Failing Forward: Lessons in Vulnerability, Humility, and the Comparison Game
Have you heard the saying "comparison is the thief of joy"? Did you know that the phrase has actually been attributed to several well-known people including President Theodore Roosevelt and author Mark Twain?! So many people have said it, heard it...but do we stop and consider it?
Here's another fun fact: Psychology Today published an article in March of 2019 that stated their research found that 10% of our everyday thoughts involved some form of comparisons! It used to be that we compared ourselves to our best friends or roommate or the popular girl at our high school or the gal we see everyday at work. Thoughts and body distortions and negative feelings of self-worth would set in and we'd convince ourselves we weren't as good, pretty, skinny, funny, well-liked, etc. But with the influence of the ever-present social media in our lives- research has found that our comparisons have actually changed too. That same article referenced a study by Deri, Davidai, & Gilovich that outlines the social phenomena, FOMO (fear of missing out). In exploring underlying factors to this phenomena they found that comparisons now also include feelings of spending more time by ourselves, attending less social events, and being a part of fewer friend groups and cliques AND that these feelings were due in part to comparisons no longer just being ourselves vs. our best friend or neighbor but now also included what they label as "highly visible, highly social people- the social butterflies of their circles".
Social cognitive psychology talks about the understanding of this thief of joy phenomenon too. In fact, you can find several articles, research studies, and discussions with a simple google search. Quite a bit of the conversation regarding this topic revolves around WHO we compare ourselves too and that we change our comparison audience depending upon the outcome WE want. For instance- when we want to feel better about ourselves we compare ourselves to those we consider to be "worse off", but when we want to improve ourselves, we compare ourselves to those we consider "better off than we are". The problem becomes when self-doubt seeps in and we forget to change our comparison audience back- so we begin to compare against people we only BELIEVE are better off- people that are highly-visible. The bloggers, influencers, brand-ambassadors, celebrities, podcasters, etc., we search them, follow them, and hang on every word. And then we wonder how they can have a million likes when we can barely get over 173. Social media makes it even easier to compare ourselves to people who are behind the scenes prepping, priming, primping, lighting, paying, posing, posting, re-posting, editing, filtering, etc. Authenticity can all too often get lost in the shuffle.
We self-doubt in private and self-promote in public. We wear so many faces don't we? Our face. Naked. No makeup. Acne blemishes. Scars. Imperfect skin tone. Chapped lips. The dreaded double chin. And then there's the edited face- the posting face. Primed. Prepped. Makeup flawless. Brows tweezed, colored, filled-in, shaped. Lips perfectly plump, lined and glossed. Cheekbones blushed. Jawline contoured. Eye shadow from our Naked 3 palette. This is the face we put on with the cute outfit that we bought the day before or finally washed on laundry day. We throw on the high-heels or cute boots and truck downtown to pose in front of the monument on main street. Then we edit it. We remove the blemishes. Smooth out the wrinkles on our forehead. Conceal the bags under our eyes. We use a preset to change the lighting to make it look more professional in order to attract more viewers-more followers. We crop it so it's just the right angle, zoomed in, zoomed out. And. Then. We. Post. It. Commence the game of likes, comments, follows, and unfollows. End result: Judgement and Comparison.
Caption: This was my editing process for the above photo, which I took at approximately 9am after having just woken up- I hadn't even brushed my hair to be honest. From naked face with yesterday's left-over makeup still smudged from having been very bad about my skincare and falling asleep with my makeup on, with the breakout visible and acne scarring all the way to clear skin looking all refreshed as if I can go fresh-faced looking like I've been airbrushed (hint: it is airbrushed).
Why do we this? Why do we put ourselves through this? I think maybe just maybe its because it's been engrained for us to fear vulnerability. We won't want our worst fears about ourselves- all that FOMO, and comparisons, to be true. Being vulnerable and authentic- showing ourselves- multiple faces and all- its hard. No way around it. The thoughts of "what if someone doesn't like it" "what if they judge me" all seep in and fear takes over so that photo your husband took of you snuggling your mini-goldendoodle on the couch, with your messy top-knot, makeup-less face, double chin, and sweatpants that are just slightly too tight on your very-average, size 8 figure won't ever get posted. Instead you will stare at it. You'll silently judge it. You'll cringe and maybe cry. And then you'll delete it- too afraid to post the picture that your husband took because he though you looked beautiful. On the radio this morning, the host said "remember not to compare yourself to other's journeys because you're on a different path". Let that sink in. We compare ourselves to others wondering why we are always behind or never have those experiences meanwhile never appreciating our own adventure. Taking for granted the opportunities we experience that others might not. We lose sight of it because we're fearful. We're vulnerable.
That vulnerable thing is far-reaching too. Let me tell you, it extends far beyond the facebook picture dilemma that befalls you when someone tags you in a photo that you never in a million years would have made your profile picture. It also hits on the work front. The school front. The home front. The relationship front. To be honest- it hits on all fronts. It's like a freaking hurricane with sideways winds. Just today I took a big does of vulnerability at work. I worked so hard for so long on a plan that was backed by science and research. It was validated by data. And yet, it didn't work. Or more specifically it worked, but it didn't work as well as it could have. Components got left out. People got tired and burnt out and frustrated. Training wasn't adequate. Now none of those things were inherently my fault- the plan was solid and what this kiddo needed. It was the simplest version of what needed to be done. I'm not in charge of training. I had no control over the other things going on that it led to staff burnout and frustration. I was doing the best I could. I was doing what science told me worked. I trusted the calls I made. But what I didn't do was take into account the people responsible for carrying out those calls. I kept pushing when they said it was hard. I kept encouraging when they were frustrated. Because I trusted in the plan. I trusted that it would work if we could just get it together and try and commit. I didn't get the buy in because it was hard and different. I didn't get to help coach and provide extra training because of other added responsibilities on my plate. There were so many things out of my control. But that's not the point. The point was that my job involves understanding environmental variables and I was so wrapped up in doing just that for the student that I forgot to do it for the staff too. I didn't take into account the very people I needed to do the work of the plan that I worked so hard to develop. I failed. And you know what? I survived. I learned. I grew and adapted. I failed forward.
Comparison may be the thief of joy, but fear of vulnerability is the root. We cannot reconcile the idea of thinking less of ourselves and living in joy. And that's where the waters get really murky. Because humility involves accepting that we aren't perfect. It means allowing others to be right. First. Better. Thought of, seen more often. How do we possibly reconcile that with this fear of vulnerability and the comparison game we play in our head? We know that humility plays a role in joy and that its tied up in gratitude somehow too. But its all somehow so complicated. Life is just messy. Once upon a time, someone once told me what is perhaps the most profound thing I have ever heard about humility. They said "humility is not about thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less". Its about frequency not intensity. We don't have to believe someone is better or make ourselves worse in order to be humble. We have to be willing to let others shine without fear that it somehow takes away from our own light. We have to be okay with putting others' needs, wants, their moments above our own. But raising others up doesn't mean we have to put ourselves down in the process. See the beauty of all of this is that being humble also provides us the opportunity to empower others. To love them. And so often it is by loving others that we are reminded how to love ourselves.
So take a lesson from another well-renowned world leader and oddly enough a relative of good ole' Teddy- Franklin D. Roosevelt when he said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". So don't be so afraid of failing that you don't try or grow or learn. Don't be so fearful of being judged for imperfections or YOUR experiences that you don't celebrate, or share, or post. Don't allow yourself to be so afraid of losing something that you refuse to live humbly. You will fail. No question. So fail forward. Stay on your path and stop looking into someone else's lane.
It's okay. I promise.
Live Authentically and Appreciate Your Adventure,