When I was in the second grade I learned an invaluable life lesson that I carry with me to this day. It all started with a “friend crush.”
Jenny* was a third grader in my school and she was somehow an early member of the social elite. I mean – everyone wanted to sit at her lunch table.
To be completely honest with you, I don’t remember everything about what made me think that this girl was sooo cool – but she was older than me (by a year – so she was, like, a LOT older), and she somehow managed to embody a third grader’s version of bravado. She had confidence, and she was (according to a second grader’s definition at least) totally hip.
I was completely intimidated by her.
But my powerful life lesson came to me the day that I saw her mother for the first time when she came to pick Jenny up at school, and she showed up in permanent crunches. I learned later that day that Jenny’s mother was a polio survivor.
It’s hard to fully explain what happened in my 8-year old brain, but something suddenly came into sharp relief for me: Despite how “cool” and almost-untouchable Jenny seemed to be, she was just like the rest of us – with challenges, and vulnerability. My more recent experiences as a psychotherapist have confirmed the following to be true:
Difficulty is part of the path of human existence, and no one gets a pass in this life.
That said, the world is rigged in such a way that it’s easy to forget this. Especially in the age of social media, we “compare our insides to other people’s outsides” and everyone else’s life seems so simple in comparison to ours, doesn’t it?
But people don’t put their tear explosions on Instagram – not because they’re trying to hide something (although of course that happens sometimes, too) – but because it’s human nature to want to put your best foot forward.
I’ve been privileged in this life to be close to a number of people whose lives look very shiny from a distance, but I happen to know that ALL of them have private struggles.
All of them.
So if you want to end the comparison game TODAY, meditate on the following idea:
Think of someone you know in your life, or someone you see from a distance, who provokes envy in you. Do you know anything about their private struggles? If you assume their life is easy (and you don’t know anything about their shadow side), spend a few moments assuming that they have one. Feel compassion for their pain.
I can assure you that anyone you know whose life seems enviable from a distance is struggling with something you don’t know about – and keeping this in mind just might make you feel like your own life is just a little bit easier.
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*Names in this story have been changed because I’m too old to remember them.