Comparison Is the Thief of Joy.

By: Jen Shoop

Over the weekend, I was deeply moved by a Magpie comment that ended with:

“What helped you become more confident and happy with the stages when you seemed to be left behind compared to your friend group? And to be happy?”

We have all been there before. I particularly felt this way in my 20s, when it seemed that all of my friends were miles ahead of me career-wise — I was heading off to grad school and some of my friends were earning six figure salaries. I was living at home for a year and most of my friends were in their own apartments. Some of my friends were married and having children before I was even engaged. During those times, I learned that comparison is the thief of joy. I learned that I had to put blinders on and remember that there was a time when I was daydreaming about the reality I was then living. For example, it was a moonwalk to attend graduate school — to, for a time, have little responsibility beyond reading, writing, and showing up to a couple of discussions at Georgetown University. I’d longed for that experience and yet, while I was living it, would stymie my own happiness by comparing myself to my successful friends in finance and politics. And instead of pinching myself at the absurd good fortune of having a handsome, smart, loving boyfriend in a committed and healthy relationship, I was envying all of my friends who had shiny engagement rings. (Oh my gosh, I behaved poorly that summer.)

Think about that for a second: there was a time when you daydreamed about what you have now.

I am sitting here thinking about how long I wanted my own writing studio, how long I dreamed of having a house with a kitchen sink that overlooked the backyard, how long I pined after even the tiniest details of motherhood, like drop-offs and packing lunches and reading board books with small bodies pressed against me at nighttime. I would do well to tally these achievements on a more regular basis.

There are undoubtedly elements of your current life that you have worked hard to achieve and that you might invite yourself to take a minute to recognize. You probably do not realize this, but there are people in your life who envy those things you are now taking for granted. Maybe you get to travel a ton for work, or you have a super interesting job, or you found a fabulous apartment in a perfect location, or or or.

Relatedly, another helpful tonic when trying to toggle out of comparison mode is recognizing that everyone has her own struggles. No life is perfect or without drawback or compromise. This is perhaps a less generative or positive line of thinking, but it is nonetheless true. There have been times in my life where I have come across people who I thought “had it easy” or “had things handed to them” or simply had the most perfect setup. But I have learned, time and time again, that there is always something: an unhappy marriage, health issues, an overly demanding job, financial stress, a family tragedy, etc. Would you really trade your whole life for someone else’s? No! You are you for a reason. Do not rush: what is meant for you will happen in its own time.

These may be tough words to swallow when you feel left behind. If my rally cry does not quite assuage, a few practical tips:

+Evaluate who you are around when you feel your worst. Sometimes you need to create a little space — can be temporary, and can be perfectly amicable — for your own well-being. Gravitate instead towards friends at a more similar life stage or in a more similar lifestyle.

+If you find you have very few friends who are in your camp, strike out for new acquaintances who might be. Join a gym, a book club, an improv class, etc and proactively find women who are in a similar boat. This may mean finding friends younger than you or older than you — who cares? I had a few friends who had children earlier than the rest of us, and I observed that they found a good amount of support making friends with other new moms, almost all of whom were much older than they were. I simply could not commiserate with their experience at that time, and I totally understood why they needed a different crowd. (We are still great friends!)

+Write down all of the things you are grateful for at this moment. Glass half full.

+A Magpie reader suggested doing something you know you are uniquely good at. In other words: exercise your superpower, your talent, whatever makes you the marvel of the crowd.

+Talk to somebody you trust — could be a good friend, a parent, a sibling, a therapist, a priest! Explain how you feel. I am fairly confident you will emerge realizing how much you have going for you already.

