Aiming for Worthy Goals in the Comparison Game

Do you ever play the comparison game? The one where you measure your worth based on how you stack up compared to the people around you? If this were a sport, I’d most likely have a trophy case filled with dust-coated awards. We must know that much of our comparison game playing is useless as it only makes us feel badly about ourselves. What’s worse is making our comparison game about things unworthy of our attention.

I remember when the hubs and I first moved to the tundra and bought a house. We were eager to make a few cosmetic improvements, including new flooring. But before making a final decision about flooring, the owner of the flooring store suggested we visit a home of one of his satisfied customers. We did and their flooring looked great. But that wasn’t all that looked great. The entire home looked pretty great, i.e. better than mine–newer, bigger, and with amenities we could not afford. Worst of all, those very nice homeowners had the audacity to look several years younger than the hubs and me!

I pouted in the car on the way home. The hubs asked what was wrong and I lamented over how that young couple had a nicer home than us and how it seemed unacceptable since we were obviously at similar life stages. Had we fallen behind? Had we chosen wrong careers? Was life simply unfair?

“Shame on you,” he said. (seriously, that’s exactly what he said.)

When I raised my eyebrows at his remark, he continued… “No matter how nice a home we buy, there will always be someone with a nicer one.” In other words, there is no end to the path of dissatisfaction.

I settled myself, chastened. The hubs is a good man.

The comparison game can still be a struggle for me, albeit less so when it comes to counting other people’s money. We are fortunate in that our economic circumstance is mostly the result of conscious lifestyle choices and we don’t lack for any necessities and many luxuries. Plus, I no longer desire a bigger house to decorate, heat or clean. I’m not even much interested in cleaning or updating the home we’ve now lived in for over 15 years. These days, I’m not much into “stuff” as a measurement of my worth.

But I do believe there are some suitable measurements against which to gage our performance. For example, I follow the work of other editors and writers and when I discover something praise-worthy, like a beautiful web design or a well-written essay, I want to up my game. I want to do my job well, and hopefully, I will continue to get better by comparing myself to those who do it better.

Some of my friends are great cooks. Others exercise more than me, which isn’t hard to do, but is still admirable. Some folks seek lifelong learning opportunities, travel more, read more and volunteer more. I don’t feel it’s wrong to compare myself to these people–not to shame myself or feel badly about my chosen lifestyle–but to be inspired toward living a more useful life.

Like during a recent dinner date with three of the loveliest friends I could ever ask for; I asked each woman what she was currently reading. I love books and believe a person’s choice of reading material to be insightful. (This is also a good conversation starter.)

One of the women talked about how she is trying to read the bible more. Not books about the bible. Not bible studies. Just plain old digging into God’s Word. Not alone at night before bed or during the early morning hours, but daily at times she would most likely be seen by her children. She spoke of wanting to leave, at the end of her life, a worn and dog-eared bible and memories for her children of regularly having seen their mother immersed in a biblical search for understanding, guidance and encouragement. What a legacy–better than any financial success, career accomplishment or dedication to any particular beauty or fitness routine.

I willingly and humbly compare myself to this woman. And I do not measure up. But I pray that one day I will.171587210

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What Kind of Friend Are You?

moms-and-babiesNot long ago, I wrote a post about being a big talker and how I desire to be a better friend and conversationalist by being a better listener and developing genuine interest in the lives of others. But because I’m still a pretty big talker, I have more to say on the subject. This time, it’s about being prepared for what you might hear when you show interest.

I learned this lesson, and something about myself, years ago when I attempted to connect with another mother I met at a mom’s group. We were laundry laden, puke stained housewives whose most connective commonality was a need for social interaction and some brief play-date distraction for our toddlers before naptime.

She invited me over. On the designated day, I packed the kiddos into the mini-van and schlepped my mom gear to her house, which was equally strewn with toys and layers of protective coffee table corner bumpers, cupboard locks and electrical outlet protectors. We set the urchins free to discover the cultural mores of sharing while we sipped coffee and chitchatted about how cute they were.

I imagined the rest of her life, much like her home, mirrored mine. But I inquired anyway in order to make conversation. Whoops!

