Freedom from Perfection, Part 8: The Comparison Trap
The other day, I went a-searchin’ for a women’s conference to attend this year. A conference to nourish and refresh my soul and give me an event to look forward to, as I impatiently wait for spring to arrive. I googled around until I found one I thought might suit my fancy. (Why I’m talking like I lived in the 1800’s, I do not know.)
I then started reading through the speaker bios. They went a bit like this:
Susie Smith is a homeschooling mother of six. She and her husband live on a farm where she creates nightly meals from scratch with the organic food she has grown and harvested with her bare hands. Her passions include scrapbooking, home interior design, green living, frugal living, women’s ministry, and nurturing sick and orphaned animals back to health. She is the author of seven books and the wildly popular blog, I Have it All Together, Why Don’t You?
(insert professional headshot of beautiful, flawless woman)
Jenny Jones has lived in seven countries and dreams of living in five more. She is a homeschooling mother of four, ages 6, 5, 4, and 2. She and her husband are expecting quadruplets in the fall. She is a marathon runner and plans to complete her 20th marathon just before delivering the quads. She has led over 50,000 people to Christ, through her personal discipleship and mentoring program. In her spare time, she enjoys writing best-selling cookbooks, and has appeared on Food Network, The Today Show, Oprah and Ellen.
(Insert professional headshot of beautiful, flawless, buff woman)
Alright. I’m exaggerating. A little. There was no one pregnant with quads. But every one of these women were simply unbelievable. I wish I could say that as I read through the bios, I celebrated each woman’s accomplishments and considered how I might glean something from her, should I attend this women’s conference. But I would be exaggerating again.
Instead, I was jealous. With every bio, I compared that woman’s accomplishments to my own. And mine fell painfully short.
Sandy Cooper is a stressed-out mom of three. She knows she could never home school because she dreads daily the overseeing of 3rd grade math homework with her 9-year-old . Every morning she wakes up wondering how she’s going to get it all done. And most days she doesn’t. She loves to write and actually has some pretty good ideas, but has a terrible time keeping up with her blogs. Sometimes she forgets to bathe her 4-year-old. She dreams of changing the world, but often puts off changing light bulbs and the kitty litter.
(insert un-touched picture of me in sweats and no make-up, taking a nap)
After my brutal exercise in self-deprecation, I simply didn’t measure up. The more I read and compared, the more defeated and deflated I became. Until, finally, I just clicked off the website, turned off my computer and shuffled my pathetic, underachieving-self into bed. So much for “nourish and refresh my soul.”
For those of us struggling to be free from Perfectionism, The Comparison Trap is a dangerous place in which to linger. We are constantly told that “no one is perfect” and that “perfection is unattainable.” And we know this is true, logically. But it’s hard for us Perfectionists to internalize these truths when we come across others who are living what we define as a perfect or near-perfect life.
Maybe you aren’t comparing yourself to writer/speaker/moms, like I am. But you are comparing yourself to the neighbor with the beautifully decorated, always immaculate home. Or the couple with the thriving, healthy marriage. Or the family with the polite, intelligent and spiritually mature children. Or the minister with the massive following and booked speaking calendar. Or the executive with the top-level, high-paying position.
To us, they appear perfect. Or near-perfect. We see them. We envy them. We wonder what we are doing wrong. And the bondage of Perfectionism continues as we erect an even higher standard with which we feel compelled to judge ourselves.
The older I get—and the more my peers accomplish in life—the more brutal The Comparison Trap becomes for me. Sometimes I feel like everyone is dashing past me, doing all the things I envision for myself. Things I thought I would have already accomplished by now. Yet, I’m limping breathlessly behind, buried in a pile of laundry or stuck in a line of 1,000 vehicles in the carpool line.
This is not the “liberty” Jesus intended for me!
I sense God is wanting to give me total victory here. Thus, He is providing numerous opportunities for me to mature. It seems lately, I have been faced with countless women who appear to have attained “perfection” in some area of life. An area where I currently struggle. An area where I long for success. And I sense God asking me,
“How will you respond? Will you compare yourself with her? Or will you walk confidently in My will for your life? Will you strive to be like her? Or will you rest in My grace, knowing I only expect you to listen for My voice and humbly obey? Will you define your success and failure by your flawed perception of someone else’s success? Or will you allow Me to define you with the Truth of My Word? Which will it be, Sandy?”
For the last few weeks, as I’ve worked through the issues of Perfectionism for the sake of this series, God has revealed to me that a major component in conquering my Perfectionism lies in decimating The Comparison Trap.
I had no idea how much mental energy I spent in the cycle of looking at others/comparing myself/falling short/beating myself up/trying harder.
It’s bondage. Complete and utter bondage.
I’m seeking God’s guidance and asking Him to reveal to me the pathway to freedom from The Comparison Trap. I have some ideas that I’m pretty sure are from God. I want to share them in Part 9. So, please come back.
Oooo….good one, Sandy.
I especially enjoyed your "bio."
I should add this part to mine: rarely makes the bed (true)and often leaves a few dirty dishes in the sink til morning (also true).
What else…"is a people person but only with some people…"
You have me in tears from laughing so hard. I am once again so glad to know that I am not the only one reading fancy schmancy bios of bread-baking, homeschooling, marathon-running, interior-designing mothers and beating myself up!!
