I don’t remember the moment. The moment I learned that external validation defines my worth; when I began to believe society’s lie. I do remember the onset of comparison, though. It was the first day of seventh grade. Samantha, my childhood best friend, and I had purchased what we believed to be the cutest outfits. Ever. We got ready at my house before school because I lived within walking distance. We enthusiastically donned our stylish jean skirts and enchanting graphic tees. Damn, we look good. We’re bold, fashionable seventh graders now. We thought. We strutted our way to the middle school’s front lawn. As soon as we stepped onto the grass we paused. The voice spoke up. Who do you think you are? You think you’re as cute as the eighth graders? The response from insecure middle schoolers: scamper home to change into our familiar monkey t-shirts and zip-off pants. What a relief.
There is nothing wrong with comfortable clothing that you feel good in. At 27 that’s my style of choice. The question is: What do you want? Do you want to wear unique, bold clothing? Do you want to express your creativity? Do you only care about comfort? Regardless of your answer, why do opinions outside of your own matter? Your self-expression is not subject to appraisal. This is your personal journey. May the evaluation of others be damned.
The same is true, unequivocally, of your body, mind, ideas, preferences, and desires. The list goes on. Popular culture implores us to measure these attributes against the successes of others. Where we land on that scale defines our worth. We celebrate mainstream uniqueness; we tolerate eccentricity.
The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better.
– Brené Brown
Comparison limits our potential and confines our creativity. When I was young, I loved to draw, sing, and dance. In middle school, the dawn of the comparison crusade, I learned there was a value scale for these crafts. An enthusiastic expression of creativity became a contest. A competition with a winner and a loser. Through comparison we learn that we are not enough if we aren’t above average; if we aren’t gifted. If you aren’t going to be in this category, why try? This belief system permeates into adulthood.
I am rewiring these beliefs and releasing this burden. I am going to dance, sing, play, draw, and do things I’m terrible at if they light up my soul. I’m going to teach my children that their creativity is their own. It is their unique contribution to the world. There is no better or worse to compare; there is only individuality and self-expression. Those who attempt to put a label on your creativity paint you a picture of their internal landscape. They have caged their imagination for the sake of approval and want you to stay locked up with them. Instead, you can own your power, unlock the gate, and carve your own path. You can prove that it is possible to escape captivity.
We are all children doing the best we can with the tools we have available. A 30 year old could have cultivated more tools than a 60 year old if they’ve had more practice. Nobody has life completely figured out. In place of comparing the success of others to my own, I’m learning to observe mental practices and habits. How do they maneuver through life? Does their value system align with mine? What tools do they have that I can learn, practice, and develop as my own? What does my ideal journey look like? To compare our path to another’s is to disregard our individuality. Where you’re successful I may be lacking, and vice versa. What a blessing that we get to learn from each other.
This journey has hills and valleys. The valleys are becoming easier to navigate with practice. Recently, I purchased a sketchbook and intend to draw what I see in nature. It isn’t for anyone else. It’s an expression of the unique lens that I see the world through. It’s to deepen my awareness and understanding. The only goal is to attune to my authentic self.
I can’t wait to see the beauty that is born of uninhibited creativity. Yours and my own.
May we each embrace the freedom of expressing our truth.