“Comparison is the thief of joy.” - Theodore Roosevelt
Spoiler alert: Nothing I’m about to say is new. But, it’s a reminder that I need. Maybe you need it, too.
Can you remember when arts and crafts were purely about imagination? When you didn’t look over your shoulder at your neighbor’s work? When you didn’t question color choices, or if the hands you drew on that stick figure were too big? When you were convinced that, yes, that purple scribble looked just like a pony?
I’m sure that was the height of my success as an artist. I wasn’t weighed down by fear.
I have this innate tendency to measure myself up against others. Not to be better than, but to reassure myself that I’m enough. Smart enough. Creative enough. Beautiful enough. Strong enough.
It makes sense. We’re born with the desire to be included in the tribe; to be genuinely accepted for the fullness of who we are. And yet, in pursuit, we mask our true selves in an attempt to blend in. Ironic, ain’t it? There are many ways this has played out in my life, but one particularly sticks out.
See, I don’t like to swim.
Wait, I take that back. I do like to swim. I really like to swim, actually. I’m just not very good at it, and the thought conjures up so many bad memories. I was always the loser in pool party races and, unless I plugged my nose like a nerd, I could never dive without getting water in my nose. Combine that with a bad habit of body comparison, and it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you actually don’t like to swim.
In fact, I’ve been so good at convincing myself that I haven’t owned a swimsuit since high school. Yes, high school. This year, however, was different. This year I resolved to not let those insecurities own me.
As a result?
I swam in a safari resort pool, overlooking the Nile, watching hippos douse themselves in river water. I cruised down slides at a water park with a bunch of women in their late twenties/early thirties, just because. I paddle-boarded with my mentee through a harbor, narrowly avoiding boats, to say goodbye before sending her off to school in New York. I lounged for hours in a lake, celebrating a best friend’s last days as a single woman.
Yes, I still swim slow.
Yes, I got water in my nose every time.
Yes, I worried if people noticed the dimples on my butt.
And yet, regardless, each of these experiences were indescribably beautiful and freeing.
Comparison is the thief of joy, because it brings to surface all of our vulnerabilities. It exposes our differences. It reminds us that our acceptance is at risk. But let me let you in on a secret: You own your vulnerabilities and insecurities. They don’t own you. Which means you have the right to tell them to ship off.
When our vulnerabilities are exposed–when people see your grey hairs and butt-dimples, the mistakes on your art project, and your personality flaws–they’re actually invited to love you, to really love you, for the first time.
I feel infinitely more close to my friends from the safari pool, to the women at the water park, to my mentee, and to the girls at the lake. They saw me, and I’m still part of the tribe.
So, again, today I will boldly say the F-word to the things that hold me back from fully living life.
I will swim, and I will not look over my shoulder at my neighbor’s work.
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