Question: A Culture of Competition and Comparison

Anonymous asked:

Hello! I am currently living in a very superficial city and because of this I keep comparing myself to others and it makes me feel like I am very behind in life both professionally and personally. It seems like everyone else has life figured out and I feel like a failure and even though I know that I shouldn’t compare myself this feeling of not being good at anything just doesn’t seem to go away. How do I stop comparing myself to the people around me and focus on more important things?

Hey my friend, I’m sorry you’ve been made to feel this way.  I know comparison is a very hard thing to overcome, and having grown up in an Asian culture: this is one of those predominant monsters that keeps a debilitating stranglehold.

First you must please know: You don’t have to figure out your life in a dayThis isn’t some reverse-psychology or faux-comfort.  Really.  Everyone blooms at different speeds — and while you can cram for an exam or a presentation, you cannot cram for your life.  Don’t give up on discovering your God-given talents and gifts and dreams.  Just try everything until you land on your one thing.

So a few things about comparison and how to quit comparing.

1) The standards we use to measure ourselves are unfair, unreal, and arbitrary.

Just like it’s impossible to please people all the time: it’s impossible to keep up with the ever-shifting standards of worldly success and achievements. Of course we strive for excellence, but it’s unfair to throw these shackles on yourself when even the world doesn’t have a grip on them.

Even more than that, we’re not even comparing ourselves to real things.  Money is paper.  Fame is from people, who are just people.  Grades are based on a system that only measures a tiny portion of your memorization, but they’re just grades.

I’m not trying to be the philosophical crotchety hipster here, and again, we strive for excellence: but these are transitory, temporary, fluctuating scales that cannot measure your worth as a human being.  We can’t use our bank account or our intellect or our thesis as a primary marker for who we are.  It’s all a man-made system that changes as much as people do.

2) It’s impossible not to compare yourself to others: so please don’t be shocked that it happens.

I think there’s a double-guilt in the Christian community when we feel emotions.  When we feel “bad,” we end up feeling bad about feeling bad.  It’s because we falsely believe that we can’t feel bad if we have Jesus — so suddenly when we’re depressed or anxious or stressed, we think that we’re “betraying God” somehow.  So there’s guilt, and then the guilt about the guilt.

But I want you to know, these are the everyday throes of being a human in a fallen world.  We are broken by one or two or a dozen sin-tendencies while we live on this earth.  Yours might be anger and mine might be lust: but we’re all saddled with a thorn (2 Corinthians 12).  When you’re simply prepared for the thorn to poke you, you won’t be so shocked when it happens: and that’s half the battle.  The other half is knowing how to handle it.

My dear friend, you’re a person with rough edges and gray-motives and uncertainties and all kinds of neurotic weirdness from your upbringing and your genetic predispositions.  I don’t say this to make an excuse for your bad behavior. but I say this because I want you to be ready to respond.  When the monster of comparison rears its ugly head, it actually helps to know your body’s rhythms and be able to tell yourself, “I’m on to you.  It’s you again.  So here we go.”  Naming the sin doesn’t kill it, but it does get you ready to fight.

Comparing yourself will happen.  It’s probably a reflex by now.  But you can still choose how to fight it when it happens.  The sin is NOT in feeling the comparison, but in feeding it and wallowing in it and dwelling on it.  So you’ll need something else to replace this: which brings us to the next thing.

3) Celebrate and learn and listen.

Imagine if every time you started to compare and take it hard on yourself: you instead celebrated the successful and learned from their achievements.

Imagine if every time you felt jealousy: you instead took joy in someone’s talent and you were able to enjoy it for what it is.

Imagine if every time a friend did something amazing in the world, you were to ask them, “How did you do it?  What did it take you to get there?  How did God help you in this?”

Imagine if you were to get to know these successful people and then find out they weren’t as happy and have-it-together as you thought, and you could be their counsel.

Imagine if all these times of comparison were instead opportunities given by God for you to get in the stream of culture and redeem certain elements for your own talents, so that you’d be a light wherever you go, no matter how much “success” you get in the world’s eyes.

Imagine if every time you compared, you asked God for grace and did your thing anyway.

4) Trust God with who you are.

Part of trusting God is to trust how He made you.

The flip-side of comparison is jealousy, which is essentially saying, “God, you owed me something different than this.  You owed me a different body, gifts, face, voice, city, friends, time.”

And I understand that.  I see other pastors and authors and bloggers who are way more influential and talented than me, and this insecurity drives me to an unhealthy envy.

But here’s where God cuts in.  As a pastor once said, God made you the way He made you because He wanted to say something to the world that He couldn’t say through anyone else.

I know this sounds cute on paper.  But God didn’t make you anyone else: and the more we compare, the more we exert misspent energy that could’ve been invested into your own God-given life.  If you can trust how God made you, even for seconds at a time, I believe you will begin to discover why God wired you a specific way.  Comparing yourself to others can only cut short this process.

Get with God and discover for yourself how He will speak through you.  This is the Big Picture Vision that will trickle down into all those insecurities and begin to phase them out.  It must begin with Him.

It’s okay to vent about the stuff you don’t like.  You can shake your fist at God about why you don’t have this or that.  He can handle it.  He’s not mad at your venting.  But eventually: I hope you get to a place of peace and movement with God so that you’re not in a corner too long.  I pray you’d move forward regardless of your comparisons.

5) Trust God with your success.

The thing is: I hardly ever meet people who are happy with their own success.  Most of us think, “I can do more.”  And this kills them.  The guy who makes 50k a year and the guy who makes a million a month: they’re both thinking they can do better.

At some point, that whole self-competition has to end.  At some point, you need to declare that you are okay with your progress, that there are certainly areas you need to work on, but that you’re pacing yourself and you don’t need your name in neon to feel like you’ve made it.

Be comforted in knowing that the gracious Christ-centered things you do for people in any field of your work will pay off and you won’t always get to see the results.  I hope you’re okay with that.  It is often in the end, over a lifetime of hard work and loving people, that we see how the mosaic of our lives touched others into eternity.

You don’t need to be famous or rich or a big-time name to do great things for God.  In eternity, what will matter is what you did in His name.  That’s not some consolation prize.  I can guarantee no one in Heaven right now is celebrating their own former success from their time on this tiny little planet.  They are celebrating all they did for Jesus, both big and small.

— J.S.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

— 2 Corinthians 10:12-13

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