Do you ever wake up and feel like you can take on the world? You look around at your life and projects and think, “I’m crushing this thing called life?” In that moment you are self-assured and a ‘put-together adult.’ Then you pick up your phone or laptop, log on to social media, and suddenly you drop from the top of the world to seemingly insignificant in a single instant.
Every scroll through the newsfeed or glance at someone else’s work weakens my self-esteem and self-image. I let doubt seep into my soul and compare myself to someone else. One minute I’m awesome and the next I’m too heavy, not cool enough, lazy, not a good enough parent, have too few followers, not innovative enough in ministry, and an all-around failure of a human being.
Comparison affects all people, but social media has made that fear of being ‘less’ so much worse. Suddenly I can see in real time how I have ‘less success’ in whatever silly area that someone’s post points to. If it is a fellow clergy, I think, “God, I’m sorry their ministry is more powerful, vital, and worthy of you.” If it’s a fellow writer, “God, I’m sorry they have more bylines and Facebook follows.” If it’s a fellow parent, “God, I’m sorry I’m not the parent that my child and you deserve.” If it’s a fellow woman, “God, I’m sorry I’m not as pretty/strong/elegant/thin, etc.”
When we compare ourselves to those around us, we go from first feeling inadequate to resentful in 2.5 seconds. That sense of failure morphs into the insidious emotion of jealousy and instead of celebrating another’s success, we are angry about it. The belief becomes that their success either diminishes our triumphs, or worse they are taking out the entire market on achievement. It appears they took from us the ability to succeed or our degree of accomplishment is eclipsed by them. Rage and possibly hatred for that person festers within us.
Comparison isn’t loving. It feeds competition and envy. It’s a beast demanding it’s pound of flesh. Here’s the thing, the beast takes it’s pound of flesh from us and not from the person to whom we feel inferior. We hold our phones or keyboards with daggers in our eyes. We want what we believe was ours back again. We give them a side-eye or eye-roll and mentally say things like, “They aren’t that great,” at best and, “I can’t believe they were given…” at worst. We rationalize why they are undeserving, and we are better, in a desperate and vicious attempt to restore our self-image that social media dismantled.
Reality check, they didn’t take anything. They don’t hold a monopoly on victory OR failure, because yes, they have failures too. When we view a person through the lens of comparison, we stop seeing them as a person, and we perceive them as an enemy to be annihilated, a threat to be neutralized, an opponent to be outshone, or an obstacle to be overcome. Compassion for their story, their struggles (which we might not know), their humanity is stripped away from them in an attempt to assuage our own thoughts of insufficiency. Life has turned into a zero-sum game. That isn’t rejoicing with those who rejoice it, it is tearing down, and it tears us down as well.
When I rip apart someone else’s accomplishments to make myself feel better, it doesn’t work. The thought that I’m lacking remains, but now is accompanied by vitriol and malice. This isn’t love, it’s war. I gave into my own fears and chose competition over and against loving my neighbor. We convince ourselves that they didn’t fight, claw, scratch, or suffer to be the best at whatever we determine them to be better than ourselves. Odds are they succeeded the same way we do. Hard work, perseverance, and a lot of grace from the Holy Spirit. That person also has the low moments when they want to give up, run away, quit, or give up their integrity to get ahead, just like you do. They look at every discouraging ‘failure’ and choose to keep going. Just like you do.
Social media exists as a weak picture of the entirety or character of a person. It is a glimpse, a snapshot, not a full tapestry that displays every ache, every tear, or every success. Even if it was, someone else’s success does not diminish yours. We are all on the same team. We are members of the same body and created by the same master craftsman. They bear the same image of God that we graciously possess. How do we take our resentment and competition and turn it into celebration?
I think the answer lies in remembering they are a person and not a villain in the story of your life. We all are lacking and by grace we are can all be made well. I am forcing myself to give thanks to God when I see someone I view as competition succeed. I sit intentionally in prayer to the Living God that made their perceived or real success possible and that God would continue to bless them, both as a person and in whatever endeavor I deem them as my adversary. The market, world, church, body of Christ, life, is big enough for us all to succeed.