The Game I Want to Quit

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

As a kid, I lived in my swimming suit during the summer. I joined swim team when I was 7 years old so, when I wasn’t running through the sprinkler in the backyard or jumping off the diving board at the outdoor pool, I was in my swimming suit learning proper stroke technique. There were days when my swimming suit never left my body; I simply moved from one activity to the next with a towel around my shoulders and flip-flops on my feet, my hair drying in crusty chlorine-laden clumps around my head.

As a teen, swimming as a competitive sport took up more and more time so, despite the fact that I was no longer running through the sprinkler or frolicking at the outdoor pool with friends, I was still in my swimming suit for 4-5 hours a day. In fact, there were nights when I would go to sleep in my suit so that it was one less thing I had to put on before 5:30 am practice.

I spent so much time in my swimming suit that it felt like a second skin. And I loved every minute of it. (Well, almost every minute of it because there were certainly those days during high school when I wanted to throw my goggles across the pool at my coach – who, by the way, just happened to be my dad.) I loved the water and, by extension, I loved being in my swimming suit because of the way it made me feel.

Somewhere along the line, though, swimming suits turned from friend to foe. They went from the requisite attire for summer fun to a much-maligned torture costume. Now when I go swimming, my first thoughts aren’t about jumping off the high-dive or how long I can hold my breath underwater. Instead, my first thoughts are whether I should wear the boring swim suit that doesn’t make me look pregnant or the fun swimsuit that showcases my post-baby belly bulge and cellulite.

All of which begs the question: What caused something that used to feel so comfortable and enjoyable to start causing me anxiety instead?

The long answer to that question, I think, has to do with internal pressures, self-esteem problems, and societal expectations about the female body, which is more than I am going to get into here.

The short answer, however, is that it all boils down to comparisons.

The comparison game is one that I know all too well. In fact, I am an expert at it. Unfortunately, being good at the comparison game only reaps the prizes of insecurity and self-doubt. Somewhere along the line the focus shifted away from the way that swimming (and being in a swim suit) made me feel and became more about how I compared to others. Writing for me is what swimming once was – fun, therapeutic, restorative, and soul-enriching. I love it for the sheer activity of it and for the way that it makes me feel. However, it almost undoubtedly involves comparisons to other more successful writers or more popular bloggers and before long I am swimming in a pool of criticism, frustration, and anxiety.

Similarly, my husband and I both love our house. It is simple and modest. There are no sprawling master closets, no kitchen island, and all four of us share the same bathroom. Nonetheless, we have a cozy family room, a spacious back deck, and neighbors that we absolutely adore. Our home is everything that a home should be – comfortable, safe, and warm – until, that is, I see a friend’s new home on Facebook, peruse Pinterest, or get the latest Pottery Barn catalog in the mail. Then our kitchen seems too small, our furniture seems shabby, and our safe haven of a home starts to feel inadequate and not quite right.

And this comparison game, I have realized, is slowly killing my spirit and it is a game that I no longer want to play.

But quitting it is so damn hard.

I want to enjoy swimming with my kids and proudly display photos of our family at the beach without worrying about whether I look three-months pregnant or if other people will notice my cellulite-covered thighs. I want to write, freely and honestly, because of what it does for my spirit without worrying about the number of “likes” or pages views that a post generates. I want to enjoy my home for the love and memories that happen there without worrying about whether it is big enough or clean enough or pretty enough.

I want to live, contentedly, in this human body. I want to celebrate the vulnerabilities and uniqueness of me, along with the vulnerabilities and uniqueness of everyone else. I want to appreciate the act of joyful activities for the simple fact that they are enjoyable, and not for the way that they measure up against someone else.

This is my eternal wish, my constant goal.

Step by step, and day by day, I am trying to quit this game.

It is a struggle, but I’m trying.

Maybe I’ll wear the fun bikini to the pool this afternoon even if it means that my post-babies belly and cellulite are a bit more visible. I’ll throw the Pottery Barn catalogue in the recycling bin immediately upon arrival. And I won’t constantly check my site stats to see how this post compares with others.

Of course, if you wanted to share this post with a million of your friends, I wouldn’t object.

Do you struggle with the comparison game? If so, how does it affect your life? If not, how do you avoid the comparison game?

This post is also part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is both stunning and, well, inspirational.

 

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13 Comments

  • Uh, yeah, that game is my constant enemy. I am consciously trying to abstain, because I both write better and am a generally better person when I do that, but MAN. It is hard. It’s a process, and I’m getting better at it the more I practice.
    Natalie DeYoung recently posted…RevisitingMy Profile

    • Practice, practice, practice, right? For me, it takes seems like breaking the cycle of comparisons in one area affects other areas as well.

  • Amen sister! Wow, your words are just what I needed to hear today. Some days i really wish i could be the good mom to myself. I love you just as you are (I whisper to myself).

  • I struggle with insecurities, shame, and so on, but it’s not because I’m comparing myself to a living being. Oh, that’s happened, too – but mostly I compare myself to a standard that no one around me has lived up to, either. At school, it wasn’t enough to have the best grade in class: I had to have 100% (unless there was extra credit – then I had to have over 100%). It’s not enough for my dog to be the best behaved in our training group: no, she can’t make any mistake, ever. For the record, I don’t get angry with her for her mistakes – at least not usually, and never abusively – but I do feel embarrassed because I haven’t trained her better. I suppose I do compare myself to other people in terms of my musical abilities, but even if I somehow managed to become the best in the group, I still wouldn’t outperform Mozart, so I still wouldn’t be good enough.

    I’ve been trying to let go of that and come up with more reasonable goals, but it’s hard going. I have the dream of accepting – or possibly even loving – myself without basing this on performance, but I’m not sure how to get there. Ironically enough, I judge myself about my judgments of myself.

    • Oh, yes, the internal comparisons are there too. Comparisons to what I think things should be like or how I’d like to be. I appreciated your last comment about judging yourself on the judgments of yourself. I do the same thing!

  • This is SO great! And true. I especially relate to the house part. I adore our house and all the work we’re putting into it to make it ours. It started off as our 5-7 year house, but this fall will mark 7 years here and we are nowhere NEAR even thinking about leaving. In fact, I envision raising our family here for many, many more years. But I can’t help but start feeling so inadequate about it when compared to so many of our friends’ houses or bigger houses in our neighborhood or even on our own block. Oh well. Like you said, Pottery Barn and all the other home catalogs go directly to the recycling bin. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jocelyn! I hear you – I feel the same way about the house thing. Our house is old and not that big, but its in a good location and we really love our neighbors. It is so hard not to have house-envy (or anything-envy really) because it seems to be one of those things that people use to evaluate so many other things. I suppose we are our own worst critics though. I have also realized that I just don’t like to “keep house” – decorating and cleaning overwhelm me so I am trying to just let it go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love your home – its the memories that you will remember, not what it looked like.

  • Great post. I struggle with the comparison game too, but like Martin, it’s usually to a standard that no living being actually lives up to. I’ll never meet these standards, and it is a game I really need to quit.
    Sara recently posted…How to Communicate NowMy Profile

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