It arrives seemingly out of the blue. Usually when I’m least expecting it, my college magazine/newsletter shows up in my mailbox, glossy and rich and filled to the brim with these little pieces of evil called alumni notes.
Oh sure, they’re harmless enough on the surface. They’re words printed on pages that will eventually get recycled anyway. No big deal, right? Except that these little words have the incredible power to make me feel totally and utterly awful about myself.
By all accounts, I should be proud of myself. I have a wonderful family and circle of friends. I have a graduate degree and a career. I’ve run marathons and I even won a powerlifting meet once. These are all wonderful accomplishments.
And yet, ten minutes reading through the alumni notes sent by the private liberal arts college I attended is enough to convince me that I’m failing at everything, I haven’t done enough with my life, and I’m too old to do anything more anyway. (I’m not old, but I’m definitely not a recent college grad.) Even though logically I know that these are absurd reactions, I just can’t help feeling them.
How do you fight the urge to compare yourself to others? It’s been a lifelong struggle for me. Sure, on some level, the feelings of competitiveness are a nice source of motivation and even inspiration, but when you come up short compared to someone else, it feels heart-wrenching.
I don’t know how to stop this urge to compare, but there are a few things I like to do to at least curb the feelings of inadequacy:
I keep a “reverse bucket list.” Not to be confused with an anti-bucket list which is a list of stuff you never want to do, the reverse bucket list (the source for which escapes me at the moment) is a list of things you have accomplished. A life resume, if you will. When you sit down and catalog everything you’re proud of from your degrees to the fact that you make amazing chocolate cake, it really helps you remember that you are, indeed, awesome.
I take a break from social media. To paraphrase the saying, stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. It’s easy to feel awful when you’re bombarded with other people’s carefully curated social media lives. It helps me to close the browser and remind myself that all the people I follow probably also have their own mess of insecurities to deal with that they simply don’t want to share.
I check my privilege. After years of feeling bad about my body and comparing myself to other women, I read something that has stuck with me to this day: “Your ‘before’ weight might be someone else’s goal weight.” That got me to 1) stop complaining about my weight, and 2) realize that I should be grateful for what I have accomplished because of course, luck and privilege play a role just much as hard work does. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t set goals for myself or keep striving for new heights; it means that comparison is often pointless because of factors that are usually beyond our control anyway.
Do you have any strategies that work for you? Let us know in the comments!
(Featured Image via Brandy Melville)