You're lost in the scroll again, and after losing 45-minutes looking through Instagram stories (like seriously, where did that time go?), you find yourself putting your phone down, looking around your room, and just feeling a general sense of "crappy."
Maybe your wardrobe is too cluttered. Maybe you hate the view from your window. Maybe you suddenly want to redecorate your house. Maybe you need to get outside, but there's nowhere you'd like to go. Maybe you feel like you need to lose weight. Maybe you hate the clothes you're wearing. Maybe you've stared at your Instagram grid and you aren't happy with anything you've posted recently.
And you're not sure where all these feelings came from, but they're definitely worse than they were 45 minutes ago...
I think we can all agree that social media is the black hole we get sucked into when it comes to comparing our lives to the lives of others. But let's be real here: humans have always struggled with this issue. Instagram and Pinterest have just made it 10000x worse because now we have 24/7 access to beautiful, curated "highlight" reels of people's lives.
But regardless of your religious beliefs, all you have to do is look at the Ten Commandments to see that one of them is "Thou shall not covet," which implies that our desire for our neighbour's life has been a loooong-seeded issue in the human heart. Like, way before iPhones were a thing. And none of us are truly immune (although if you find someone who has genuinely overcome comparison, please send them my number because I need to meet this Jedi-master).
So I'm going to start off with this: as much as I know, logically, what is right and true, even I can fall into the trap of comparison and have to dig myself out. I stand with you in this struggle, and I say this because I want you to know that I'm coming from a place of true contemplation and humility: I'm not trying to preach to you. I'm still learning as I go.
But in my time spent scrolling every day, I've started to slow down and actually analyse the thoughts that flip through my brain as fast as my thumb flips across a screen. And in taking my thoughts captive and truly acknowledging them for longer than a millisecond, I've realised something: I tell myself a lot of little lies every day. But the lies come and go so quickly, it's almost as if they've snuck themselves into my heart without me even noticing them. And there's a lot of danger in that. Subtle thoughts can often times be way more powerful than blatant ones.
I'm an academic writing teacher at a university, and one of the things that I like to do with my students is teach them using metaphor. I talk about punctuation marks as if they were little people. I give them personalities to help my students visualise them and understand how they work and what their jobs are. So what if I did that now? With our thoughts?
Just play along with me here for a second:
I'm scrolling through Instagram, and I see a friend who I admire tell us about a new blog post that has received an overwhelming amount of engagement and praise. The photo in the post is of her sitting in her beautiful, clean, spacious house. It's styled in this cool, organic way with all of the furniture pieces that I drool over. She's wearing a gorgeous outfit in my favourite colours. She's got a beautiful figure and the outfit fits her just right. I look at her likes and comments, and she's got more engagement than I could ever dream of having. Then I read on, and I see that she's writing about something that is also very close to MY heart. And she's getting so much back from her people. They are drinking up her content and pouring back into her to feed her creativity. This post has obviously been a success for her, and that's awesome.
Now queue the thoughts: These thoughts are like little, tiny trolls that sneak into my mind when my focus is distracted. They whisper to me through lots of other noise so that their voices are nearly drowned out, but I hear the faint echo of what they're saying:
"You'll never get engagement like that."
"She's making way more money than you are."
"Her business is more successful."
"Her house is so perfect, I bet it never stresses her out."
"Why aren't you using the same marketing strategies that she's using?"
"Your body can never look that good."
"She seems to have everything sorted the way she wants it; SHE probably never envies other people."
"Your house is too small and cluttered to photograph in."
"You should spend more time growing on Pinterest."
"She's already written about the topic you care about, and she's probably done it better, so why even bother sharing your own writing or thoughts?"
"She's basically a more put-together version of you."
"Her aesthetic is prettier, that's probably why she gets more followers."
"Nobody wants to hear what you have to say."
And on the other side, there are thoughts like sweet fairies of light, trying desperately to also whisper into my ear:
"Isn't it wonderful to see that there are other people like you?"
