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.