to exercise it during the transition to your new profession. Any long lasting change takes time to grow and get carved in you. For example, when you study for a new diploma, you might need to invest at least 3 years of your life. The steep learning curve in the beginning may be damn scary. Don’t worry too much! Beginnings are difficult, even the beginnings that you cooked up for years. The effort of learning will be compensated by the authentic joy of doing something you love doing.

When you make the first step, believe from the bottom of your heart that you will succeed and trust that God will support your initiative. If you’ll say to yourself that you’ll succeed many times, you’ll end up believing it!

Optimistic beliefs are the remedy for the inherent fears that some of us have when we start a new chapter in life. Be kind to yourself and accept the moments when fear is taking over. It is human to be afraid, so smile at your fear. It will go away so it’s important to stay focused on your short-term goals. For example, financial insecurity may be a recurring fear. Provided you quit your job, the financial responsibility for the family rests upon your spouse. Again, think positively: this is only temporary. Trust that the Universe will unravel to you the opportunities that you need at the right time and place.

Support from family and friends is needed like drinking water in hot days. Start talking with them about your fears and your plans. Since people change, you may be dismayed to discover that the persons who you thought would support you, turn out to be judgemental. My mother thought I went all nuts when I told her I am thinking of a career change. Reassess the relationships you have with the dear ones and keep on collecting members for your support group. Another option is to join initiatives like B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits – if you have the opportunity (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/The-Fastest-Way-to-Make-Change-How-to-Change-Your-Life/2). But if your spouse supports you, you don’t need anyone else’s support. Of course, there is a bonus if you have several persons’ support. More shoulders to cry on, in your moments of despair.

When you finally make your decision public, the other small steps will follow more smoothly. You may find useful Robert Maurer‘s six general strategies to tackle the change: 1. asking small questions to get rid of the fear and become creative; 2. thinking small thoughts to develop new skills and habits; 3. taking small actions that guarantee success; 4. solving small problems even when you are overwhelmed; 5. rewarding yourself or others; 6. recognising the small but crucial moments that everyone else ignores.

Once the fear is under control, you’ll feel your wings spreading. You are a butterfly in search of new knowledge, new people with whom you can cooperate and jobs to suit you. Your life enriches as a result of the new professional relationships that you are building.

You grow and glow as your new career kicks off. Expect that there will be challenges but they’ll feel less heavy. You finally do the job you believe in! Good luck!

Messages In Our Eyes

I love travelling. Touristic attractions are of secondary interest. My main interest are the people who live in the destinations that I visit. How do those people look, how do they behave, and what perspective on life do they have?

I am not a fan of souvenirs in the form of objects. I do take my own souvenirs, which come as short stories told by a pair of eyes. For example, the story of the candid eyes of the 70 year old taxi driver I met in Lisbon. In a very passionate voice, he told me about the general Gomez da Costa – my introduction to the history of Portugal. I couldn’t understand most of his story since my Portuguese is quite poor. But the most important story was the one spoken by his eyes – compassionate and humble; they spoke of a life of struggles. I would have wanted to know what kind of life he had. In the end, I was just happy to have been touched by the humbleness in his eyes.

I was in a metro in Paris, on my way to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica when a young man, aged between 25 to 30, stepped in the metro and took a seat right opposite to where I was sitting. He looked into my eyes with the intensity of his witty hazelnut eyes. “I’d like to know you”, his eyes said. I blushed and looked away. In another life or at another moment in this life, I would have dated him.

In our latest trip to Athens, during the first breakfast at the hotel, my eyes met the eyes of a middle-aged woman who was sitting next to our table. She looked at me as if with fear (I don’t think I look that bad). She was sitting with her husband (I checked their rings). He was eating with his eyes fixed on the plate. There was no communication between the two of them. She had finished her breakfast first. When he finished his, he stood up without saying any word and she instantly followed him.

The second morning, they were having their breakfast when I entered the breakfast room. Their body postures were the same – she staring in the void and looking as if she was sitting on needles and he was eating, looking at the plate only. My eyes and her eyes met again. For few seconds, she gave a faint smile but then she stopped as if she was doing a bad thing.

The third morning, I met them again. This time, I took a table, which was farther from their table. I could not stand any longer his energy of a grumpy man. But this time, when I met her eyes, I could read, “Help!”. He was her dictator and she was his obeying servant. I would have wanted to go to her and tell her, “Set yourself free, woman! You’ll be happier without him”. Instead, I just gave her the most comforting smile. I wished it was possible to send her with my eyes the strength that she needed to break free.

Of course, I do not know the history of that couple, but I could clearly see that she was like a chained dog. She didn’t know how to carry herself. I can’t save her but at least I’ll be thinking of her.

