March 2017

On Comparison

I have a shoe problem, not unlike Cinderella’s stepsisters. To refresh your memory, Anastasia and Drizella could not fit their feet into Cinderella’s glass slipper.

They wanted the glass slipper to fit, desperately. But their feet didn’t fit because it wasn’t their glass slipper. They wanted the happy ending. But it wasn’t their happy ending.

I can relate. I’ve spent a lot of time measuring my success by comparing it to someone else’s:

She lives at the beach. (I’m freezing my tail off in the winter that never ends.)

She lost 25 pounds. (I’ve only lost 3.)

She wrote a book and got published. (I haven’t heard back from the publisher.)

I know comparison is the thief of joy, so I’m careful to not compare exactly, and probably in person I might not tell you any of that, or if I did, I’d caveat the heck out of it to be sure you knew I know it’s not a fair comparison.

But in my mind, “she” has become a yardstick by which I measure my own progress. I become a stepsister trying to cram my foot in Cinderella’s glass slipper.

And that shoe won’t ever fit.

It’s a habit that started early, at least in middle school, a pattern I can see continuing as I grew older. Twenty-plus years later, by the time I started to realize how badly I handicapped myself by always trying to cram my foot in someone else’s shoe, it wasn’t an easy habit to break. (And I’m still a work in progress.)

In 8th grade, a new girl moved to my school, and she was instantly cool. I’d lived there for two years and had three best friends, then two of them moved away, but two of us were left, me and my BFF. If you ask me to name my childhood BFF, you need to know this gal is the first name I remember. But when the new girl arrived, she was really cool, and my BFF was suddenly her BFF and I was eating lunch alone in the courtyard, having to make brand new friends. Literally.

What I internalized from that quintessential middle school moment was the idea that “She” was the cool, popular kid and I was not. “She” became the standard, and from then on, every time I moved I assessed the crowds, determined the popular kids, then assumed my place was in the lower hierarchy.

I think we all have our own stories and it’s different for everyone, but somewhere along the way whether it’s in middle school or college or after we got married and had kids (or didn’t get married, or didn’t have kids), we adopt a mythic standard and apply the distorted picture to our own lives.

When we feel like we don’t fit in, it’s uncomfortable. I think we either live like we’re determined to force a square peg in a round hole or we’re brave enough to sit in the discomfort.

I’m not, naturally, brave.

I’m inquisitive, I’m Type A, a first born, a pleaser, and a problem solver. Whenever I’m uncomfortable, I tend to assume that’s my problem to fix (for you.) Using my natural problem-solving skills I’m quick to look for “who’s got it right” and try to do/be what “she” does. (Or, “who’s got it all wrong” and not do what “she” does.)

I’ll spare you all the stories from college to working in the White House to getting married to being a military spouse to becoming a mother to working from home, but let me assure you that in EVERY one of those situations, pursuing how “She” does it has only ever left me exhausted, discouraged, or defeated.  Because pursuing a life defined by someone else’s picture is chasing an illusion.

More often than not, I’m chasing an illusion when it feels like I’m wandering around in a desert, desperately thirsty, staring at the mirage of an oasis with water and palm trees. But in reality I’m wandering around that desert trying to get to that oasis, AND I’ve got all the water I need, and more, in the water bottle right in my hand and a backpack of supplies on my back.

No matter where I am, I am perfectly created and divinely equipped to be successful in my exact circumstances. I am prepared to assume every role and responsibility that I am given, especially those that are given to no one else. No one else is Mark’s wife. No one else is called to be Mama to my girls. The work to which I am called can only be done as I would do it, by me.

Asking how “she” does it is only helpful in so far as I allow her approach to help me determine my own. When faced with challenges, I’m quick to help my friends identify their unique strengths that will enable them to succeed. Instead of wishing for their strengths in my challenges, I need to remember, appreciate, and use my strengths to overcome my challenges.

My greatest success is always going to be what I accomplish when I’m comfortable in my own skin. I am a better me – a better wife, a better mom, a better friend, daughter, writer – when I’m brave enough to be me.

This has been my hardest lesson in motherhood: relaxing into being me and being me as a mama. Six years later, I no longer care what you think about how I parent. (Most of the time.) And I no longer feel ashamed to tell you that being a good mother doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, I’d argue with anyone who thinks mothering well comes natural to anyone. I promise, “she” doesn’t have it all together. (“She” is hiding from her kids in the closet, too.) Mothering is as unique as the people who do it, done best when I show up as me and love the little people who made me a mother.

And the greatest evidence that these truths are rewiring my brain is that I see how relevant it is to live like this in every area of my life.

I want to walk just as confidently in my marriage. I want to pursue my dreams of writing without the weight of publishing as the only benchmark for success. And I want my life to remind my friends that they can live like this too.

So now, whenever I find myself in a situation when I sense my confidence faltering, or I hesitate to trust myself, I’m evaluating why. What do I believe here? Am I living that? Or am I believing what I live?

Friends, living what I believe is equal parts faith in the God who created me, and faith in the me He created. Living what I believe requires consciously reminding myself that God is good and He called everything that he made good.  When He made me, He smiled. Just like I smile when I watch my girls blossom, God smiles when He sees me being me.