+If all else fails, spend time in nature. It is a live model for accepting change whenever it is meant to happen. Why is that tree flowering now? Why are these banks eroding? Etc. Whenever I am feeling confused by the pace or change of my own life, I find it reassuring to sit in nature and see how gracefully she accepts what comes. I wrote elsewhere on nature: “Its woods permit the collapse of a tree and its banks accept the flood of its waters and today there will be buds and tomorrow there will be blooms and one afternoon a few months hence, those very branches will go barren. Yet all of these transitions feel perfectly harmonious, operating according to rhythms of moons and seasons and rainfalls and droughts and the occasional rot of a tree by insect or fungus. And so in nature, there are patterns to accommodate the seeming randomness.”

Onward, Magpies!


+Another musing on nature and accepting change that might be reassuring. I love this: “Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

+Another piece of the equation: exercising genuine happiness for your friends. This might mean striving to think less competitively, or more empathetically, about what’s happening for and to them.

+No matter what: you are enough.


Shopping Break.

+We have some guests visiting and have not yet even begun to tackle the full design of the guest bedroom (we have so far to go — we are still waiting on a lot in our family room, which we began designing with our decorator in March, and it is a slow, expensive, long process…it’s going to take years before we work our way all the way up to the top floor’s guest bedroom!), so — in a pinch — I ordered these simple bedside tables in white and these lamps from Target, which could be delivered in a few days. I figure they are versatile enough to be repurposed in one of the children’s rooms if we end up going a different direction, and the lamps are too cute. They’ll flank this bed from S&L.

+Treated myself to this fall dress, on super sale. Will be adorable with suede boots or flats.

+I’ll be sharing a full Labor Day shopping guide in a few days, but had to immediately mention that Jenni Kayne will be offering 20% off sitewide, and you can get early access using code PREVIEW20. Their cashmere cocoon cardigan has a cult following, and you can snag it at a discount. I am contemplating using the promo to get the marina pants and matching sweater!

+Dramatic gray sweater. Pair with a straight-forward skirt or pair of jeans for instant flair.

+This cute white blouse is on sale — great for layering beneath sweaters, nap dresses, blazers, etc.

+Fabulous “wear now” special occasion dress (i.e., not “fall” — perfect for late summer): this Damaris Bailey.

+Meanwhile, this fall-forward $150 steal reminds me of Ulla!

+J’adore these elegant barrettes.

+These candles have scents named after famous French landmarks! I came across this brand because I saw a Parisian influencer asking her audience what they used to launder baby clothing, and most of the French moms replied with this!

+We are finally converting mini’s bed from a toddler bed to a full bed — we are ordering her Saatva’s youth mattress. We’ve been so impressed with ours from the same brand! This time of year is a good time to buy a new mattress…usually some of the best promos of the year around Labor Day.

+Read the reviews of this under-$40 facial toner…so intrigued! I’ve tried this brand’s day cream, which also gets really good reviews, and liked it but did not lose my mind over it, in part because I hated the aluminum tube, which always cracked and squirted out product by the end.

+A great blazer dress — chic chic!

+Chic lounge set, with each piece $80 — sweater top and pants.

+This children’s play table is perfect. Love the simple design and great colors. We have an older version of this from C&B in white that’s been in mini’s room forever. I am thinking with her “big girl bed” we will also buy her an actual desk and then move the activity table to my son’s room, which will be so fun for him. I have my sights set on this desk for mini.

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6 thoughts on “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy.

  1. Oh yes… I’ve been there (the comparison game). One thing that’s has helped me is this thought: “don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides”.

    That, and taking social media breaks.

  2. I can totally relate to your comments about feeling like your friends were ahead of you career-wise. I am currently in law school and, even though I went straight through undergrad to law school. It’s hard to see my friends have such flexible schedules, a salary, freedom to travel, etc., but I know that it’ll be worth it one day, and when we’re 30-35, my 3 extra years in school will probably feel like a blip on the radar.

    One mantra that has helped me through many nights fretting over comparison to my peers is “what is meant for you will not miss you.”

    Thank you for the food for thought!

  3. I needed this today. Thank you. Your insight is helpful and very much welcomed. And your taste is impeccable!

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