Teddy Roosevelt said that. Everyone knows it. There are tons of blog posts, Pinspirational quotes (as seen on the right) and wall hangings by people attempting to capture the spirit behind the phrase and infuse it into their hearts. And yet, I can’t help but feel as though it rarely takes residence there.
Take me, for instance. I’ve used comparison as a learning technique for as long as I can remember. Thanks to comparing myself to others, I learned how to not get spankings, how to (mostly) avoid heartbreak, how to put on makeup (dear sisters, the world thanks you for that one) … I could go on and on about the countless ways that I have grown and matured by comparing myself to others.
Comparison has been my most valuable skill, my most trusted compass for social and behavioral practices and now it seems that I’m just supposed to turn it off, to shift gears into going “my own pace.” Just typing that out makes my competitive nature shudder.
I understand what Teddy’s trying to say, I really do. He was trying to make people understand that if you spend all your time looking at what others have or how their lives appear with your compare lens on mega-magnify, then you’ll only see the great gap between them and you. You’ll never be able to appreciate what you have or the beauty that surrounds you every day. You can’t embrace true joy when you’re so focused on what is missing.
Teddy, I hear you loud and clear and I’m with you. My fist raises in solidarity.
But I think there’s an underlying tone to the phrase — one that is an oversimplification that is unfair when you consider human nature.
This is what I hear when someone quotes ol’ Ted: “Comparison is the thief of joy … so stop.”
Just two words. Anytime someone says that quote to me, I always inwardly add “so stop” to the end of it and then get frustrated when I can’t just stop comparing myself to others. I mean, it shouldn’t be all that hard, right? Let’s walk through this together…
Ted: Margaret, do you understand what the words comparison, thief and joy mean?
Me: Sure do, Teddaroni!
Ted: Very good. Do you understand what I mean when I say that comparison is the thief of joy?
Ted: Very well. Do you agree with that statement?
Me: Totes magotes!
Ted: You are most astute. How do you feel now that you know the damaging effects of comparison?
Me: Um, about the same as before we walked through all that.
Ted: Then you’re a glutton for punishment and I can’t help you.
So why can’t Teddy and I get on the same page? Because there is more going on in someone’s head and heart when they get lost in a sea of comparison.
Maybe you look to material things to distract yourself from dissatisfaction in your work. Maybe you compare your relationship to others because you’re scared that if you don’t do enough to maintain the bond, then he or she will leave you and you’ll be alone again. Maybe you look in the mirror and compare what you see to every scrolling social media screen on your phone because you want to be loved more than anything else, and changing the outside seems like the most effective way of attracting the attention that can turn into love.
Maybe your heart is broken in a place that you don’t show anyone and you try and see how others hide it.
Getting to the root of why you compare in the first place is so much more important, in my book, than just shutting down the feeling.
If you catch yourself comparing and change your line of thought, that doesn’t address the problem; it tucks it under the rug. The root cause is still lurking and will manifest in some other way, but this time it will have had time to grow and evolve into a monster of an insecurity.
Everyone compares. To one degree or another, it happens. The real question is what does the root of your comparison reveal?
Editor’s Note: Margaret is the editor of this blog, but is not the only writer whose words you may see here. To read more by Margaret or to see the other writers, visit the authors’ categories in the menu at the top right corner of the screen.