As strange as it may sound, there are moments when these eyes pop up in my mind. They are the souvenirs stored safely inside me. They come out of the hidden place when they feel they may be forgotten.

According to the common belief, the eyes are the mirror of the soul. In addition, I think that the eyes remind us that despite the fact that physically we are independent human beings, deep inside we are all the same – in search of connecting with other souls.

Do we know what to expect when we decide to be stay at home mothers?

“Mine, mine! I can’t manage to read anything … Aurora takes all my time… and there are moments when she does only what she wants! … she gets upset with me if I scold her and she would not talk to me anymore.” This is a fragment from the Skype message written by a friend who is the mother of a 2 years old baby girl. She took up studying for a new degree while being a stay at home mother.

Before becoming a mother myself, I used to think that mothers must have so much fun in the world of games and toys of their kids. I am now discovering the journey of motherhood – the reality of a stay at home mom. This is what I wanted to do for the first few years of my baby’s life. I had waited for such a long time to have a baby that I just didn’t want to miss anything that my little one is doing.

Leaving aside the expectation of having loads of fun, I had no other expectations about how my life would be. There are articles that build up the expectations of being a stay at home mother and that discuss whether it is healthier for the baby if the mother stays at home or gets back to work but in the end, it all boils down to what each mother wants to do (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/owning-pink/201111/do-working-moms-raise-healthier-kidshttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adventures-in-old-age/201105/are-stay-home-moms-happierhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201009/candy-band-stay-home-moms-who-rock). I didn’t live up to my boss’ expectations when I extended my maternity leave. The most important aspect for my decision was that I was fully convinced that I am ready to embrace the role of a mother.

It’s been one year now when I haven’t slept an entire night. If I am lucky, I sleep for four consecutive hours. The day that follows, I find the creative energy to invent games to play together with my baby, which makes me very happy. If I am less lucky, the little one wakes me up every half an hour. The following day, the toys spread on the floor are but an annoyance. The scarce energy that I possess is saved for feeding and changing diapers, and I feel I am not a good mother for not being able to offer him more.

And there are days when the little one gets sick. On those kind of days, he is glued to me and I wish I was a kangaroo so that I could carry him in my marsupium.The whining is omnipresent in our apartment, which feels smaller than its actual size. More than ever, he cries to get what he wants.

Had my friend communicated her frustration one year ago, I would have probably thought, “Why is she complaining that she dedicates all the time to her baby?”. But now, I feel for her. In addition to frustration, I usually get lost in the pitfall of impatience with the baby, irritation with my family and bitterness with the world.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about this aspect of motherhood? The day progresses slowly while I am having a constant inner fight between what I need to do in the house and what my baby wants me to do. How can I manage this inner tension, which nests in me every week?

Let the baby cry while I proceed with the housekeeping duties? Tempted, but no.

Change my goals for the day? Yes, yes, yes! I put on hold my housewife duties so that I can prioritise the baby’s needs. Still, I have to admit that it is easier to make this choice than to actually implement it. And that’s the challenge of a stay at home mother – the inner struggle to get out of the pitfall with negative emotions. What it usually works for me is to write a few words to a friend, another stay at home mother who can sympathise.

I sometimes laugh at my naiveté to ever think that when you become a mother, you step into the land of never ending happiness. On the contrary, according to my experience, motherhood amplifies the weakest aspects of yourself. Sad examples are the new mothers who can be affected by post natal depression or, a more severe type of illness, puerperal psychosis. Statistics say that 20% of new mothers are affected by post natal depression and 1 in 1000 mothers can be affected by puerperal psychosis (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14011669).

I have not suffered of PND nor puerperal psychosis but I do feel that my mind is more unstable than what it used to be. Even in days which I think they are good, there are moments when I find myself experiencing panic attacks. The adorable smile of the baby is not enough to bring back the required energy to carry on with the day.

When the mind restores its balance, I become aware of the space that has opened up in me. I assume that it happened when I was fighting my negative emotions but after all, it does not matter when or how it happened. What counts is the discovery of a new territory in myself. In this new space, I feel in touch with myself, more than ever before. I feel strong and bathed in a peaceful energy which springs from the reservoir of pure and unconditional love.

My mind and soul are free of personal limitations – at least for a day. The journey of motherhood continues at another level now – the level where resides the acceptance of my imperfections. There are still many fights to be carried on at this level, fights between the newly acquired awareness and my personal weaknesses.

When the personal weaknesses wins, I’ll say to myself, “This too shall pass and all that counts is that my baby is healthy!”. Furthermore, it may help to write on a post it note, “It’s up to you, woman, to get back in balance, so find a way, be creative!”. I will stick it to the fridge or to the baby’s crib to read it when shit hits the fan.