The young mother told me about their family’s plan to travel to Europe during our upcoming Spring Break. It wasn’t unusual in our affluent school community for students to travel to international locations. But as she told about taking all five children to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, I found myself calculating the costs rather than listening to her. I wondered how they could afford such a trip for their family of seven.
Walking away from our conversation, I felt irritated, wishing our family could have afforded a trip like that when our sons were in middle school. Later, when the noise in my head settled down, I heard that ‘still small voice in me’ asking, “What would you have said to her if you hadn’t been jealous?”
There was no hiding my envy, the comparison of my life to her life. What would I have said if I’d just listened and not come from a place of competition?
I would have responded that she was providing a wonderful experience for her family, making rich memories. My mind would have been engaged in listening to her descriptions of places they would stay, sites they would see, experiencing the excitement of anticipation with her. But instead, I walled that part off, putting a barrier up between us during our encounter. I missed that opportunity to share in her life.
Having been a school nurse for twenty years, I’ve thought a lot about competition. Every day in the Health Room, I saw adolescents that competed in academics, sports, and social standing. There was the constant comparison of height, weight, appearance, artistic talent, and on and on. They compared themselves to one another in their name brand shoes and clothes, latest and greatest phones, computers, and other tech devices. The comparisons didn’t end with those in their immediate community like they did in my middle school days. Now students had comparisons with their social media communities that kept the noise going 24/7.
I look in the dictionary at the word competitive—not so much for the meaning as for the synonyms. Sometimes that helps me gain a broader perspective on a familiar word. From the list of synonyms, the one that jumps out at me is aggressive. Is that what I’m being when I respond from a competitive place? Is that the world around us as we compare ourselves, whether we’re middle schoolers or adults?
I check the synonyms for edge and I’m struck by the word ledge. It fills me with that fear I experience when looking down from a steep point, that feeling that I’m falling.
Now I put those synonyms together and instead of Competitive Edge, which sounds acceptable, like what we aspire to, it becomes Aggressive Ledge. That feels scary, a vantage point of attack, a place that I don’t want to live from.
What if we came down from that ledge and lived our lives, honoring our own path and allowing others’ to do the same. We wouldn’t need to feel less than or greater than, just be ourselves and be thankful for our lives. Then we could hear each others’ stories without building barriers.
Maybe then my first reaction wouldn’t be envy, but curiosity about that path that you’re traveling. If I’m secure about the life I’m living, I don’t need to be looking for comparisons. Walking that course, I can be present to the people along my way, thankful for my life and supportive of theirs.
How about You?
In what ways do you compare yourself with those around you?
How could you become more secure in your own path?