I watched the scene from a distance, fully aware that I was invisible to the group of teenagers standing in front of me. It’s amazing how parents disappear whenever teens get together. As an avid observer, I sat back to pay attention to the scene unfolding before me. A group of beautiful girls and dazzled boys conversed animatedly, talking about the day at school, while planning their next big thing.
Two girls stood out. Tall, skinny and blond, every boy and girl in the group seemed hypnotized by their presence. They played with their immaculate hair while talking, showing their perfect, pearly smiles. They are beautiful, and they know it. As my eyes scanned the group, my heart sank while watching some of the other girls shrink as the two popular kids stood out.
And just like that, I was 15 again. The all too familiar weight of comparison and inadequacy flooded my mind, as I imagined their struggle:
“Mom, can I have highlights? I really want to be blond.”
“If only I could get rid of these freckles. I hate them.”
“If only my hair were straight.”
“If only my hair were curly.”
“If only I could lose 10 pounds.”
Ah, the comparison curse! So many of us have been haunted by its ghost during our youth. It’s the ghost that told us we were unworthy, unlovable, unintelligent and ugly. It screamed that we could never measure up, and that the grass was always greener in our friends’ front yard. And even though this ghost certainly haunted teenagers in the ’80s, when we wished to look like Cindy Crawford and be popular like Whitney Houston, this joy-stealer, heart-breaking curse floods our culture more than ever on this social-media driven 21st century.
If you had asked me before today if I had overcome the feelings of insecurity of my youth, I would have quickly replied with a big, fat “yes.”
“I know who I am and I’m happy with myself. Finally.”
But during my time of prayer and reading Scriptures this morning, I realized that this statement is only partially true.
No, I don’t spend my time trying to look or sound like someone else. I am at peace with my red hair and Brazilian accent. I don’t dream of wearing a size 2, nor do I wear painful high-heeled shoes to appear 4 inches taller anymore.
But truth be told, as I thought about the race God has called me to run, I realized that I have allowed the comparison ghost to creep in again. Rather than haunting me to feel unworthy or ugly, it plays with grown-up fears these days. Maybe you can relate:
“If only I could write/speak/sing/cook like she does.”
“If only I had her job.”
“If only I had his money.”
“If only my marriage were like theirs.”
“If only I were not alone.”
There’s a vast difference between desiring to be married, grow in our profession, look our best or do our very best … and trying to run someone else’s race. On one hand, we keep focus on what God has called us to do, at this moment in time and plan for the future as God shows us the next steps. We welcome ideas and even ask for advice, nevertheless remembering that, just as our fingerprints are exclusive, so is the race God sets before each individual.
Conversely, we can become so enamored by someone else’s accomplishments that we start applying their “success formula,” without stopping to pray to find out if it is right for us. All the while, I imagine God lovingly waiting on us to ask: “Father, is this right … for me?”
Sometimes I just have to be reminded that when God made me, he broke the mold. There has never been, nor will there ever be someone just like me. Or just like you. We are fearfully and wonderfully made for an exclusive, divine plan that cannot be compared to anyone else’s.
May we focus on running our unique race, lest we miss our destination for being distracted with someone else’s journey.
Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Website: www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com