I think your pathway to freedom is in attending She Speaks with me and instead of attending critique groups-we beat ourselves us already, remember?- we should giggle in our hotel room and dream of our future together. 😀
Melanie, the whole people person but only with some people is awesome!!
Oh, my gosh!!! Your bios were SO funny…and spot on! I've read so many of those too, and felt the same way. Actually, deep inside I'm wanting to say "So tell me how it REALLY is for you." If I were shopping for a women's conference, I would probably go to the one with your bio. 😉
And yes, come to She Speaks!!! It would be SO cool to meet you…and Lisa too?! WOW! What an honor!
this is me a million times over!
I love reading your blog and this series on perfectionism really speaks to me. It makes me want to go home and journal and really seek God for freedom in my life on this. Thanks so much for humbling yourself so that not only you, but others like me can be free. 😉
Ummm…I've compared myself to you and come up lacking. How's that for humbling!?
On some level I've recognized this phenomenon but not actually acknowleged it somehow. I have a very good friend that struggles with her weight, I hold back from talking about my success with her because, I don't want her to compare herself to me and decide she is less on any level. I don't even know if she's a perfectionist! I just assume that she would do it because I do.
Those bios were so good! I used to not want to do Beth Moore Bible Studies because of her photo – could I possibly get more shallow than that?? All those years I could have been learning and growing, ripped off because Beth is pretty? How stupid!! Thank you for your honesty, Sandy.
This is such a great post! I must tell you that one of the things that I love so much about your blog and you, my friend, is that you are honest and real.
The other day, i was reading a blog of a former ministry leader. The more I read it, the more annoyed I got. While I knew her a little more than a casual acquaintance, I didn't really "know" her. No one really knows her or maybe they do and she is just the perkiest, most has it all together mommy and woman in the world. It's actually like a major sugar rush and it bothered me to no end. But I wasn't jealous because I "know" her, I don't want to be her. I just had a hard time relating to her at all and found her blog to be for those all together people that are never stressed out and never have sinful thoughts and are always i a good mood. Obviously, not me. =)
Having said that….there are many times in my quest for perfection that I find that I am not so much "jealous" of them as much as I feel like a "loser" or "outcast" and wonder if anyone out there can actually relate to me or vice versa.
Reality check is that I want to follow God closely: I want to raise my son to be a God fearing man; I want to be the woman God created me to be. But what I want and what I often accomplish at the end of the day….
I am stressed out most of the time. I am overhwlemed some of the time — more often than not lately. I am parenting a 3 year old who is quickly turning intoa 4 year old who now has decided to flood my bathroom with water by pouring his bath water onto the floor while I am in the next room folding laundry or making his bed. Dinner might be kraft macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets (I know…I hang my head low with that admission). I try to get on my treadmill daily; sometimes at 10PM and just move on it becuase that's all the energy I've got. If someone inserted a picture…well, my hair would look awesome but you'd see someone tired and exhausted in a pair of scrubs passed out on the couch.
Yes, it is bondage when comparing. I compare a lot. And I don't like the way it makes me feel many times….
I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.
This post is almost a book! A lot of good info and insight. I totally agree about the comparison trap. Good post.
Your guest article on my blog will post this Sunday (March 13). Thanks for writing it.
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This comment has been removed by the author.
sorry about those "deleted" comments…if you can see them!!! Having typing issues this morning!
Anyway…just wanted to say how wonderful it was to read this post. You are SUCH a good writer. And funny. And full of God.
I read those SAME bios…and know EXACTLY what you're talking about…as a matter of fact I had women's faces coming to mind when I read the two "fake" ones you wrote…I thought I was the only one who read them all the time and found myself insanely jealous!!! And to think I've thought that I don't struggle with jealousy!!! Perhaps because mine is not usually material I find it easier to right off…
Anyway…I wrote a post a couple of days ago about trying to figure out where the heck I am in all of this mothering….about struggling with a desire to be something other than "mother" and wondering why all of those other authors seem to be able to do it so easily…
my only conclusion…it's part luck and part God's timing (probably more God's timing than luck…but I tell myself otherwise!)…God knows your heart…He created you with those desires and He has a plan for your writing…the hard part is being patient to trust in His timing…
Keep doing what God has set before you…You ARE encouraging a lot of people in the process…it's just not as tangible on a blog sometimes!
By the way, which conference were you looking at…I've been looking at a couple for this year as well!
meant to say "find it easier to 'write' off"…if anyone caught that!! Truly…the hospital sent me home with children and kept my brain…
oh Sandy… this was terrific. crazy funny. and oh so GOOD for the SOUL. I just posted today about trying not to compare… and the lessons I learned from my little ones. 🙂 God bless on this sad, sad day in the world.
I just read this again and left a long comment. Then blogger wouldn't publish it. Agh!
As a preacher I have experienced the male side of this. I preach for a small church (100 members) in a small town (6,000 people). Most of the state doesn't even know about this town.
Thenk I go to a lectureship where the speakers preach for churches of 2,000 people with staffs of 10 ministers. The bios read like the ones you described above, just the male version.
I sometimes think we do a disservice when we hype someone too much. It is a disservice t othe speaker (who can become proud) and the audience, who can think they compare unfavorably. The real issue that can't make it in a bio: the heart.
When Jesus came he didn't push that he was the Son of God. He was just a regular guy. Maybe we could learn from that!