Sizing up the competition is a well-known concept used to determine your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses so you can win. It’s a never-ending cycle of getting the upper hand. If someone’s on top, somebody else is on the bottom and everything revolves around making sure you’re on top. It’s a principle based on a belief that there isn’t enough room for both to exist. But when you start looking at what you lack, what you lack grows. You can’t ever have enough, be enough, make enough, work enough. Enough already!
I confess I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time comparing myself to other people. Growing up, my best friend was the kind of girl who always got the guy even if she didn’t like him. She was impulsive and dark, troubled and beautiful. Her father didn’t even try to hide the fact that he favored her over her sister. She was the star. She was an incredible athlete and competitive gymnast. She could do an aerial into a backflip without even trying. She could hit a home run, leap for a line drive and cook dinner for her family at eleven years old. But, she was also a bit of a bully. Most of the kids in our neighborhood would do anything for her approval, including sit in a pricker bush or pile of dog poop just to hang out with her. She was the first kid I knew to smoke pot and wear a leather jacket. The first to take diet pills and have sex. It was like she was some kind of Arthur Fonzerelli.
Which made me Richie Cunningham. I was the one striving to do good, to be good, or just to be seen as good enough. I was sincere and bubbly but it didn’t matter. Some kind of magic existed for her that I did not possess and, if it did, I was completely unaware of it. I felt like I disappeared in her spotlight. The light so many people seemed to shine on her didn’t have anything to do with good grades or artistic talent. It was cool to be bad and she had the cool factor. She liked to fight for fun, she liked to test her boundaries and she had a mouth like you wouldn’t believe. The boys were so infatuated with her, they would call me to find out how to get her to notice them.
When everyone was trying to be like her, I went in the other direction. I tried out for cheerleading and became the captain. I made friends outside of our close-knit neighborhood circle–away from the world where she ruled and I was a shadow–and it actually made us closer. I became her secret role model. I was the person she came to for everything. The only person she wouldn’t start a fight with. I was in, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in, but I definitely wanted some of her magic. So I tried to be tough to keep up with her. I started smoking cigarettes with her behind garages and in basement bathrooms. I started swearing. I developed a snarl. I made choices I knew were wrong so I could brag to her later about what I did or said. I kissed a boy in the closet during a game of seven minutes in heaven and he showed up at my door the next day with roses. I broke up with him, even though I liked him, because she said he was a dork.
Comparisons force you to compromise the best parts of yourself because you stop seeing who you really are in order to focus on everything you’re not. Someone else is always going to be younger, prettier, richer, cooler, whatever it is, it doesn’t mean you are less than they are. You only are in your own mind. You get to choose to be your biggest fan or your own worst enemy by how you decide to be with yourself whether you are alone or with a crowd of people.
It took me a long time to want to be me. I wasted so much energy wishing I was someone else. But it made me feel so terrible, I had to give it up. I moved across the country and found a life of my own away from the neighborhood that shaped me, away from the family that raised me, and I started to raise and shape myself. The world opened up to me in so many unexpected and amazing ways. I swear, my life is filled with magic. (Yes, I still swear.)
I went home to be the maid of honor in her wedding even though I didn’t think she should marry the guy. She had changed. She wasn’t Fonzie any longer. Life was a struggle for her. She didn’t know how to be in a world where she wasn’t the center of attention. She never learned how to try or how to fail. She never learned how to deal with loss or pain. She turned to drugs. Then, heroin. I tried to pull her out of her self-destruction. I tried to support her into sobriety. But she chose to be her own worst enemy. I couldn’t save her from herself, but I wish she would and I always will.