I got an invitation to take a Facebook quiz: Which Shakespearean Lady are you? Being the English major geek that I am, I took it, answered questions like “what is your favorite color?” and “what ideal is most important to you?” and discovered that I am none other than Ophelia.
The test results informed me that I was depressed and really needed to stay away from lakes. (Go read Hamlet if you don’t know why.)
Honestly, it kind of ticked me off. I didn’t want to be Ophelia; she goes insane because her boyfriend dumps her because he’s obsessed with his mother’s marriage to his father’s possible murderer. She’s passive and easily cowed and tragic. Why couldn’t I be Lady Macbeth? Sure, she’s tragic, too, but she’s not exactly a passive woman. Neither is Rosalind. Or Juliet.
The quiz results made me think. One of the reasons I was so interested in taking this silly (not to mention obviously inaccurate) quiz was to compare myself to another person, even if it was a character from a play.
I’m addicted to this game, I think: the game of comparison, where no one wins and everyone loses and the rules are completely relative to my self-perception and whomever happens to be the object of my comparison.
In high school, I compared myself to the tall, thin girls in my class and lost. I compared myself to the straight-C students and won. Then I compared my GPA to the valedictorian’s and lost again.
In college, I was mixed up about the whole dating-relationship-sex-thing. If I looked at the girls who had sex before marriage, I got a big puffed-up head that was so big, you couldn’t see the entire thing in the mirror. If I looked at the girls who proclaimed their vows not to kiss until they were engaged or sometimes even married, I lost. Those types always made me feel a bit like a slut, even back when all I had done was hold hands with one guy one time. It was all relative.
I went through a time when I didn’t write in anything but my journal and was plagued with publication envy. I walked into a bookstore and was jealous of all those authors with their names printed on the cover; it almost made me want to stop reading because I was comparing my sad state of pre-publication with their post-publication state and losing.
Every book I read, I flipped to the copyright and looked for the author’s date of birth. Were they older or younger than me? I felt okay if the author was much older than me; after all, they had had more years to spend in learning to write and learning the publication business and such, so it didn’t make me feel bad to see that they were published.
The closer the date of birth got to mine, the more angst ridden I became. Jodi Picoult was born in 1966, so I was good there. Lauren Winner (1970-something) and Donald Miller (also 1970-something) made me nervous. And don’t get me started on the 1980s-ers. When I remembered Jane Austen, who wrote Sense and Sensibility at the tender age of 21, I was beating myself up: why, oh why, hadn’t I devoted myself to my writing more religiously in high school and college?
For the record, I don’t want to write the next Girl Meets God, Blue Like Jazz or Sense and Sensibility. I want to write my own books, thank you very much.
But when I compared those four digit numbers on the copyright with the four digits on my birth certificate, I felt like a failure. Here I was, born in 1977, and I still hadn’t produced a book? Worse yet, I still hadn’t written a book. Even worse, I was wasting the time I could’ve spent writing on comparing myself to other writers.
It was all absolutely absurd.
I’ve thought about this recently because I’ve been such an active participant in the comparison game. I’m still looking at other women’s makeup (did I do a cruddy job putting on my mascara this morning compared with her?) and studying the models in advertisements (do my legs look as good as hers?) and reading other writer’s books (do I write as good as they do or worse?).
It feels awful when the answer is No, you still haven’t figured out how to use a mascara wand. No, your legs still have those awful stretch marks that no one else can see but you. No, you’re not as good a writer as Ms. Famous-Award-Winning Author.
It’s a game where I lose.
I lose my time because I’m so busy studying everyone else’s mascara and legs and books and houses and hair and clothes to pay attention to what matters.
I lose my mind trying to figure out how to meet this increasingly higher standard of perfection as modelled by someone else. Or losing my common sense by thinking I’m better than those heathens with the screwed-up lives. If I’m honest, if I look hard enough at myself from God’s perspective, I’m screwed-up, too, and I don’t see how bad I am because I’m running around trying to be so damnably good.
I lose my identity because I only know how to define myself in comparison to other people.
I’m sick of it.
I think the only one I ought to be comparing myself to is God. He’s perfect. I’m not. It’s not something that’s relative and fluctuates with my moods or how good I am that day or how bad I am that week. It’s absolute.
We’re all in the same situation. We’re all needy, even those bestselling, award-winning, brilliant authors, even those women with legs a mile long and the perfect makeup, even the girls who didn’t kiss until they said “I do”. We’re all lost. We all need to be found, to belong to God. That’s true. Absolutely true.
I need grace. That’s true. Absolutely true. I can’t look at someone else and say I don’t need the same amount of grace as them. I can’t look at someone else and say I need more grace than them. I have to look at God and say, wow, I need grace.
In other words, I’ve got to stop comparing my goodness or badness to other people’s goodness or badness, my brilliance to their clichés or my publication status with theirs, my legs to theirs. I’ve got to stop the comparison game with other people, period.
I should probably stop taking Facebook quizzes, too.
How about you? Do you compare yourself to others? Or have you managed to stop playing the comparison game and if so, how?