I’m sitting down to write about the tendency of comparing ourselves to others and then entering utter despair, but I just don’t feel like it. Actually I don’t feel like doing anything at all. But I’ve come all the way to a café so I am forcing myself in front of my laptop.
I’ll just read my email first. I open a newsletter from a thoughtful friend and fall immediately into compare and despair. So now I’m here, actually writing about it and feeling how important it is to get to the root of it when we start telling ourselves how much better everyone else is. I hear this all the time in my practice, and in between my own ears.
When compare and despair sets in I feel a heaviness. My cheekbones sink and my shoulders slouch. I hear some version of, “I’ll never have what they have because I’m not __________ enough”. Overall it is a sense of loneliness and inadequacy and it is disempowering and saddening.
While I think compare and despair has probably popped up in humans for a long time, it seems particularly virulent today, likely because of the highlight reel nature of social media. People post their beautiful experiences and moments of insight. We don’t see too much of the struggle of their lives. But sometimes we do and even those posts can cause compare and despair! “They’re so much more vulnerable than me,” or what have you.
Compare and despair is exacerbated by social media, but the real reason it is so present in our lives is the abandonment of our longings. Longing is a strange thing to make space for in a world that tells us to always seek for pleasure and to instantly gratify all desires. But not embracing our deeper longings has terrible consequences.
Longings are not only beautiful, but also necessary to human development. They show us where our growth edge is, what we are being called into, the mysterious visions of our soul. What we long for speaks volumes about us, our humanity, and what we bring to this world.
Notice when compare and despair shows up - what is it that makes this person seem so wonderful? Maybe they get a lot of likes and so it seems they must feel really supported and valued in the world. Feeling supported and valued is a human need.
Longing for those feelings is a testament to your worth and humanity – you deserve to be supported and valued. Longing for support and feelings of worthiness might inspire you to build deeper relationships and cultivate community, or to articulate the types of support that are important to you, or to define for yourself what you see as worthy.
These are all beautiful avenues of discovery, all fueled by your longing that was revealed to you through another. Sadly, we tend to just keep scrolling instead of connecting with what it is we deeply long for.
A life without longing would be boring. What we long for is what drives our work in the world, the relationships we build, and how we grow. It’s why we decide to make less money so we can pursue art. Why we decide to work for racial justice in a rich white town. Why we make plans with friends even though our tendency is to stay at home all the time. It is how our lives are shaped by our deepest desires.
It is our longing that fuels us, that shapes us, that readies us for change. Living with longing is challenging, but it is a sign of our willingness to be transformed and a testament of our desire to grow.