I was always a competitive person. I have, what you call, drive. Like, straight-As, run-until-I-puke drive. It’s one of my favorite things about myself: when I want something I go for it. This trait serves me well. But it also doesn’t.
While ambition and drive have made for a wonderful life in so many ways, I have also missed out on some opportunities for tremendous joy.
Comparing ourselves to one another comes as second nature to women. This is not an indictment but rather a gentle observation by someone in the thick of it. I have been comparing myself to other women all of my life. In the past, I felt good about myself when I measured up or exceeded my neighbor’s accomplishments and I would feel bad about myself when the inverse was true.
I think of Gloria Steinem’s insistence that, as women, we should be “linked not ranked” and it makes me feel two things.
- Yes, duh!
- I want to go back in time and slap myself. Like, right in the face.
When I think of the energy I expended on stacking myself up against my friends, co-workers, and even strangers, I just want to scream. Why did I do that to myself?
Comparison is the thief of joy. That Theodore Roosevelt knew what he was talking about. I mean, brother was SMART.
Every time I looked to someone else to gauge my success, I missed the opportunity to be happy just because I am me. My life was adding up to a series of moments spent looking over my shoulder or to the person next to me.
But I was missing another thing, too: the ability to truly be happy for another person. Anytime one of my friends (especially my female friends) had a moment of success, I was jealous. I thought about how their moment in the sun compared to where I was. Rather than experience true happiness for what they achieved, I held back because I wanted a piece of what they had for myself.
I hit a point when I realized that this was not the kind of woman I wanted to be. Hell, it wasn’t the kind of human I wanted to be. I was listening to my Justin Bieber Pandora radio station (do not judge) and I heard this quote in one of his songs that BLEW MY MIND.
The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.
Now, having an existential breakthrough while listening to Justin Bieber might not have been on your to-do list for today but let me say, you should GET TO IT.
Here are my hard and fast rules to help you stop robbing yourself of joy. For watering your OWN lawn so that you want to live there. For starting a journey to contentment. Side note: it really is a journey. I have not mastered these things but OH MY WORD I am committed to trying.
Fake it ’til you make it. This is actually a sound philosophical principle. C.S. Lewis, in his acclaimed work Mere Christianity, lays out a foolproof plan for loving your neighbor. “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
Let me tell you, this WORKS. Even when my heart isn’t in the right place, I can get my actions to be. When I act in a way that is non-competitive and celebrates rather than diminishes my “neighbors'” accomplishments, it brings me joy. Truly, it does. When I look a friend in the eye and say, “good job” or when I brag about a friend’s accomplishments to someone else, it makes me feel good. Acting this way helps me to see myself this way and therefore helps me to BE this way. Writing it, it seems ridiculous. Living it? Not so much.
There is enough. There is enough love in the world, enough praise, enough success, enough whatever-the-eff-you’re-after. There is enough. If I remember that, it’s not so hard to share the love, the praise, the success or the whatevers with others. I can’t hoard success/goodness/thinness/strength/beauty/talent. Hoarding, if you ask my three-year-old, is exclusively for Paw Patrol action figures. And just as my three-year-old is realizing, hoarding isn’t so fun because you are constantly worried that what you have will be taken from you. When we operate from a place of bounty, a place of plenty, the world opens up to us. We realize that it doesn’t cost us anything to root for each other and, in fact, it benefits us in the end because it feels SO DAMN GOOD to lift others up.
Rise above. There is something inherently motivating about the challenge to rise above. To live Gloria’s vision of being “linked, not ranked” (yes, I feel like Gloria and I are on a first-name basis, OK?). And it’s here that my drive and ambition can once again take shape because you better believe that I am going to nail the crap out of that challenge. I will link like it’s my JOB. I will uplift and wish well LIKE A BOSS and be freaking awesome at it.
Being a woman is hard. You know this and I know this. It’s hard enough to live up to society’s expectation of us. It’s hard enough to live up to my three-year-old’s expectation and she doesn’t even know (or care) who Gwyneth Paltrow is. So let’s be on the same team, OK?!