The world is filled with people placed on this earth to torture me. Or so it seems on some days. I don’t imagine their existence is purposely tied to mine, but in the course of a bad afternoon, I can torment myself endlessly by recounting all of the ways I am not like them.
This is a lifelong habit, developed early in junior high school, when I realized that I simply didn’t look as cool as other girls did in their mini-skirts, jumpers, and t-strap flats. And it didn’t end with fashion. I have spent much of my life falling short in self-created contests of intelligence, success, financial status, and basic life choices and behaviors. I have compared myself in one way or another to nearly every human being who has even vaguely crossed my path. Add to this that I grew up as a lesbian in a time when people mostly spat the word and you can imagine the ways that I never felt good enough--or enough, period.
This is me in my life. This is what it looks like when I do it.
Of course I learned a long time ago that we’re all different and we all make decisions and take actions for a variety of reasons. Still, some part of me has always held on to the notion that I was wrong and they were right. As a woman of a certain age, I understand most of the psychological and sociological reasons behind feeling less than. I also know that viewing things from this perspective—me on the ground looking at up at all of the amazingly awesome people I know—is skewed. But this knowledge rarely stops me from thinking that everyone else is doing it right while I’m frequently making a mess of things.
As I move toward 70, though, it feels like an excellent time to change my view. Why not cheer for myself with the same energy I’ve envied their style and success? The older I get, the more I realize that we each bring something unique to the table. In a perfect world, we would all fit together like a puzzle, appreciating each other’s nuances rather than wishing we could be more like that gorgeous, graceful woman who has the book contract and the successful kids and the fabulous bank account.
But I’m realizing that having spent so many years losing these competitions in my head has not been good practice for my ability to see myself in a shining light. That, mixed with advertising’s insistence that we would all be happier, better people if we met some unreachable goals, makes me realize what a beginner I am at self-appreciation. When I think of the years I’ve spent wishing I were as good or as cool or as beautiful or smart or rich as someone else, it makes my head spin. I’ve gotten a little better at reminding myself that we’re all human and that we all have our own strengths, but the basics still don’t come naturally.
So I find myself nearly at square one in the development of this new habit. I have to remind myself to honor my way of doing things, to appreciate my style, my goals, and my accomplishments. It’s not where I go first, by any means. I'm almost always apt to see someone else’s world as being more interestingly constructed and much richer on every level.
Comparison is one way we figure things out when we’re kids, but it all goes wrong when we turn it on ourselves. When we’re young and inexperienced, we automatically see other people as knowing more than we do and doing everything better. But the goal of that kind of thinking should be to find the ways that we want to live and then be delighted with our selves and our choices. As a woman who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, this kind of confidence was unheard of. But I’m older now and so much wiser. My goal now is to enjoy what I’ve learned and who I am. I want to feel strong and proud when I say, “This is me in my life. This is what it looks like when I do it.”