Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Stop Competing With Others

One of the things that interrupts my happiness most often is the sense of being in competition with somebody else. People I haven't spoken to in years will drop me a line on Facebook in a chatty, friendly way, and I suddenly find myself desperately trying to prove that my life is as good as theirs or, if possible, better. Even after we're done talking, I will find myself thinking very defensively about my life choices, as if I'm trying to prove their worth to myself.

I'm sure it's connected to teenage insecurity. It happens most often with people from my high school years, which was... a weird time for me. That was when I was desperately trying (and miserably failing) to fit in with my peers. I was homeschooled and while I feel like it was ultimately a very good thing for me, it certainly didn't help me fit in with the people around me as a teen. I simply hadn't had a lot of experience socializing with people I didn't "get." And I didn't get the people around me. I didn't feel like we had much, if anything, in common. My passion for everything artsy and disinterest in almost everything else did me no favors in connecting with my peers, and trying to drum up an interest in shopping trips, concerts, and sleepovers just made me feel more disconnected than ever. My extreme introversion didn't help either. The sense got stronger and stronger: "I am not normal." I stopped speaking up in groups or even really with friends, hoping that if I didn't say anything, I could at least pretend to be normal.

My year in the New Life Drama Company did a lot to change that. There was a joke that everybody who joined the drama company was a little weird, and the normal ones didn't last very long. They were quick to embrace newcomers, make them feel welcome, and celebrate their oddness. I loved the unique and interesting people I traveled with and met through this group, especially those with bizarre social habits, frequently awkward questions, and unconventional opinions. I no longer felt like the odd one out. Instead, we were somehow all the odd one out together.

Following my year there, I began to really learn a lot about myself - what made me happy, what made me sad, what I wanted to do with my life. I learned that introversion did not equal brokenness, I learned how to really voice my opinions instead of just agreeing with people around me, I learned that my relationship with God frequently centered around artistic input and output.

I look at where I am now and where I was then, and I am truly delighted with my life.

...Yet somehow these people make me feel like I'm still a confused, timid, awkward teenager.

Me as an awkward teenager!
(Although now it looks like I'm saying I feel like I'm competing with the girl in this picture.
I'm not. We don't keep in touch much but I read her FB updates
and she has a lovely family and I couldn't be happier for her.)
The question is, how do I deal with that?

The answer is... I don't know for sure yet. So the title of this blog may have been a lie. But here are some things I'm trying.

1. Remind myself what I love in my life.

This is something I try to do on a fairly regular basis anyway, but it is really important any time I feel competitively threatened by someone else. Because, really, I do love my life. I love the people I know, I enjoy the freelance job I have (though hopefully someday I'll get to teach), the experiences I've had, and the person I've become. I feel incredibly lucky to have done the things I've gotten to do and to be friends with the people I've befriended.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that when I fall into the trap of comparing my life to someone else's. But, honestly, I wouldn't have my life look like anyone else's.

If I'm feeling insecure about whether my life "measures up" to some invisible standard only in my head, it's always a good idea to review all the things in my life that make me happy. Once I start thinking of all that, I realize how much I'd rather have these things that make me happy than anybody else's list of things that make them happy.

2. Affirm their loves and life choices.

Sometimes I have a tendency to overcompensate in order to make myself feel better. If I'm suddenly feeling insecure about my non-domesticity, for example (I hate cooking and I'm not very good at it), it's easy for me to, in my insecurity, turn that around on the people around me who are domestic and somehow look down on them, like being good at cooking and sewing and crafts makes them less... something than I am. Which is ridiculous, because 1) being good at things is good, and 2) mocking them for that makes me a terrible person. And it doesn't even really make me feel better about myself.

The more I affirm the decisions others have made and the hobbies they have picked up that make them happy (while acknowledging that I have chosen something else that makes me happier), the easier it is for me to view our individual life choices as "YAY, we're both doing something we love!" instead of viewing one as "the right one" and one as "the wrong one."

Affirming life choices like when they get MARRIED and I get to BE THERE for it :-)

3. Focus on now, not the past.

Sometimes focusing on the past is awesome... but sometimes it means I end up accidentally projecting my past negativity about myself onto them. When I talk to somebody whose most frequent interactions with me were during a time when I felt terrible about who I was, it's not uncommon for all those feelings to come flooding back every time I talk to them. While part of me knows that that's genuinely not how I feel about myself now, I still feel like that every time I talk to them, and it just gets confusing.

My newest tactic is to try to acknowledge and then put aside the associations I have built up in my mind between my relationship with them (and myself) then and my relationship with them (and myself) now. They are different people than they were then, as am I, so it makes sense to try to think of my relationship with them in a new light. Holding onto old, negative feelings that were never my friend's fault to begin with just makes things murky and keeps me from being able to move on the way I want to.

These are a few of the ways I'm trying to reframe my thinking, moving away from some sort of competition-based mold and toward just doing what I know will be the best in my life. What are your thoughts? Do you frequently feel like you are in competition with others? How do you push past that?


  1. This is just what I needed, Hannah! Thank you!

    1. Oh, good! I'm so glad this could be helpful!