Comparing and Despairing

“To compare is despair.” I’ve heard this sentiment at least a hundred times from Jennifer Hadley, a spiritual teacher. Yesterday I experienced it with brilliant clarity in the blink of an eye. I was feeling rather victorious about completing a book challenge. I read my goal of 24 books  in 2017 and was considering expanding that number for the new year. When I went to my Goodreads app to enter my aspiration to read 30 books in 2018, I noticed that the average number entered by other participants was 49.

What? How is that possible? Who are these people? Do they have jobs? Do they read picture books? And how can I rearrange my life to read a book each and every week in 2018? All of a sudden my victory was overshadowed by thousands of strangers and I was crushed.

I reviewed my day wondering how I could squeeze in an extra hour or two of reading. If I didn’t go to yoga class, get a massage, spend time visiting with my friend, prepare my meals or plan future ones; I could probably bang out one of the novels that’s been sitting neglected for ages on my bookshelf.

Wait a minute! What? Who am I and what just happened? I went from comparing to competition to mindless consumption to throwing my values out the window in no time at all. Is it really more important to me to achieve some arbitrary goal than to be a rock-star in the self-care world? Is it more important that cultivating meaningful connections or mindfulness in my daily life? Obviously it is not!

Luckily this round of comparing and despairing came and went pretty quickly. I caught myself before I went too deeply down that rabbit hole because despair is a rather icky feeling. My emotional radar lit up like crazy and warned me that I was off-track. I was able to reevaluate and correct my course within a few hours.

Yet I wonder how many times over the years have I lost days and weeks rather than minutes and hours? Oh wait! That’s a subtle form of comparison, isn’t it? I’m not falling for that! No doubt I’ve spent plenty of time feeling needless despair in the past, but the important thing is that I’m committed to avoiding any pointless upset from here on out. 

Welcome 2018. I can tell it’s going to be a year filled with challenges and growth and ultimately more joy. All I need to do is avoiding the nonsensical goal to win competitions I was never interested in entering.

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