The Nasty Comparison Game – for Kids and Adults

We’re all just living our lives, aren’t we?  Trying to be the best versions of ourselves, managing the needs and desires of our families and ourselves, and hopefully giving back to the world in a positive way.

But sometimes, the lives of others draw us in, make us refocus our attention on others – what they’re doing, what they’re achieving, how fit they are, how much money they make, how much recognition and love they receive – that our own achievements start to look small, insufficient.  We aren’t thin enough, rich enough, successful enough.  We aren’t enough.  Let the parade ( or nasty tirade) of comparisons begin.

It seems like a childish thing to do – to compare yourself to others and whine internally (and externally), “Why don’t I have that?”  “How come they get to do that and I don’t?”  I wish I could say that these feelings were confined to the immaturity of youth, but I’m afraid they are not.  Our society is so in-your-face with the personal lives of everyone under the sun, that you cannot escape or ignore the accomplishments of others.

Recently, this feeling came to light when my 8-year-old niece became a celebrity as she appeared on a reality cooking show and then as a guest on the Late Late Show. Watching her career begin with commercials and print advertisements, and then to national television was surreal, amazing, and made me feel so proud – like she was my own kid.

But each time I told my 9-year-old daughter about the amazing opportunities and experiences of her cousin, I watched her face fall; her expression became defeated, jealous.  I tried to explain to her that this was a good thing, that we should be happy and excited for her cousin, and celebrate the achievements of others.  Someone else being successful doesn’t mean that you’re not successful – it just means that the success is different.  Success and happiness come and go just like the ups and downs in life and the timing of opportunities is not the same for everyone.  I told her that her cousin worked really hard toward achieving this goal and deserved to be rewarded with recognition.

Since becoming a chef is also my daughter’s dream (she loves watching Food Network, and helping me in the kitchen), it was still a hard pill to swallow.  How can you be happy for someone else when they are living your dream…now?  I admit, even as the positive words of encouragement came out of my mouth, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy myself. Envying my sister, envying my niece, envying this unique opportunity.  And simultaneously feeling a bit like a lazy mother for not seeking out these types of opportunities to help push my daughter toward her own dreams.

And so, when my initial golden idealistic words failed to sink in, I added, ” This sucks.   I’m jealous too.  I wish you could be on the TV cooking show too.  But it’s not your life right now.  Maybe there is a different, but equally amazing plan for you.  So let’s be happy for her now.  And then one day, maybe she’ll be celebrating you too.”  I hope it sunk in.  I hope she believes me.  I hope she knows that her opportunities are limitless…that her goals and her dreams can be reached too.

I don’t know how to totally get over my own need to compare my life to others, and how to show my daughters that they don’t need to do it either.  Knowing the right way to handle things and actually handling them the right way are two different roads.  For starters, I try to resist the urge to make excuses and dismiss the success of others.  I want to show my kids how to celebrate the achievements of others; I want them to know that by lifting others up, they lift themselves up, and that success is not a finite glass of bubbly goodness limited only to a select few.  Success is for everyone, even if we’re not all drinking the same amount or the same flavor at the same time.

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