Comparison Dragon


Monday Confession: I had to unfollow someone on Instagram because I was jealous.

As embarrassed as I am to admit this, it’s true. And since I’m not one who typically feels jealousy toward others, I thought maybe if I write about it I’ll feel better. Because, surely, I can’t be the only one to fall into the comparison trap. Can I?

Since I started my web design business last year, I’ve gone through phases of focusing on how I want to run my business interspersed with chaotic bouts of watching other, seemingly more successful, women in business and thinking that I need to do whatever it is they are doing if I’m going to succeed.

The other day I was not in a particularly good mood. The winter weather has more than overstayed it’s limited welcome and I could not be more over it. In fact, starting right now, I am boycotting winter. Unfortunately, as I have zero control over the weather, it won’t change anything (imagine if controlling the weather was actually a person’s job? Kind of cool but also has the potential to make everyone hate you, which is a lot of pressure and I suspect would sustain a high rate of employee turnover!). So, in true Canadian fashion, I’m stuck suffering through the misery of the longest and coldest winter in history. All this is to say that, occasionally, the weather gets the better of me and despite all my efforts to stay positive, there are days where I just want to scream profanities at the sky while it blissfully drops another five inches of snow to the ground.

Last week, in between hours of what felt like non-stop shovelling, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a post from another web designer who was expressing her gratitude for all the clients she’s had the privilege to work with. And as I read her post I felt a twinge of jealousy, which seeped lower and lower into the depth of my charred soul as I continued to read until finally I had to accept that I was feeling like a total loser and had to ask myself, “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

For the most part, I am all for celebrating other people, especially women because successful women are my jam. But there was something about this particular day and this particular post that had me derailed from my usual happy-for-others mentality.  And, if I’m being completely honest, this wasn’t the first time I’d had an unwelcome reaction to this particular business owner’s Instagram posts. So, for my own self-preservation, I decided to unfollow her. But, as I hit that unfollow button I felt like pure shit.

How can I, someone who tells people how important it is to cheer for others and that there is room for all of us to succeed, feel such a negative emotion that makes me question what I’m doing with my life?

I mean, honestly, I’ve always been happier for other people than for myself. In high school I had this figure skating friend and I would often talk about how great it would be for her to go to the Olympics because I thought she was amazing and deserved to do something that cool. Our other friends laughed about how, if she did compete in the Olympics, I’d be more excited about it than she would be. And they weren’t wrong.

So then, why am I struggling with comparison envy over someone I don’t even know who is doing really well in her business?

This is tough for me to write because it feels extra vulnerable and I worry that admitting this ugliness about myself will change who I am. Am I a monster? Am I something evil that must be avoided because I can’t always feel happiness for others? Will anyone ever believe me when I say I am cheering for them and that I want to celebrate their wins?

But there is a certain power in vulnerability so I decided to write this to help sort through what I’m feeling. Did this happen because I’m mad at winter and want it to suffer a quick, but extremely painful, death? Or is there more to it?

The truth is, I really do want every one of us to succeed. For real. If you wrote to me right now and told me how well you’re doing I would be so thrilled! So why did I have to unfollow someone I don’t even know because their business is succeeding?

My whole life I have wondered if I’m good enough. Am I a good enough wife, mother, friend, colleague? Am I strong enough, smart enough, focused enough? In my school days I was always told that I would do so much better if I would just apply myself. (Do teachers still say that? Because, let’s find a new narrative for kids who are not actually unfocused or unintelligent but who simply don’t give a shit about math.) I’ve always feared that I’ll never be as good at anything as I want to be or think I should be because my standards for myself are impossibly high. Even though I have crushed the hell out of some pretty big goals and have worked so hard to become a better person, it still never seems to be enough.

So, as I beat myself up for falling into the comparison trap, I realize it doesn’t make me a bad person or even less of a person. Yes, it was important for my mental health to unfollow that account, but I can always re-follow her later (most likely after winter leaves and I can get my head on straight, which seems to happen more naturally in warmer temperatures).

The thing that is so useless about comparing ourselves to others is that we have no idea what that person has been through. This woman I felt envious of could have been trying to build a business for 10 years and only now is finally seeing success. Maybe she survived a horrible illness last year and it forced her to celebrate her wins more openly because she understands that even the smallest wins are worthy of celebration. Maybe she falls apart at night because she’s exhausted from raising a toddler who won’t stop screaming at her or a teenager who regularly threatens to run away and she’s constantly filled with worry every time the phone rings. Or, maybe she’s only been in this business for two months and is already seeing success. The point is, I have no idea what it took for her to get here, and it doesn’t matter. It has absolutely nothing to do with me, my business, or my own success. And, even if I won’t see it, I still wish her mad success.

The other important thing to remember is that we all know Instagram is an imbalanced and curated picture of our lives where about 95% of posts are meant to show how we want the world to see us and only 5% are based on reality. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s that exact reason I’ve always liked Instagram, because it feels more positive than other social media platforms. It’s a place to build community, to celebrate and support each other; both for our wins and our occasional relapses into reality.

So, while I recognize this feeling as something ugly inside of me, I know that it’s only a temporary setback. Allowing myself to feel it and admit that I don’t like it is the best way for me to move past it.

Because if we can’t admit when we feel something we don’t like, how can we ever truly change it?