The comparisons trap is way too easy to fall into, and it sneaks up on you pretty quickly. I’ve always heard that it’s the thief of joy—which is certainly true—but one thing I’ve noticed lately is that can also be a thief of your identity.
Last week, we had PSAT testing at our school, which means teachers serve as test proctors and are often supervising in rooms that aren’t theirs. I was in an English teacher’s classroom, and I began glancing around her room at all of the fun and creative decorations and assignments she had posted on the walls. There were intricate borders and charming fonts everywhere, and the entire room was like an invitation to escape to fictitious literary places and situations. I began to think about my classroom and its lack of visual appeal.
Her classroom looks so much better than mine.
And then I let my mind continue to go down that dangerous path. I noticed her calendar on the white board and how she had every class for the month written out for the students to see what was on the docket. I read the assignments and her essential question and even started comparing those to mine—you know, the ones I create for a completely different subject with completely different state standards and learning objectives.
OMG, I’m not a good teacher. At all.
Oy vey. I had to stop thinking in that moment, so I started doodling. As I was drawing and writing my name like I was back in high school myself, it occurred to me that it’s rather easy to let yourself slip into negative thoughts that make you think less of yourself. The comparisons you make with others aren’t simply stealing your joy—they’re stealing your confidence in being you.
And I’m not OK with that.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not always going to be the very best at everything. I know that I lack talent in many areas. After all, I’ve been asked to leave multiple music and gymnastics classes because of my inabilities. As a teacher, I know that there will be other teachers who outshine me, but I’m not in this profession to be known for my cute classroom or for creating the most exceptional assignments possible—I’m in it solely for the kids. Yes, creative projects will definitely help them, but so will simply being there for them and always putting forth my best efforts to be the best teacher I can be for them.
And that best teacher within me might not necessarily have a classroom that looks like an aisle in Hobby Lobby or the home page of Pinterest.
Despite my recent moment of panic of being horrible at my profession, I’m pretty comfortable with and affirmed in who I am. It hasn’t always been that way, though. I can think back to far too many occasions that I let comparisons steal who I was. The girls I knew growing up were always prettier than I was, causing me to think that there wasn’t anything beautiful about me. In fact, one reason I’ve always assumed guys won’t be interested in me is because I constantly had the thought of “there are so many other girls who are much more attractive than I am,” and I didn’t look a thing like them.
What I wasn’t focusing on, though, is that I didn’t look like them because I looked like me.
Am I always going to like what I see looking in the mirror back at me? No, probably not. But I think that we often don’t appreciate our reflections or how we look in pictures as much because we’re comparing ourselves to how other people look or how we think we should look. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I feel like that’s not entirely healthy.
We aren’t all supposed to look the same way. We aren’t supposed to talk the same. We aren’t supposed to teach the same. We aren’t supposed to sing the same and think the same and play the same and write the same and dance the same and cook the same and make our beds the same and dress the same and walk the same and act the same and date the same and do all of the things the same.
We’re humans, not robots.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is currently sidelined with a thumb injury, so backup Teddy Bridgewater has had to try to fill the 12-time Pro Bowler’s shoes. Brees has multiple NFL records to his name and plenty of awards (including a Super Bowl MVP) to go along with them. Try replacing that leader of a pro team and not being constantly compared to him. I don’t know Bridgewater, so I have no idea what goes through his mind or what he thinks of himself, but I do know that he’s winning games. He’s playing football the way he knows how to play it, and he’s leading his team to victories that many people probably didn’t expect when they learned that Brees would be out for six to eight weeks.
But just because Bridgewater isn’t Brees doesn’t mean he’s inadequate.
You’re not going to be like other people in a lot of ways, and that’s not a bad thing. The more we learn to embrace our unique differences and individual qualities that make us who we are and to stop comparing ourselves to others, the more comfortable we will learn to be with ourselves, and the more we will be able to love others for the people they are.
And the more we will be able to love ourselves for the peculiar treasures we are, too.
I get that comparisons are going to happen in life, and I won’t be able to escape all of them. It’s what people do. But I do get to make the choice of whether or not I constantly compare myself to other people or to what I wish I were and whether or not I let comparisons from others help me decide what I think of myself.
I’m not a perfect teacher, I’m not a perfect sister, I’m not a perfect daughter, I’m not a perfect aunt, I won’t be a perfect girlfriend or wife (but, fellas, I will make a darn good one for sure), I’m not a perfect writer, I’m not a perfect follower of Jesus, I’m not a perfect friend, and I’m not a perfect so many other things. But that’s OK. I’m trying. And, even though I don’t really support participation medals or ribbons, I’m proud of myself for being myself when the world often tries to tell me to be someone else.
I hope that you don’t let comparisons steal your identity or your joy or anything else for that matter. I hope that you know how loved and valued you are and how much you matter just as you are. You’re not like them because you’re like you.
And that’s a beautiful reality.