"Your value isn't determined by your income."
"You are BEAUTIFUL."
"EVERYBODY struggles, even when you can't see it."
"You are always GROWING, so don't feel bad that you're not 'there' yet."
"How beautiful to find other women who share your heart and values!"
"You should reach out and talk to her! You have so much in common!"
"It's amazing how many people are connecting with her post; that's so encouraging to see how much room there is for all of us in the world!"
"How wonderful that she's succeeding; I'm sure she had to overcome a lot of struggles to get here."
"Your heart clearly connects with other people!"
"If there's space for her, there's obviously space for you!"
But the trolls are sneaky: they run in, drop their bombs, and then, on their way out, they use their sticky, grimy hands to grab the faeries by the neck and drag them through the exit door before they can choke out their encouragement.
This is a metaphor for what kinds of thoughts we allow ourselves to listen to when we stare at the other girl's success. Instead of celebrating the creativity that flourishes through our amazing, modern world, we see the world as a tiny space where there isn't enough room for both of us. Her success becomes our failure because we are making the entire world as tiny as that little room in our mind where trolls and faeries go to fight.
But there's only one problem with this metaphor: it makes us victims of the scroll trolls (hmm, maybe I'll coin that term...) It makes us subject to comparison, lacking all agency.
And we're not. Those thoughts are ours.
And in that, we have a choice.
Always, we have a choice. Now, we can't necessarily choose NOT to have these thoughts. They pop up out of nowhere, and sometimes we don't even see them coming. But here's what we CAN do: we can choose to silence the chatter in our minds so that when the "troll" speaks, its words echo so loudly around the walls of your mind that you hear them clearly. So clearly that you recognise them for what they are: lies. Ridiculous, self-focused, fear-inducing downright LIES. And not just lies about you: they lie about "her" too. They put her up on a pedestal and idolise her and make you forget that she's a human with her own struggles, too.
When we think about it, it doesn't take long to realise that comparison isolates us, not just from our own creativity, but from the girl next to us who probably struggles with a lot of the same things that you do.
And in that isolation, we all lose. She loses, and so do you. Because she might just be waiting for someone like you to connect with her; you two might be creative partners in the making, but you miss out before you've even gotten started when you're too busy comparing yourself to her.
I'd wager that we'll never stop looking at "her" and then looking back at ourselves to work out the differences between us. But we might be able to stop allowing our negative responses to that comparison to hide under the surface so that they continue to seethe and cause damage. We CAN dig up those deep-rooted thoughts, and we can see their pathetic attempt to silence us and overshadow us and turn other people's successes into our failures (when actually, one has nothing to do with other).
The lies we tell ourselves are much more effective when we don't fully acknowledge them. Because when we don't fully acknowledge them, we don't have the power to label them as lies. And if we can't label them as lies, then we never get the chance to refute those lies:
"Her success IS BEAUTIFUL."
"Her success IS A BLESSING TO OTHERS."
"Her success IS PROOF THAT THERE IS SPACE FOR ALL OF US."
"Her success WAS EARNED."
"Her success HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME."
"I am VALUABLE."
"My creativity is LIFE-GIVING."
"The passions of my heart MATTER."
"I was CREATED for GREAT THINGS."
"I can CHOOSE to KEEP GOING."
"I am NOT my SUCCESSES or FAILURES."
"I CREATE because it is WHO I AM."
"My IDENTITY is not dictated by SOMEONE ELSE."
"Her success IS NOT. MY. FAILURE."
So next time you feel the weight of comparison, I want you to seek out those little trolls: find them, pick them up, stare them in the face, and say "You are a liar." Because we are not victims. We are warriors. And each day, we can CHOOSE to see past our human tendency to compare and instead seek TRUTH in light of success: be it hers or ours.
Because we really are in this together, and the better you learn to love who you are and what you do, the better you get to love the lady next to you, and then the world, as a whole, gets a little bit brighter. A place where faeries can grow. And that's the kind of world I think we all want to live in.