The comparison bug hit me this morning.
It doesn’t come around often, so it’s arrival was a bit of a surprise. The catalyst was a birth announcement on Facebook. The new mother is a friend from college, who was one of the most free spirits I’ve met. She’s a yoga teacher and beach lover who would frequently play “London” as we drove through the streets of San Diego. (In London, they drive on the other side of the road. I’ll let you connect the dots.) I haven’t talked to her since graduation and I haven’t kept up with her life, so it was a bit of a surprise to all of a sudden see her with a little munchkin.
Rewind to last night, when I was spending time with a friend from my graduate program. The cohort that I entered the program with will be graduating this May (As a part-time student, I’ll graduate a semester later than the full-time students). He was showing me something from another class and in the process, we came across his resume. Holy Toledo, he’s student affairs MVP. His resume was full of direct experience and bullet point after bullet point of managing student programs, supervising student groups, creating conduct boards, managing budgets…the list went on and on. I had to stop and think for a minute. The full-time students in the program all likely have similar resumes, with incredible, directly relevant experience.
For some reason, these two events combined to create the little comparison bug, who then asked me, “Well, how do you stack up?”
It’s an multifaceted question. Personally, my life is radically different than that of my old friend. She has a significant other and now a child; while I certainly have close friendships, there is no one that I feel responsible for or someone to answer to. Professionally, on paper, I don’t stack up so well when compared to my classmates. There are gaps in certain areas that I would like to address, and I have a lot of professional growth to do. If I were to apply for the same jobs that other folks in my program are applying to, I probably wouldn’t make the cut. And when you stop the comparison there, that’s a tough spot to be in.
And then there’s its cousin, the “what if?” bug. That one says, “Well, what if you had done this differently? What if you had, say, enrolled in grad school full time? What if you had stayed in California? Where would your life be?” It’s easier for me to respond to that bug, so that’s what I did this morning. As I drove to work on the funniest named freeway in America (the Beltline? Really?), I thought about what wouldn’t have happened if I had done grad school full time. My first, immediate thought was that I never would have found my second family. My running crew out here (though they aren’t quite my running crew these days) is full of people who are the among the most inspiring, supportive, thoughtful, talented, and truly amazing people that I’ve ever met. That alone was enough to not only silence, but completely squash, that “what if?” bug. But then my brain kept going. I would have lived closer to campus, and wouldn’t have had an incredible year living with one of my closest friends. The family dinners, weekday Masses, the impromptu conversations that kept us up way too late, the random adventures (and misadventures) around town – none of that would have happened. And then it goes even farther. I love the time I spend with my current roommate, who seems so normal until you see just how quirky and funny she is. Spontaneous games of Rummikub, making puzzles together, laughing as she picks off every red pepper off anything in front of her – I wouldn’t trade those moments, as small as they may seem. Then I think about the friend here who has shown me just how much it means to simply show up, regardless of whatever else might be going on. And the list goes on and on.
These lessons, these moments, these relationships – none of them would have happened had I stayed in California. Had I chosen to complete grad school a different way. If I had done anything in my life differently, I have no idea what would have happened or where I would be now. But it’s easy enough to look at the reverse and see what wouldn’t have happened, who I never would have met, what I never would have learned. I doubt that I would have run a marathon. I probably wouldn’t be learning guitar. I wouldn’t have visited the Atlantic Ocean, and thus, wouldn’t know definitively that the Pacific is the better ocean. I wouldn’t have learned the same lessons about love, sacrifice, and relationships.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and thinking through this right now, I have to agree. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would look at my life and consider it unfulfilling or strange. And that’s perfectly fine, because there are plenty of people that, if I lived their lives, I would be bored and unfulfilled. And that’s the beauty of it. We each have different personalities, unique gifts, and individual needs. The problem is, Facebook helps us to forget our individuality. We stack the entirety of our lives up against the highlight reel of those around us. We disregard the little moments, forgetting that those are pieces that make each day enjoyable and beautiful. And we become miserable in the process.
Happiness isn’t something that just happens, but rather, it is a choice we make at each moment of every day. And while it’s okay to stumble along the way, we’re the ones responsible for picking ourselves up and telling ourselves that this frustration, this disappointment, or this pain isn’t the end. It’s one step along the journey, and ultimately, it gives us the opportunity to forge ourselves into who we want to be.