By Dena Landon
As a newbie to the freelancing world, I’m still getting used to lulls in between assignments. This last month I haven’t had an office gig, so I’ve been going to yoga a minimum of twice a week. My chaturanga have been growing stronger and more controlled. Boat pose still sucks, but it sucks less. I’ve even started being able to balance a little in crow pose. I’ve been pleased with my progress.
But last week I ended up behind one of those yogis. You know the type; super skinny and flexible, matching yoga outfits from an expensive brand, huge rock on her finger. The studio where I take class always has a balancing section. This month we’ve been working on crow pose. She held it for at least twenty seconds while I, quite literally, toppled forward on my head. “God, I’ll never be as good as she is,” I said to myself.
I’ve always been competitive, and a Type A personality who wanted the highest grade, to be top in her class, and who used comparisons to others to push myself higher. It’s something I’ve been learning to overcome and release in my post-divorce life, to find a happier and more peaceful me. But in that moment, I compared myself to her, and that comparison made me unhappy.
Compare and contrast is one of the building blocks of literacy in children, and a tool that parents are supposed to work on with toddlers. Bigger, smaller. Taller, shorter. Hotter, colder. Comparing things allows toddlers to begin forming neural pathways to make sense of their world. But as we get older comparison starts to take on a bad rap.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”, said Theodore Roosevelt.
But is it, really? It’s through comparing our life experiences that we bond with other divorced women. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over messenger, via text, or on Instagram, with other women exclaiming, “My ex did that, too!” Through storytelling we forge bonds, we relate to others, and we create empathy.
Empathy is sharing and understanding someone else’s emotions. One of the first ways we build it in children is by comparing someone else’s experience to theirs. “How would you feel if someone took your toy?”
It’s not comparison that’s the thief of joy, in my opinion. It’s when we attach a value judgement to that comparison. My problem wasn’t that I was looking at the yogi on the mat in front of me and comparing her pose to my falling over, knees slipping off my triceps pose.
Comparison isn’t all bad, it’s the messages you take with you out of that comparison that can be damaging.
My problem was that I was comparing my pose to hers and thinking less of myself. I could have viewed her as an inspiration. I could have gone up to her after class and asked for tips on how to keep from toppling over. If I’d had the courage to ask how long she’d been practicing the answer might have told me to keep trying. When I compared her pose to mine I could have looked for changes to improve my own – was she holding in her abs more? Where had she put her knees? But I didn’t. I attached a value judgement to my crow pose. I was ‘worse’ than her.
It can be tempting to compare your divorce, your co-parenting relationship, or your new relationship to other women in your circle. But in comparing and relating, remember to be kind to yourself. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Just because one friend can hang out with her ex and the kids doesn’t mean you’re a terrible mom. You’re not a financial failure if it takes you longer to pay off your legal bills than the other women in your mom’s group.
When I was married, I’d often compare my marriage to other marriages around me. Everyone else looked happier, seemed to have more money, and didn’t fight as often. In that case, comparison definitely stole my joy. But it also pushed me to start questioning the abusive aspects of my relationship, to reach out and ask if the way my ex-husband spoke me to was normal, and to eventually talk to a therapist about leaving him. Comparison isn’t all bad, it’s the messages you take with you out of that comparison that can be damaging.
Comparison can push us to be greater. It can show us where we need to improve. I only think it’s the thief of joy when we attach judgement and unhealthy criticism to it. I’m still working on my crow pose. I actually held it a few seconds during my last class and managed to get out of it without falling. My personal best is getting better. Because right now, in yoga and in life, the only person I’m trying to improve on is myself.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.