She began by telling me her husband was between jobs; that their home was leased and they were facing the possibility of having to move in with parents if they continued to struggle to make the rent; that their financial distress was causing her husband to become despondent, and her to become fearful and frustrated. Wait. What?

I was shocked, completely unprepared to hear her tales of woe. Worse, I was attempting to befriend this woman in order to get my own needs for companionship met. I was not prepared, and honestly not much interested, in bearing anyone else’s burdens at that time. (I know the face you’re making while judging me. I’ve made it myself plenty of times.)

Anyway, the moment passed. I surely found some seemingly polite way to escape being a real friend and limit future conversations to superficial meanderings about potty training or thumb sucking.

My point is not to highlight what an insensitive baby wipe I can be; it’s to share what I’ve learned… that not all friendships are meant to be equal. That before entering into a relationship, we should honestly consider not only what our own needs are, but also attempt to evaluate what the needs of the other person may be, and then ask ourselves, “Am I equipped to be this person’s friend?”

The same is true in reverse. Before we begin detailing our struggles to anyone who read a blog post about being a better listener, we should ask ourselves, “Is this person capable of dealing with what I’m about to say?” By capable, I mean in a mentally healthy place, having demonstrated a bit of wisdom, isn’t currently overwhelmed by personal challenges and appear to actually give a fat frog’s fanny. Hint: if your friend frequently changes the subject or shuts down completely whenever a conversation delves into unpleasant territory, this is not a person prepared to hear your laments. And that’s okay.

I’ve come to believe friends tend to fall into a few categories and it’s helpful to thoughtfully identify what the purpose of each relationship truly is. Some people are our friends in the deepest sense, equal partners in a mutual to-and-fro of emotional support, laughter and companionship. Others are simply acquaintances that we should not burden with personal struggles, and still others are people we are mostly meant to hear, support and pray for without expecting them to meet any of our needs in return, because for whatever reason, they can’t.

Maybe if we give the real purpose of our presence in someone’s life more thought, we won’t be caught off guard and miss an opportunity to be the kind of friend we ought to be.

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Turning Down the Heat on Simmering Guilt

SoupVolunteering is a good thing. Studies indicate emotional and physical benefits from regular volunteer work, especially for seniors who might otherwise be less connected. But what if I’m not a senior citizen and can manage to keep plenty busy with a house, a husband, the kids and writing? Is it ever okay to stop volunteering? I don’t mean stop altogether. But maybe stop doing something you’ve been doing for a while, take a break, regroup, or even find something entirely different to do. I feel guilty even asking the question.

It seems easier to regulate volunteering for committees since they often have natural endpoints. And that’s good because if I serve for too long on any one committee–get too close to an organization’s inner-workings–I begin to get annoyed by the individual hang-ups and exasperating personality traits of others. I’m sure the same could be said of me–and in probably shorter order, as I’ve already written a bit about my cranky demeanor. But natural endpoints to committee memberships mean I rarely need to be concerned about the possibility of making bail.

I’m wondering more about volunteer activities without natural endpoints, and question if it’s ever okay to stop. I’m in awe of stalwart volunteers at soup kitchens and in Sunday school classrooms, those who cheerfully serve in the same capacity for decades. What’s wrong with me? Why do I sometimes feel drained rather than fulfilled by these activities?

Plus, hanging with the sick, the poor, the downtrodden and the elderly can be downright depressing. A real buzz-kill in today’s YOLO culture where it’s more appealing to focus only on our own needs. Therein lies the answer I guess. Being told by experts that volunteer work will make us feel more fulfilled, makes it, like everything else, about us. And that misses the point.

I’m reminded that offering to serve is just that, a service. It’s about the “other” and making the lives of others a bit more tolerable, enriched or blessed. And those stalwarts, well they’ve probably experienced hard days or felt drained or wanted to throw their hands up, switch to hermit mode and just binge watch old episodes of Big Bang Theory.

I confess my self-centeredness and hope for a renewed focus on the purpose of volunteering that will refresh and inspire me. But if I (or you) decide to shift gears or take a break from any particular volunteer effort, let’s agree to not stew in the juices of guilt, but instead commit to pressing on toward a more “other” focused mindset, seeking daily to bless others and to hopefully be blessed in the process.

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