Comparisons, highlight reels, and joy

So, I’m having a not-so-great Tuesday.

comparison is the thief of joyFirst, I’m late. Then there’s the weather – dreary with bouts of rain. I’m having trouble getting back in the groove after a week on official travel doing absolutely wonderful, meaningful work. And because that wonderful meaningful work is only 20% of my job duties, I’m feeling a bit undervalued in the remaining 80%. The morale of those I interact with is near, if not at, the bottom (like Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, people appear to be frozen), and I’m finding that it’s beginning to take a toll on me despite my generally optimistic veneer. My email dings and, voila, the annual survey about workplace satisfaction arrives. Oh, my. That doesn’t bode well for them, does it?

I drive home in a funk and, when I get there, fire up the computer and open Facebook. What hits me is this:

“Comparison is the thief of Joy.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt.

And there it is: a Quantum Flirt in the guise of a viral, shared quote so personal to me, today, that I could swear it winked at me. And floating through my mind is a remembered concept, something about highlight reels and outtakes. I launch a mental search engine and finally find it: a tweet from Steven Furtick (founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC): “One reason we struggle w/insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

highlight reelsYeah. I’ve been doing the comparison thing, and even I know that’s a dangerous activity. Because your highlight reel is just that – YOUR best stuff.  My behind-the-scenes footage, always destined for the cutting room floor, isn’t even meant to compare. Yet I can’t help it. I compare the two and what do I get? A not-so-great Tuesday. You know, I have my own highlight reels that are as unique to me as yours are to you. Neither one is better than the other. They’re just different.

There’s not a one of us who’s a stranger to the seductive, compelling practice of comparison. If we’re not careful, it inexorably slithers its way into our subconscious, where it lies in the shadows and whispers in our ears. It’s not until we surprise it when it ventures out into the daylight – courtesy, perhaps, of a quantum flirt – that we see it for what it is. Until then, it fills our days, our nights, with a vague ennui and an angst we can’t seem to shake.

And that certainly jogs yet another elusive memory. Every day my email delivers a bit of wisdom from Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine and website. I go hunting and what I manage to unearth is some wisdom from writer Christina Feldman, who says comparison arises from conceit. Oh, no. Conceit? Really? But I read on and, you know what? I think her point is valid. Conceit, she says, gives rise to feelings of being better than, worse than, or equal to another person, and within those three feelings lies “the whole tormented world of comparing, evaluating, and judging…”  As she points out, “Conceit perpetuates the dualities of ‘self’ and ‘other’ – the schisms that are the root of the enormous alienation and suffering in our world.”

Oh, my. If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge her words zing pretty true. I’ve been comparing my path, my choices, my direction, my dreams and desires to others whose paths, choices, direction, dreams and desires are as alien to me as mine are to them. And at the core is this: I have three co-workers on track for new jobs. One’s happily accepted a different position in a new area, one looks to be on track to lateral over to an exciting job with a smorgasbord of new learning and new opportunities, and a third has an interview this week that offers to pop him up a level on the pay scale.

Never mind that I’m happy for each of them. Never mind that most of the time I really enjoy what I do. Never mind that I’m rock solid certain of my calling – firmly centered on that 20% of my job that offers tremendous self worth – and is the focus of my next phase (due to start, oh, within the next four years). Never mind that my choices are true and good and right in line with my values. When I start comparing myself to others who are taking new jobs, embarking on new adventures, and bringing home fatter paychecks, all I’m doing is looking at their highlight reels and then comparing my behind-the-scenes footage. How can mine appear anything but lackluster in comparison? And, yes, that comparison is a thief; I lose my joy.

As I finish this, I glance out the window. Lo and behold, the clouds from this dreary Tuesday are breaking away and there are blue skies peeking out. If I let it blossom, there’s also a fresh, renewed perspective. I think I’d like that. Here’s to a damn fine Wednesday.

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