3 months ago, we set out on the daunting task of growing our first vegetable garden. This isn’t a daunting task for everyone, but since I can’t keep the average houseplant alive for more than a month, it’s daunting to me.
We spent several weekends clearing space for our garden beds. We still have no idea what transpired in our backyard over the last 80 years, but we found oodles of glass, a full cutlery set, car parts, plate shrapnel, countless snakes, and a huge charred carpet under the area we cleared for the garden.
Once cleared, we (and by we I mean Adam) built a compost bin and garden beds. And while he was building, I was researching what kind of soil we should use, what vegetables were good garden mates, and how to keep vermin away.
And then we planted our little seedlings, and we waited. And in a very short time, we saw blossoms, and then buds, and then vegetables. I was giddy. It was working. We just plated things and they grew. I posted on social media about our success and showed everyone who would look pictures of our little veggie babies.
A few friends congratulated me while admitting jealousy because their gardens weren’t blooming, or they hadn’t had the time to plant a garden that year, or they didn’t have the backyard for a garden.
A few weeks passed and all of the vegetables that had started to grow, and all the blooms that had been promising just stopped growing. It was like the garden froze. No growth, no progress. Friends told me to stop watering as much, and I did, and then everything looked very very thirsty and wilted. And so I listened to other friends who said, “water everyday, don’t listen to those other people.” So I watered everyday, and still nothing. The garden was simply unchanging.
I looked online, I talked to expert gardeners, and everyone had different advice. A lot of the advice was contradictory.
And while our garden was stagnant, others’ gardens started thriving. I started seeing countless glorious pictures of zucchini and squash harvests in my news feed. Friends were posting pictures of their beautiful garden meals, of their children eating the fruits of their labor, and of giving away of their excess veggies, all while I was harvesting one baby pepper that hadn’t grown for weeks, one cherry tomato, and 2 green beans.
What used to be my favorite time of the day; my garden time, was quickly becoming the most discouraging time of the day. I would inspect my non-growing plants asking myself: Why isn’t my garden growing? I did more research than “Plentiful Harvest Patty” over there, and I spent more time in my garden than “Instagram Ike” who can’t stop taking pictures of all of his success. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to, and yet my garden is failing, and everyone else’s seems to be perfect.
And last week, as I stood in my garden, disappointment surfacing in the form of tears in my eyes, it hit me, my disappointment was stemming more from comparison than failure. And as I stood there longer, analyzing our sad little gardens, and getting bitten by blood-hungry mosquitoes, I started thinking about all of the other areas in my life where this is true.
I let comparison rob me of joy more often than I would like to admit.
I can be feeling completely fulfilled in my job, content to be working with a supportive boss in a role that suits me, and then I hear about a friend my age who just did something completely amazing professionally, and all of a sudden I feel very small and insignificant and unaccomplished – and I wish I were doing more with my professional life.
I can be having a mostly content with my size day, until I see a skinny peer wearing the same outfit but better, and all of a sudden I’m hideous – and I wish I were a fairy waif.
I can be completely content in my relationship with Adam, feeling content in our communication, our affection, and our purpose, and then a friend tells me about her spouses’ new resolve to do x, y or z and I feel like our marriage is too routine – and I wish we were more like that couple.
And I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I talk to friends, I see it in blogs and statuses. It’s so easy to look at others lives and wish ours were different, that our lives were more like_____.
* The friends who take glorious vacations every other month
* The friends who look so happy in their pictures with their significant others
* The friends whose children always match, whose hair is always combed and tied back with big bows, who are incredibly well-behaved (or at least it seems so in pictures)
* The friends who are married
* The friends who are single
* The friends who have kids
* The friends who don’t have kids
* The friends who have that job
* The friends who stay home with their kids
… And the list goes on and on and on doesn’t it? It’s so easy to compare our situation to others’ an immediately become jealous, frustrated, and even withdrawn. If we’re not mindful, we can start to look to others to gauge our emotions. If we’re not careful, our jealousy can turn into wishing for others to experience our loss, our struggles, our pain, and our failures.
In the grand scheme, the success or failure of our little veggie patch is rather unimportant. How is it that something as unimportant as a vegetable garden can have me so discouraged? How can the failure of my zucchini have me unable to be happy for my friend who has too much zucchini? How can hearing about a friends tomato success leave me feeling bitter in the produce aisle as I still have to purchase mine at the Kroger rather than plucking them from the vine in our backyard?
CS Lewis was right, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Comparison steals my own joy, and it steals my ability to be joyful for others.
So how do we stop the comparison game?
How have you put an end to this joy-thief in your own life?