Comparing yourself to others will not make you happy. When you compare your achievements to other people’s, and your children to other children, you rarely come out on top. Unless, of course, you’re purposely comparing yourself to someone less fortunate than you to make yourself feel good—and that’s just mean.
Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy, and I believe that wholeheartedly—mainly because I’ve experienced it wholeheartedly.
I was once on a business trip in Arizona, and rather than relax by the pool during my downtime, I decided to climb Camelback Mountain. I spent the day before the hike preparing: I drank lots of water, researched the different trails, and rented a fanny pack (yes, a fanny pack) to carry my phone and extra water bottles.
I was incredibly proud of myself for choosing the hike over laying by the pool, and for getting a jumpstart on my day rather than sleeping in like I really wanted to. I was advised to get an early start on the climb, because midday heat would make it harder. I made plans to arrive at the base of the mountain by 7 a.m. and was told that I could make it to the summit in 45 minutes.
To my surprise, I made it to the base of the mountain to start my hike at 6:45 a.m. “Wow, look at me,” I thought. “Up and about so early, taking advantage of the day, enjoying Mother Nature and living life to its fullest.” I’m not going to lie, I was ridiculously proud of myself.
I was excited that I was doing something I’d never done. I was proud that I did all the research to make the hike happen. I was proud that I didn’t hit snooze and sleep until 10 a.m. like I really wanted to. Before taking my first step onto the hiking trail, I paused for a rare but genuine self-congratulatory moment: “Good job, Katherine. Two points.”
My “you go, girl” moment was awesome. But it only lasted an additional 86 steps, before it all went to hell.
I was maybe two minutes into my hike when I saw a shirtless, sweaty, fit, happy, healthy, young guy barreling towards me on his way down from the summit.
I repeat: I was two minutes into my hike, it was 6:47 in the morning, and he was two minutes from being done.
My head almost exploded.
The gerbils in my mind took off on their hamster wheel to hell, and the comparisons started spiraling out of control: What the hell just happened? What time did that guy wake up this morning? What time did he go to bed? Was he really running? Do people actually run to the top of mountains? I wonder if he does this every day? I wonder if he’s this stellar in every aspect of his life? I wonder if he thinks I’m a loser? And lazy?
And so went the first half of my hike up the mountain.
I was so taken aback by the runner that it was the only thing I could think about, and I allowed his greatness to cast a shadow over my morning.
The gerbil wheel didn’t stop there: I should have gotten up earlier. The concierge said the sunrise is amazing from the top, but nooooooo, I had to sleep until 6:15 and miss it. I couldn’t run to the top of this mountain if a masked murderer was chasing me. I would literally die trying. He didn’t even have water with him! Meanwhile, I’m sporting a used fanny pack with three plastic water bottles bouncing off my hips like an environmentally unfriendly hula skirt. If I’d tried hiking before, like all my Facebook friends, I wouldn’t look like such a doofus.
And that’s how it went. I compared my I’ve-never-done-this-before self to his I- could-do-this-in-my-sleep self, robbing myself of joy along the way.
Until I hit pause on a plateau, where I took a little breather and talked some sense into myself.
What I witnessed at the bottom of the mountain was simply a data point: that guy is very active and very fit. His accomplishments have no bearing on my accomplishments. I’ve never seen him in my entire life, so how could our performances possibly be linked?
And on that plateau, my resting place, I found freedom from comparison. My freedom came from my ability to say, “Good for that guy. But also, good for me.” He had challenged himself that morning and so had I.
I woke up early and climbed a mountain, damnit. Alone. For the very first time.
As mothers, we have an uncanny ability to turn the strengths of others into indictments against ourselves. And it’s a terrible way to live.
No, I can’t run to the top of a mountain, but that was never my goal in the first place. I shook off my comparisons (Taylor Swift may or may not have played a role in this process), and I felt proud again. I took a deep breath, exhaled the comparisons out, and mentally repeated a mantra I use from time to time to bring me back to the present moment: “Right Here. Right Now.”
I am right here, in this moment, on this mountain, right now. I’m not at the top, I’m not at the bottom, I’m right here, right now. And I might as well enjoy it.
When I stepped off the plateau, I left that guy behind. I got my groove back, and I was filled with joy.
I didn’t make it to the summit in 45 minutes, as others promised I could. It took me an hour and 15 minutes. And that’s Okay. It was worth every minute, mainly because I actually felt this experience—once I was able to forget about the runner and refocus on myself.
I didn’t run to the top. I walked, climbed, and stumbled my way up. I tripped many times and was exhausted for most of it. But that’s okay. I’d never done anything remotely like this. And I did my best.