Q&A: Do You Ever Compare and Despair

“Hi Courtney –
I am so thrilled for you and your family on your new journey. I passed your book on to my friends in Arizona and Oregon and they are already in love with you and your beautiful writing style and courage. I guess the biggest thing I keep working on is not feeling bad about myself and my life after I read your material… I see how far you have come in three years and I wonder why I keep moving in a circle of pushing life instead of letting life hold me. How do I just move the needle a little and acknowledge that it’s moving and trust?” –Kirsten

First of all, thank you Kirsten for sharing this tender question (and for passing The Flourish Formula on to your friends!). There are two really powerful issues embedded in what you share here. The first being a very human habit of “comparing and despairing” and the second being this theme of trust.

Let’s start with the comparing. This is one of the things I hear most frequently with coaching clients and totally have experienced myself so I just want to honor that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And I love your honesty. I’m so glad you could say “hey, I get kind of down after reading your stuff…” because I think naming those uncomfortable feelings out loud automatically diffuses them. It brings them up from the realm of something we are feeling that we don’t like (which primes us to get STUCK in it, i.e. “what we resist, persists”) to instead something we can acknowledge, make some space for and learn from.

This is why I love the practice of observing ourselves with compassion, which is the foundation to Enneagram or self-awareness work. Not because it is always easy (it isn’t!) but because it is one of the fastest ways I know to shift into a more empowered posture vis-à-vis our own life and current challenges. Even if we are really struggling with something – a fear, a comparison, a conflict – the moment that we ask ourselves with kindness, “What is here for me to learn?” the whole thing starts to shift. It feels immediately better because we are moving out of the stance or attitude that “life is happening to us and we don’t know what to do or what we are doing” and instead reconnecting to our own agency.

Which doesn’t mean we need to do it all alone. In fact, the next vital question is, “OK, what supports do I need to learn this lesson?” A book? a coach? A good talk with a friend or long walk at the lake? I also like to imagine how it would feel to be on the other side of this challenge. Even if you have just an inkling of this it can be a powerful motivator.

Once we notice that we are feeling down after comparing our lives or contributions to someone else – what can we do about it?

Well, you have some choices.

If following someone is consistently triggering us to compare and feel less than, we can always practice boundaries and “unfollow,” “unfriend” or otherwise gift ourselves some breathing room.

This can be a simple act of self-care.

For example, I had a client who felt a lot of pressure to keep up with a whole slew of high school companions on Facebook. Now if this habit feels life-giving, great! But in her case, it was taking a ton of energy and consistently triggering feelings of being less fit, less pretty, less put together, and less successful. I invited her to notice how much time and energy she was spending on Facebook and to redirect at least some of it toward hobbies which made her feel good. What happened? She opened a reservoir of energy within herself that she could use to make concrete changes in her life. And of course over time her social circle shifted and expanded to include current friends who share her passions and bring out her best self. So if you find yourself comparing, it may be an invitation to detoxify your online or information habits.

However, my hunch is that what you are talking about falls into another category. Sometimes our essence or deeper self is trying to get our attention. To point us toward something which is nascent or emerging in our own lives. Often it is a desire that we aren’t letting ourselves fully own just yet. Or we know we want it but we don’t know yet how to get there, which is frustrating.

I want to invite you to really slow down the next time you feel that comparison coming on. Notice what in particular calls to you about another’s experience. Consider journaling and seeing what comes forward for you. Is it the freedom of entrepreneurial life that compels you? The travel? Do you want write your book? This clarity is GOLD.

I actually think this whole dynamic is a really common experience when we are talking about coaches, mentors, authors, or guides. This field is all about expanding our sense of what is possible for our own lives.

For example I remember that the leader of my first coach training program hosted beach retreats in Hawaii. Some part of me really sat UP and noticed how fun that looked, to invite participants to beautiful locations for small group transformational events. At that time, six plus years ago with three tiny children, that possibility felt eons away from me. But tuning into the desire proved to be a compass. And bit by bit I was able to step into it. First hosting retreats in my home. Then at a nearby ranch/retreat center. Then a mentor connected me to Ghost Ranch and they invited me to teach in New Mexico. And most recently Mexico and Granada and now finally we are headed to the beach😊.

Of course it sounds so tidy and linear in hindsight but as my husband and friends will tell you that is NEVER how it feels when you are in the middle of it. In fact, I think that one of the ways we can truly know that something is ours to create is that it is terrifying! And sometimes it doesn’t work. I had one retreat early on that didn’t come together and I cancelled it. But as long as we simultaneously build a relationship of trust and kindness inside then our sense of self-worth doesn’t ride and fall on each of these experiences or ventures. We have more freedom to try in good faith and to stretch.

Which leads us to the second part of your question: “I wonder why I keep moving in a circle of pushing life instead of letting life hold me. How do I just move the needle a little and acknowledge that it’s moving and trust?”

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t sometimes push life. My first Ennea teacher talked about this as being “seduced by the illusion of control.” We have all been trained to push. It is a huge part of the dominant culture in the U.S and the educational system and our language. It is hard to lay down that habit. To me the quickest way to metabolize the push energy is to nurture some gratitude. Gratitude for what you have right here right now. For the things you have done today, even if it wasn’t all you hoped for.

Because here is the paradox: There is so much that we don’t control. At the same time our thoughts and habits have an enormous impact on our quality of life and whether we reach a place of satisfaction vis-a-vis sharing our gifts. And we do have a lot of influence over those.

So I am not sure we ever get to a place of totally “letting life hold us” – at least not all the time. But perhaps you feel moments of it now? In those places where life is arrestingly beautiful? When I pause I feel it right now: listening to the fountain in the courtyard, writing to you. Maybe you feel it holding your child’s hand, in the new moon, a snowy night? That is how that feeling of alrightness comes for most of us, in waves. What we can do is tune into them and RECEIVE them fully. Our brains are of course hardwired to do the opposite which is why slowing down to breathe in the good is essential.

The other thing we can do is take small inspired actions toward those things your soul or essence most desires. That builds serious internal trust.

When we are really making fresh tracks in our life and going through a growth spurt, we don’t usually have the whole map in place for whatever change we want to create. Instead discern that one next step and take it. Sometimes we need to incorporate meditation or another practice to cool down our nervous system so we can hear the invitation. And remember the soul speaks in a humble voice, and often what we are invited to do is small and simple. Buy a book. Talk to that person. Create an hour this weekend to play with magazines and cut out visions for what you want to create. Or it can be a bit bigger. Take yourself on a solo retreat. Or invest in a class or coaching program. I know those can feel like insignificant suggestions but here is the thing: life is built out of those subtle shifts. And when we do enough of them we build momentum and the steps don’t feel as hard as they did when we first started. And one day we wake up and say “Hot damn this day feels REALLY good to be in.” Until our next growth spurt anyway, when we get super uncomfortable in the stretching all over again.

So Kirsten I obviously got really inspired by your question and I hope that this has been helpful. Please let me know! In summary: Any time you find yourself comparing or feeling bad about your life I invite you to decode exactly what calls to you in the life of another. The clarity about your unique desires is going to help with the feeling of going in circles, which comes when we get distracted by what others want for or from us. Once you know what you want, then we are working with an easier trajectory. And we can break down the big stuff into turtle steps! Have fun with it all and thanks again for your honesty and courage. It sounds to me like you are in a growth spurt and I can’t wait to see what opens up for you in this next phase.

Over to you — do you compare and despair? What helps you break out of this habit? Leave a comment below.

Warmly,

Courtney

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