The Downward Spiral Of Comparing And Contrasting (And How To Avoid It)
When I first left my beach town in Southern California to come study abroad in Germany I knew I was in for the journey of a lifetime, that I would be challenged, grow, and come home a different person. But in knowing these things in a general sense, I wasn’t really prepared for the spiraling circle I found myself getting caught up in.
Leaving my close-knit community of friends back home I faced the challenge of starting from scratch, an introvert’s worst nightmare! Making friends has never been my strong suit, it wasn’t in kindergarten, junior high or high school. But I set off strong none the less, with energy and intentionality! Good intentions never hurt a trying soul, or so I thought.
The spiral didn’t come on suddenly, these things never do. It was slow, like the current that slowly pulls you out farther and farther and before you know it you’re a half a mile out from the beach. The danger is that it is so difficult to recognize that you’re being pulled away before it’s too late.
As the weeks and months went by I began to notice something. I was becoming desperate for friendships, desperate for some kind of support system in this foreign place that I was trying so hard to adjust to, trying so hard to make home. But all that came was judgment and isolation from those I was seeking acceptance from. I began to question everything as an attempt to figure out what it was about me that kept me from “fitting in“. Was it my style? Was it my personality? Was it that I didn’t have the right humor? Was it that my beliefs and value system were different than my peers?
Like a crack in a dam, the self-doubts began to put pressure on everything I thought I knew about myself. Insecurities I didn’t even realize I had, came rushing to the surface and just like that I was caught helplessly in the current that was pulling me farther and farther from the shore.
As a surfer, one of the first things you learn is how to escape a current’s pull. First instinct is to start paddling toward the beach, but the problem with this is that you are no match for the current and you will burn yourself out and make no progress toward the beach. Despite your best efforts only leave you tired and trapped. However, if you make just the slightest adjustment and turn your board at an angle toward the beach instead of directly toward it, you will end up breaking the currents hold on you and successfully make it back to the beach without it consuming all of your energy.
We are talking about inches to change your entire course.
Perhaps I am missing my beach town and Saturday afternoons out in the water because this was the only analogy I could think of. But it illustrates something important that I want you to grasp.
When we are trapped in the currents of comparing ourselves to everybody else around us, our style to theirs, our talents to theirs, our value to theirs, we forget the most important thing, our purpose.
Trapped in this current for the first half of my study abroad I stumbled upon a beacon of sorts that struck me. Bob Goff tweeted “We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated by purpose.”
It was like being back in the water at Surfers Point, being dragged out by the current and in an instant realizing something in me needed to change, I needed to get back to the “beach” immediately or else I wouldn’t ever be able to. My instinct was to fight against the comparisons my mind was making, to just STOP. But I knew better, I knew I needed to make a mental shift, but I knew that all it would take was a couple of inches because I couldn’t will myself to just stop comparing myself to others. I knew that if I wanted to get out of this spiraling circle of discontentment and bitterness that came with the territory of being rejected by my peers, that I had to take a bird’s-eye view. I had to understand where it began and refocus on the bigger picture.
I began to see in those moments that focusing so much on being accepted and valued by my peers during my time abroad made my whole experience abroad about them. It became about pleasing everyone else and it had completely pulled me away from my goals, my growth, and opportunities to make the most of this once in a lifetime experience.
It was a truly impactful experience learning to recognize the conditional acceptance that we are so often salivating for from others. That so often we are forced into believing that we must be like everyone else around us in order to succeed and be accepted, while at the cost of losing your own individual view of the world around you.
I realized that if we all see the world the same way, fit into the same mold, then we lose our own individual take on the world and all that is in it. This ends up taking away a very important thing, diversity. It removes diversity of thought, diversity of perception, which comes from our uniquely combined experiences that we gather together throughout our life journey, and that shape our worldview. How often are these different ideas snuffed out and discredited by the majority, by cliques that we are so eager to be accepted by that we ignore the fact that we have our own unique stamp to put on the world! So what happens? We allow our own individual design to be reshaped, remolded to match those whom we are constantly comparing ourselves to.
The moment I took a step back, saw what I was being pulled into and how it was damaging my own unique design and self-confidence in that unique design, was the moment that my surfboard shifted those few crucial inches, and like that the current was broken and I began my way back to the beach, back to my purpose, my goals, and my growth.
Conditional acceptance is never worth you trading your unique design for a cookie cutter mold that will never remain in style.