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


Keeping Quiet Won’t Kill You and Not All Failure is Bad

P1040164As an MBA student, I once found myself on a “ropes course” with a couple dozen other students from a leadership class. It’s been a long time, but as I recall, this outdoor adventure was supposed to teach us something about leadership styles. We were placed into groups of five or six and assigned specific tasks that involved overcoming obstacles in a forest, much like summer camp. The caveat was that those of us who had been identified as extroverted, thinking types on a popular personality profile were required to keep silent during the exercise unless specifically called upon for input. Instead of offering suggestions, we were supposed to be good listeners and let the more introverted, feeling types have greater opportunities to discuss the challenges and devise our plans for success. You can imagine how this played out…

As an extrovert who leans toward logical vs. magical thinking, within about 30 minutes, I wanted to kill myself and some of the other more “sensitive” folks. We stood at the base of an imposing wall in the woods for what seemed like eternity while nice people politely discussed possible ways that our team could collectively scale the barrier. I witnessed various unsuccessful attempts at boosting and human pyramid building and checked my watch. Tick tock. We were going to lose this challenge and I don’t like to lose.

What really galled me was that we had a U.S. Marine on our team. But he’d been identified as an extrovert and remained silent. I could not understand why team members weren’t asking for his advice. I assumed he’d done this kind of thing before and could easily lead us to victory. But, NO! Maybe the quiet types relished holding the mute button on the loud mouths.

Finally, after many failed slides down the wall like heartbreaking kids in gym class who need a hug, somebody asked the Marine for input. And I could have fainted dead away at his response. Something like, “You’re on the right track. Keep thinking it through.” What!? Had his crew cut nicked important grey matter? Was our class about to devolve into some CSI laboratory for science majors? Or maybe we were being videotaped for a psychology course on rage. None of the above. We made it over the wall and finished the course. I can’t remember who “won.”

A decade later, I’m beginning to understand the value of this exercise. My husband, God bless him, often requires extra time to analyze any given situation before making a decision. This includes ordering lunch at McDonald’s where the menu hasn’t changed in like 30 years! How does this require analysis? I take a deep breath and calmly chant my order: chicken nuggets, small fry, diet coke.

And our son, a rather shy introvert, will agree to most anything we say. To the point where I’m actually encouraging him to contradict me, to stand his ground, to speak up and defend his opinions because I worry he’ll be trampled by tyrants (ahem, opinionated extroverts) like me in the real world.

And as for that Marine and his comment, he displayed great wisdom. He realized something I didn’t– that he wasn’t on a battlefield that day. No lives were hanging in the balance and “winning” wasn’t the goal. I’ve come to understand the importance of repeated failure as an important learning device. And that leaders won’t be leaders for long if the team hates your guts. This means everyone must be heard and sometimes it takes longer for others to assemble and articulate their thoughts. And that’s okay.

But one thing I did understand back then and teach my kiddos every day, if an expert is available, ASK FOR HELP!



Having Your “Poop” in a Group

Each year the hubs is asked to complete a self-evaluation for his employer. This is a common practice for many organizations to help employees set goals and determine how effectively they spend their time. The hubs is not a fan. His complaint, in typical Midwest fashion, is that it feels too much like bragging about doing the job he is paid to do.

I assure him that many people don’t do the job they are paid to do. That showing up day in and day out with clear goals and a strategy to meet those goals is not typical. And yet, those daily grind activities are often what lead to achievement.

It’s the same with writing. If I commit to sitting at my desk to finish a story each day before lunch, deadlines are met and I seem impressive, sometimes even to myself.

I’m not talking about miraculous life-changing triumphs that merit a reality television series. But by taking small steps, one foot in front of the other, every day, stuff gets done.

I remember when our children were babies and I could be found wandering the house bleary-eyed and overwhelmed by piles of dirty laundry, crusty dishes, dust bunnies and unopened mail. It was then that I discovered the beauty of narrowing my focus down to one thing at a time.

I learned that it’s okay to occasionally ignore the big picture when that view immobilizes us with anxiety and a sense of hopelessness. Instead, just do one thing. Keep moving and do the next thing. Eventually, a bunch of things get done and you can write yourself a stellar evaluation of time management and achievement.

But there are pitfalls to having your poop in a group. People will have higher expectations of you. And occasionally you will fail or be sad or get sick. And this will surprise people. Because they wrongly want to believe you have it together all the time. So remember two important things:

  • Don’t hide your setbacks. Perfection is impossible. Acknowledging difficulties makes you a more relatable person. And most likely you’ve learned something worth sharing.
  • Don’t whine. But make sure you have a few people in your life with whom you can share your laments when you feel the need. And this goes both ways. Life is hard for everybody. So be a good listener. Because nobody has it together all the time.