A young writer asks:
I’m in need of a pep talk. I’ve fallen into the trap of comparing myself to other people and I need to shift my focus. How do you deal when you feel inadequate?
You’re very smart to realize that you need to shift your focus. Comparing ourselves to others is a time-and-spirit whirlpool that sucks us down into a spiritual muck that becomes hard to escape and can really drag us into depression.
When I identify feelings of envy — usually because I’ve been grudging how “together” someone else seems to be, or how directed, motivated and tireless they are — or when I just feel like the greatest failure in nature, I take action against all of that in a couple of ways:
1) I remind myself that I don’t really know anyone else or their true circumstances. All I know is what people choose to show. I have no idea what demons may be motivating their “tirelessness” or their “directedness” and driving their nonstop (sometimes almost frenzied-seeming) activity. Quite often the people who seem like they are firing on all cylinders, every single day, feel a need to look that way to others because they are insecure, themselves.
EVERYONE is in a great battle, and very few people are as together as they’d like everyone else to think. Once you understand that, it’s difficult to entertain envy for very long. It gets drowned in a compassionate wash of fellow-feeling. .
2) I take stock of all the things I have to be thankful about — beyond the usual (“I love my family; my family loves me…”) — things like, “I can function on my own; I can get up in the morning, make coffee and walk out to the porch. I can hear birdsong.” In other words, I think about all the small losses — like the ability to hear the birds — that would devastate me much more than not being as cool or successful or together as whoever it is I am envying.
Take a page from this lady, who says, “I’m still alive and I can lift my elbows – it’s great.”
3) Praise the skills and gifts of the person who is making you feel inadequate, because guess what? It’s not that person making you feel bad. It’s YOU, getting yourself into a bad place because you’ve been too busy looking at someone else’s garden instead of tending your own.
If you spend all your time despising your strawberries because hers are prettier, your strawberries will wither and die.
4) Ask God to bless the person you’re envying with a good day. Even if you have to force it.
Force the praise. Force the prayer. It will do you good. Then praise God that you were able to do it, and ask to be as generous to others as God has been to you.
God is never outdone in generosity. Never, never, never. This means you can afford to be generous as hell to others, materially, spiritually, and professionally.
5) In your backyard, have a whiskey and a cigarette. Yes, yes, I know, that’s supposed to be “bad.” Good people aren’t supposed to do that, and if the whiskey and the cig are really out of the question then get yourself a cup of coffee or tea and make the best of it. Either way, go do it: sit down away from your work and tell yourself you’re going to whine a little, because acknowledging that you’re whining will knock it out of you.
Invent a dialogue in your head with a favorite character or historical person. What would Casablanca’s Rick Blaine say to your self-pity? How might Dorothy Day tell you to buck up? Both might join you for the whiskey and the cigarette, but neither would permit you to indulge the whine for long. Imagine talking to Frank Sinatra — whose life certainly had its ups and downs — and remember his often-quoted advice: “You gotta love livin’, baby, because dyin’s a pain in the ass!”
6) Tamp out the cigarette. Knock back the last bit of Whiskey, or tea. Get back to work.