Comparison can be the thief of joy, but it can also bring curiosity, connection and community.
Welcome to this latest blog post. It's written by my friend, Jesse Elkins. He's the founder and owner of Full Sun Fitness and Nutrition - a business that aims to promote body-acceptance, joy and lifelong vitality by and for queer and ally communities. Jesse's based in Charlotte.
I asked Jesse to write this blog post after I saw that he had posted one of his famous shower thoughts on his Instagram feed. His shower thought coincided with a topic that had been rattling around in my head for a few weeks: Comparisons being the thief of joy.
I loved what he shared.
It was internet serendipity.
For a gay man - who may or may not be experiencing loneliness - comparisons are everywhere. There's the man with the body/career/partner/car/home/holiday/friends/skin/hair/beard/pet/success/life we wish we had. That man could be someone we know, or someone we don't know in our real lives.
However it is, it is almost inevitable that we compare how we think and feel about ourselves in that moment with the image that they are projecting into the world. The resulting stories we tell ourselves are powerful. We can convince ourselves that we don't have what they have because we're less worthy, less deserving than they are. We envy them. We get jealous.
Well, at least I do. And it's an awful feeling which compounds my experience of loneliness in that moment. I can convince myself that I'm less worthy as a human and less deserving of being seen, heard and feeling that I belong to something larger than me.
There will be much more on the power of these stories we all tell ourselves in future content, I promise. For now, I invite you to pay attention to what's happening in your mind and how you feel when you read and enjoy Jesse's wisdom, humour and insight.
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Let’s start at the end, where the tomato garden is 10 feet tall with roots 10 feet deep. Let’s start where reds, oranges, and yellows burst brighter than the sun engulfing their ripe bodies. Let’s start with the beauty, the colour, the flavour, the wonder. Can you picture it?
Now let’s go back. Let’s go back to the rocky, infertile ground that existed well before this galaxy of rich soil, living creatures, nutrients, and gloriously wired roots.
How did it all happen? Here’s the short answer: it had help.
You see, life is layered, life is complex. No single moment, achievement, work of art, long-term goal, or boisterous ever-giving garden simply happens. Everything beautiful has synergy, parts, a process, a team, a helper. Remembering this golden tenet, we can take a look back at comparison. Like every tool in our wellness toolbox, comparison comes in all forms – negative, positive, and the vast grey area in between. It is how we harness comparison that allows us to lean into the positive.
We have all experienced negative comparison. Often it goes like this: You see someone doing or achieving something that you haven’t. You want it, too, but you don’t have it. You feel lesser, envious, angry, upset, jealous, or all of the above. You distance from them. You unfollow them. You put them in a negative thought-pocket. Or maybe you keep following their journey and every time you see it you feel awful. You shut down, you limit yourself, and you stay where you are. All of this simply because you’re comparing yourself to someone else and mishandling your comparison tool. This happens for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is because our perceived idea of another’s achievements conflict with what we think it takes to achieve the same thing. We project an image, an idea that something has simply happened for them. We think all of the puzzle pieces fit perfectly and landed in their lap. We fail to recognize and honour that our lives are intricate, detailed, and complex and they, too, have layers: limitations, setbacks, hardships, and sadness. We also fail to notice that what we think about them is based solely off of a small glimpse of their filtered life and that we’ve missed the magic, the work, the behind-the-scenes, private, difficult times.
The second is that, similar to the first projection scenario, we project that we are the same person as the other. We project that we have the same resources, finances, support, and tools that helped them achieve what we are comparing ourselves to. We fail, again, to notice another simple life truth: we are all unique. No two people have identical journeys, and that, in itself, is the false thinking that digs us deeper into the notion that we deserve to have exactly what they’ve achieved and that we will reach it exactly as they have. Perhaps it’s time to think again.
The Grey Area
Comparison is a tool that we use for just about everything in our lives. The best film is the best because it is better compared all the rest. The best meal is the one that makes your mouth water, keeps you full, and gives you more energy compared to the rest. The best sex is the kind that brings connection, mind-altering climax(es), and fills your proverbial cup compared to all the other sex. Comparison, as our default tool, tethers us to the best moments in our lives, and sets a bar to aim for in all aspects of life.
Here is where comparison gets muddy: determining what our best is from what society and others say is best. Take for example, the entire wellness industry. More specifically, your body. Ideally, your best body is the one you feel best in compared to how you’ve felt before. Your best body, contrary to the often exclusively physique-focused body in society, is one in which you feel the healthiest – the body where you feel mentally checked-in, confident, mobile, and most capable. However, does your best body align with your feelings, your joy, and your health? Or is your best body the one you saw on the cover of a magazine? Is your best body the one that society says is acceptable, beautiful, perfect?
