I know that the fastest way to despair is by comparing one’s insides with another’s outsides, and that Max Ehrmann, the author of the classic poem “Desiderata,” was absolutely correct when he said that if you compare yourself with others you become either vain or bitter, or, as Helen Keller put it: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”
But Helen and Max don’t keep me from going to the land of comparisons and envy. Before long, I’m salivating over someone else’s book contract, or blog traffic numbers, or Today Show appearance. Then I have to pull out my set of directions–these 8 techniques–that will lead me out of the continent of jealousy and home, to self-acceptance:
1. Get more information.
Most of the time we envy one quality about a person, and we presume the rest of her qualities are as perfect as the one we want. That’s usually not the case. Think Rain Man. Boy did he know how to count those straws and play poker. But his social skills needed some fine-tuning, yes? Do some research on the person you want to temporarily destroy and you will find that she has her own set of problems and weaknesses. Moreover, if you consider her success in context, you’ll see that she hasn’t always been a superstar–that maybe, just maybe, back when you got a blue ribbon for the fastest freestyle swimmer in the 7 to 8 age group, she was afraid to dive in the pool or couldn’t figure out how to swim without getting water up her nose. My point: you don’t have the full story. Once you do, you’ll feel better. I think.
2. Compliment her.
“WHAT?!? You can’t be serious,” you’re thinking to yourself. Actually I am. I have tried it numerous times and it works. Last year I came across a blogger I envied. She had two degrees from Yale. (I scored 1,000 on my SATs). Her books were bestsellers. (I had just received a royalty statement that said more copies of my book were returned than sold.) Her Technorati score (blog traffic) was, well, much better than mine.
So…. I did something very counterintuitive. I e-mailed her to tell her how impressed I was with her, and I would very much like to interview her on Beyond Blue. When I started reading through her blogs, I found this great story about her feelings of insecurity regarding a fellow writer whom she felt somewhat threatened by because he was writing on the same topics as she was. What did she do about it? She contacted him and took him out to lunch.
I couldn’t believe that she had moments of insecurity too! I mean, she’s got two Yale degrees! Nowhere in her bio did it mention insecurity. But by complimenting her, and connecting with her, and dare I say befriending her, I learned that she is just like me–with some outstanding strengths but some fears and reservations and insecurities, as well.
3. Do one thing better than her.
This suggestion comes from Beyond Blue reader Plaidypus who wrote this as an assignment I gave everyone to list what they believe in:
I believe that if you don’t succeed at first … you keep trying… and that failure teaches us about success… I believe that laughter is the best medicine… I believe that the best revenge against your enemies is to dress better than them…
I absolutely loved the “dress better than your enemy” directive because it reminds us that we can always find one thing that we can do better than our friend-nemesis. If matching designer outfits gives you a boost of confidence, knock yourself out! If competing in a triathlon just to prove that you are in better shape than your mean cousin with a great figure, sign up! .
The path to mental health is an uneven process: for every two steps forward, you move one and a half back. But if you know this before you start walking, you’ll be less tempted to throw up your arms at the first relapse and say “to hell with it!”
My psychiatrist had to remind me of this lesson every session for about a year, until I reached a stable place.
I’d march into her office cheerful one week—ecstatic to be working again and laughing with my kids–and then, boom! It felt like I was as depressed and anxious as I was back in the psych ward.
It just felt that way since it happened after two weeks of feeling good, in the same way that 50 degrees feels like summer in January and winter in June.
In one session, Dr. Smith drew a zigzag line to illustrate the typical path of recovery to help me understand that I wasn’t pedaling in reverse. I was merely getting comfortable as a driver, and that recovering from severe depression, or making any kind of progress towards good health, is never perfectly symmetrical.
Image courtesy of freeimagelive.com
Here is a video I made a awhile back on getting through the rough spots.
Join me at A Blog of Hope.
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh or fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
With a new understanding, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forced tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smokescreen of words that we have laid down between our minds and things. In solitude we remain face to face with the naked being of things. And yet we find that the nakedness of reality which we have feared is neither a matter of terror nor for shame. It is clothed in the friendly communion of silence, and this silence is related to love.