Comparing Our Differences

My 6-year-old daughter came home from school the other day and said she had a bad day. She explained saying that a kid on the playground was comparing her. Not understanding, I asked her to say more. She relayed that he was saying, “I can do the monkey bars faster. I can go longer. I can skip more bars.”

Oh, I get it – comparing.

We’ve had so many posts recently that I thought were so great at illustrating about how we are all different. AP2’s posts on the Big 5 Personality Model and Extraversion. Betul’s post about affirmations that help her accept she has a different timeline. Todd’s post about being on low battery as an introvert. We are all different – so why do we compare?

To get some perspective, I turned to research professor Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart. She defines comparison as “Comparison is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other – it’s trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out.”

And apparently, we all do comparison: “Researchers Jerry Suls, René Martin, and Ladd Wheeler explain that ‘comparing the self with others, either intentionally or unintentionally, is a pervasive social phenomenon.’”

So we all do comparison but what we have control over is how we let it affect us. I was struck by a comment I heard on a 10 Percent Happier podcast with TV commentator and author Alicia Menendez. She talked about management assessment she once did that measured the difference between who one naturally is with the way one self-presents in the work environment to show how much one is self-correcting. The evaluator said to her “So, you are a very introverted person who is overcompensating to be very extroverted in the environment you are in. You are really tired at the end of the day, aren’t you?

Changing from who we are is exhausting. Maybe we do it because we compare or maybe we do it because we are self-conscious. When I decided to have kids as a single-person at age 46, I was self-conscious of being different. Not that there aren’t other older, single mothers in the world but because there weren’t any in my direct experience.

Comparison to what I thought was the norm made me feel ashamed. It was only after I knew I didn’t want to pass that on to my children that I started owning my differences. That has freed me to do many other things like the post I wrote last week about how I choose to use the time that I otherwise might spend being in a relationship to listen to podcasts and read great books. We are all different, might as well enjoy it. Reading the research that Brené Brown includes in her book reminds me that I don’t have to teach my children not to compare. I only have to teach them to understand how it affects them.

As Brené says about comparing herself to the swimmer in the lane next to hers, “My new strategy is to look at the person in the lane next to me, and say to myself, as if I’m talking to them, Have a great swim. That way I acknowledge the inevitable and make a conscious decision to wish them well and return to my swim.

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(featured photo from Pexels)

13 thoughts on “Comparing Our Differences

  1. Enlightening post, Wynn. I’m currently in a moment of comparing myself to myself, brought on by an incident that happened yesterday. Suddenly my 5-year old self sprang up out of nowhere to remind me of how I was then, and how I am now. In that moment of surprise comparison, I saw clearly that some things have not changed, and that I need to heal, forgive, accept, and bless the part of myself that needs it the most—the hurt little girl inside. It has only taken 7 or 8 decades. Ah, the gift of time and awareness . . .

    1. I love this beautiful comment, Julia! What a wonderful moment of enlightenment that must have been and for however long it took, you have the gift now. Thank you for this comment and sharing that moment!

  2. Thanks for the mention & great post Wynne! Since I quit teaching and started doing music full time, I’ve needed to remind myself of the messages your post relays. Social media is full of the best gigs everybody else is doing, and that can lead to a wanting to keep up, or even surpass. I have to remind myself of why I decided to do music in the first place. For me, running helps me to get my head together. Somehow it’s easier for me to accept that I’m ahead of some and behind others in running and that comparisons have limited value- so I try to take that mentality into other areas of life.
    Sorry- I’m long winded today! 😁

    1. I love your running analogy, Todd. Yes, we are ahead of some and behind others. And I wonder if when we are shifting to something new, as you are with music as a full-time thing, comparison gets a hold of us easier than when we are in the groove? Good food for thought! Thanks for adding this comment to the discussion.

  3. It’s difficult not to compare ourselves with the others. But it may be harmful doing it. As usual Brené came up with a fantastic solution. And you gave me an idea for another post! Thank you for the beautiful insight!

    1. What a lovely comment – and I’m so glad to hear it gave you an idea for another post. I can’t wait to read that! Thanks for reading and commenting, Cristiana.

  4. I was just having that conversation with my 6 yr old grandson. “I can climb better” I can run faster” “I can throw the ball farther.” and we talked about how everyone does things their own way and tries to do their own personal best. It seems to be part of a 6yr old boy developmental phase.

  5. We change who we are to be what the other person wants. It could be out of social, economic, or even legal necessity or it might be because we don’t value who we are.

    In the autism world this is called “masking” and it is exhausting. If you had unpopular life preferences, say being gay or being a nudist, it’s known as living in a closet. But as long as people judge, people will mask.

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