Comparing yourself to others: on and on it goes. With all the things I should do, that I MUST do, the unconscious assumption here is that I’m not okay because my whole life, my ‘behind-the-scenes’, doesn’t look like someone else’s ‘highlight reel.’
A couple of years ago while attending a mastermind group I belong to, the facilitator, Jeff Walker, said something profound: “Don’t compare your back-of-stage to everyone else’s front-of-stage.”
Whoa. What GREAT advice
I looked up the quote online and here’s what I found:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick
Who knows if Steve Furtick actually said this or not. Because…the internet. (Oh, and if, like me, you wonder who Steve Furtick is, it turns out he’s a southern US pastor, whom some have accused of being a cult leader. Hmmm.)
Good quote though.
This is something I find myself doing nearly every day, without even really thinking about it. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all seem designed to enable people to present the highlight reel of their lives. When I look at those highlight reels, there’s a part of my brain, it may even be an unconscious part, which does exactly what the quote says. It compares the polished, edited, and carefully curated propaganda of someone else’s life (their front-of-stage) to my messy backstage reality. Then, that part of my brain quietly whispers, “Honey, you are NOT keeping up.”
Then, like clockwork, the next thing that happens inside my brain is that a desire pops up. The desire to ‘keep up’ – and then my brain starts running away with all the suggested improvements I should make in order to satisfy that desire:
Maybe I should go shopping.
Maybe I should get my hair done.
Maybe I should do more yoga because that post from the health guru I follow had a picture of a gorgeous girl doing yoga.
Maybe if I did more yoga I would look like that?
Maybe I should just go buy those yoga pants and pretend I look like that.
On and on it goes, with all the things I should do, that I MUST do, and the unconscious assumption is that I’m not okay because my whole life, my behind-the-scenes, doesn’t look like someone else’s highlight reel. The other unconscious assumption is that life is a competition, and something terrible will happen if I don’t measure up. I’ll be a loser.
Sometimes I catch it early, at the, “Honey, you are NOT keeping up” part. Sometimes I counter that little voice with a wiser voice that says, “Honey, you don’t need to keep up”. “And anyway”, that wise voice says, “what you’re comparing yourself to is not reality”.
And it’s not.
We find this out sometimes in ‘shocking’ revelations about the behind-the-scenes realities of celebrities. Often beneath the beautiful veneer lurk drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders or dysfunctional relationships…and other serious issues like depression, mental illness, and domestic violence – issues which all require delicacy and discretion in how they are dealt with. Unfortunately when the veils part and we see that our idols are just as human as we are (and that they have been all along) we often do not extend to them the kind of privacy, compassion, or support that every human being really deserves in such a situation.
It’s the unrealistic comparing that we do which fuels this cycle of insecurity and envy…which ultimately leads to a lack of vulnerability, connection, and compassion.
Compassion is really the key here, I feel.
A lot is said these days about the importance of gratitude, and gratitude is great. It’s great to be able to look at our lives and truly appreciate all the good in it. However, without compassion, gratitude can almost become something that we beat ourselves and others over the head with. “Be grateful!” is a mantra that on its own is not that useful. Without compassion, particularly self-compassion, gratitude is just the wallpaper we slap over the mouldy walls of our own self-image.
We need the self-directed compassion to be able say to ourselves, “My backstage doesn’t look like that person’s highlight reel, and that’s okay.” And we need the outwardly-directed compassion to be able to say: “No matter what that person’s front-of-stage looks like, they are probably fighting a battle I know nothing about.” But without the compassion piece, none of that is possible.
So let’s give ourselves a break! And remember to do a reality check.
Then we can get on with the business of being grateful for the good things in our lives, and we can be inspired and encouraged by the great things we see happening in other people’s lives.
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