Let’s return to films, meals, and sex. Is your best film truly the best to you, or is it the best because viewer ratings were the highest, awards season celebrated it, or your friends love it? Is your best meal the best because it is truly your favourite, or is it the best because you Googled a low-calorie, easy to make meal that a diet-centric-blogger flailed on the internet? Is your best sex the kind that brings you everything you want in sex? Or is your best sex, the sex you desire, the sex you look for, only the best because it aligns with what you’ve seen in porn? Because it is kinky, but not too kinky? Because people wouldn’t judge the type of sex you have?
Clearing this grey area and shifting to that positive comparison end is simple (but not easy). Notice your actions, notice your thoughts, and notice your bests. Notice when what you want doesn’t align with what society says is good. Notice when your comparison tether comes untied from your experiences and your joys and loops onto society’s definitions of what is best. When you notice this shift, you can then come back to what authentically matters to you.
Now, we’ve reached the sweet spot. We’ve noticed our toxic comparison patterns and we’ve cleared up our muddy society vs. self-desires. Were your patterns obvious? Were they shocking? Don’t worry, we all mishandle our wellness tools from time to time. Here’s the good news: we can use comparison to our advantage, and then some. We can become that tomato garden. Okay, maybe the metaphor is lost here, but it’s true! We can dig roots, grow tall, offer our fruit, and bask in all of the Full Sun we desire, all thanks to our new favourite tool: positive comparison.
Here’s how: Shift the comparison paradigm. You see someone who has achieved something great – something you want. You pause. You notice those old-self feelings of jealousy, envy, anger, and frustration.
You say to yourself, “Wow! They achieved something big, something I want”. You channel curiosity. You channel appreciation. You re-centre.
Once you’ve re-centred and turned comparison into your inspiration, you can breathe into the space of potential that is still completely yours. Next, you can take it up a “woke” level and you can reach out! Instead of sinking into that negative comparison pattern, you now have the positive power to start a conversation with them and ask if they are willing to share part of their journey, tools, and tips to achieve what you want. You now have the space to grow closer to them and build a support system. You now have a new connection to share your work, your setbacks, and your triumphs, all while they feel heard and seen, and you feel heard, seen, and supported. You can now uplift their achievements while finding guidance to reach yours.
As Queer artist, Angel Haze would say, “if they can’t lift you, then they can’t drop you”, so what’s the worst that could happen? They aren’t receptive? No worries – move onto someone else that welcomes your warm embrace and lifts you up in return. Build community with them.
I promise, this will feel good.
Simply put, comparison is powerful. Comparison can signal the worst in us and it can signal the best in us. Now that you are aware of all the ways in which comparison can be handled, it is up to you to use it to grow, connect, and evolve.
Return to the Garden
The garden had help. The garden had a farmer. The garden had sunlight, soil, all-natural fertilizer, and support posts for when it grew tall. The garden had nutrient-dense water and someone to pick its dead leaves and ripe fruit. Like all of us, the garden was only able to achieve its glorious stature of unbridled vitality with support, tools, resources, and one farmer with a connection and vision for its limitlessness.
I challenge you to wade through and out of negative and grey comparisons and grasp your comparison tool to use for good. I challenge you to reframe your thinking, lift yourself and others up, start a conversation, seek support, and build community. No matter your path to reaching your goals, you will still be the same person at your very core when you reach them. There will be no earth-shattering revelations or magical genies in a bottle once you reach all of the things you want.
So finally, I challenge you to enjoy the ride as much as you can. Give up harbouring negativity through comparison and this deficit mindset that tells you that you don’t have resources, tools, and support, when all along you have positive comparison to signal curiosity, connection, and community.
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Jesse, thank you for sharing your post with us!
Remember to check out Jesse's services here. Jesse is also raising funds to support equity of access to wellness services for Trans and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). A worthy cause, indeed.
As Jesse says: 'Here’s the thing, we have a long way to go when it comes to healthcare and wellness equity for Trans & BIPOC Folx. We want to help, in a small way. So, here, all donations will go directly to covering the cost of wellness coaching for our Trans and BIPOC Full Sun Fitness clients.' Donate to this awesome cause here.
Jesse and I talk about comparison being a source of joy in our conversation I recorded for my podcast 'Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy'. Come and join us from Thursday 8 October 2020!
Where to now?
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.