Sometimes it feels like our whole lives are a big competition. It starts when you are a kid and your parents compare your grades to those of your siblings. In elementary school when you are faced with spelling bees, picking teams for kickball and who’s artwork is picked to be on display in the hall. In middle school and high school when you start competing for choir or chair placement, sports teams and school plays. Scholarships and college placements.
We grow up feeling like we HAVE to compete with those around us. That is how our society is built. Don’t get me wrong, a little healthy competition is a good thing. It pushes us to do a better and challenge ourselves. But it is SO EASY to get completely wrapped up in it and not even realize it.
My family is a competitive family. We love board games. When our kids were little we taught them to shake hands at the end and say “good game”. We tried to teach them to be a good sport and realize the value of winning and losing. I see kids go down the line after a baseball/hockey game and shake hands or high five their opponents. Do they even realize WHY they do it or how important it is? If I could go back in time I would make sure I was having those conversations with our kids because I don’t remember if we ever did. Later on when they were in choir, band, and theater we talked about how they aren’t always going to get the role they wanted or be first chair. How it was important to be happy for those that earned those spots and try again next time. That isn’t easy for ANYONE to do.
When I was in my 20’s/30’s it seemed EVERYTHING was a competition! When you have little kids EVERY conversation seems to go back to “is she sleeping through the night/off the bottle/talking yet?” Why didn’t we talk more about how we were feeling or the struggles of young motherhood? Motherhood is not a competition and I promise you by the time the kids are in high school NO ONE is going to care how old they were when they started using the toilet!
I was only 25 when my oldest daughter started preschool. I remember standing in the hallway waiting for class to be over so I could sign her out. The other moms were older than me, had nicer clothes, better cars and seemed so put together. Here I was a stay at home mom with her hair in a ponytail, no make up, my younger daughter in a stroller next to me, feeling like I had to clarify that I CHOSE this life. No one talked to me and I felt so beneath them. It wasn’t until my youngest son started preschool that I realized I had been wrong. I was 32 by then and had a nice house, a new car, pretty clothes and was standing in the hallway waiting for him to get out of class with the other moms. Most of the other moms were around my age and many of us knew each other from our older kids. But there was a young mom too. She stood off to the side and didn’t interact with anyone. I noticed she drove an older car and didn’t take much care with her appearance. It clicked with me at that moment that she may feel like I had all those years ago. Looking at it from a new perspective I realized that those other moms had never MADE me feel that way. They were never rude or looked down on me. I was the one who doubted my own self worth. I never went up to them and joined a conversation. I stood off to the side feeling inferior and blaming them for it. Why didn’t I see that sooner? I made sure I started conversations with the younger mom and smiled, nodded and made polite conversation when we ran into each other around town for the next decade.
When I was in my 30’s our business peaked and we were living the good life. Huge house and acreage, boat, RV, nice vacations. I had everything I had ever dreamed of and yet I STILL didn’t feel good enough sometimes. I was still jealous of some of the other women. Their nails were better, they took fancier vacations, they had bigger cars. It wasn’t until we lost it all in the recession that I realized just how good we had it, and how lucky I was. Why is it so hard to appreciate all that we have until we lose it? Why can’t we see that we don’t HAVE to compete with the neighbors, the other moms, our coworkers until after the fact?
My 40’s have brought me more clarity. Part of it is having the kids get older and starting their own adult lives. That means I have to start doing MY own thing too. Part of it is going through the downsizing process and knowing how very few material things we really NEED. Spending all those months packing, sorting and donating things that don’t really matter in our day to day lives. Simplifying our lives. I know a big part of it is spending all that time with my mom over the last few months of her life. Nothing really shows you what really matters until none of it matters.
My life now is a lot simpler than it used to be. We live in a small space and I love it. I am no longer worried about friends that have bigger houses or newer cars. I don’t care if someone can sing a song better than me at karaoke, can walk further or faster than I can, take better pictures. I am learning to accept and appreciate myself and my own talents. I can be genuinely happy when good things happen to those around me and not feel like that means I am lacking in some way. That doesn’t mean I never feel jealous or less than. It just means I am learning how to deal with those feelings in a more productive way. I don’t let them linger. *Gratitude*Patience*Service*Kindness*
My flower garden really brings it all home. I had some flowers that bloomed right away and then faded. I had some that were steady all summer long. And I had late bloomers that I didn’t even thing were going to make it that outlasted all the other flowers and are still going strong. The flowers aren’t competing with each other. They aren’t comparing which has more petals or attracts more butterflies. They accept who they are and do their own thing. And that makes them all beautiful in their own way.