Lately, I’ve come to realize that almost all of my perceived inadequacies in day-to-day life come from the way I view other people. Shocker, I know.
I can spend plenty of energy convincing myself that I’m successful, blessed, adequate, what have you, but the successes of my peers regularly have me questioning if I’m doing this whole ~life~ thing correctly. I know I am far from alone in unfairly comparing myself to this perplexing group we call “others,” and it’s important we all learn to identify where exactly the problem comes from.
There will always be someone out there to admire, envy, or, uh, hate because they’re just way too close to perfect. It’s a fact of life. It is not a fun fact, nor is it any easy problem to get used to. I’m not saying all influence is bad; some people truly inspire me to get better and make goals that will ultimately benefit me. The problem arises when we use others to disparage ourselves, and forget about our own accomplishments.
Everyone has their own version of “the others.” Mine consist of a bright-eyed, athletic, earnest, and sincere-as-can-be group of ladies. (In other words, NOT ME AT ALL.)
First and foremost, they are skinny. Or at least average-size, whatever that means in this country. They can shop at normal clothing stores. They wear pant and shoe sizes in the single digits. They have never, in their whole lives, weighed more than 200 pounds. The thought of that ever being a possibility mortifies them. They probably eat a daily salad and don’t care very much about chocolate.
They are athletic. They can hike Mt. Timpanogos. All of them. They probably also play some fun sport like volleyball or tennis or yoga in their free time, which they inexplicably have loads of. They have never been out of breath in their whole lives. They run marathons for fun and bike everywhere.
They never get behind on laundry or dishes, and their bedrooms could easily be featured in a Pottery Barn catalog. They don’t have weird hording tendencies and use libraries instead of compulsively collecting books. They’re not super into TV, as it turns out.
They have many, many friends. They go on non-awkward dates. They have adoring boyfriends and fiances and husbands whom they deeply love. They do not fight with their loved ones. They never, ever spend Friday nights alone. They genuinely care about most people, and never talk bad about anyone, ever. They do not have the capacity for anger or pettiness.
These others excel in school, and all have massive scholarships OF COURSE. They write cohesively, understand math and art equally well, and have played the piano since they were five. All of their professors love them. They read a novel a week, don’t particularly care about politics, and don’t have a Facebook account (though they do post trendy, viral photos on Instagram). They complete several internships by the time they graduate. If they’re not barefoot and pregnant yet, they actually make money. They have careers lined up. They do not worry about their futures.
They have strong testimonies without being scary or obnoxious regarding their spirituality. They’ve never doubted a thing they’ve heard in church, and if they someday were to, it wouldn’t bother them. They always remember to say their prayers and study the scriptures for at least thirty minutes every night. They listen to general conference for fun. They have never, ever seen an R-rated movie, and don’t particularly want to.
They don’t care what others think, and their others happen to love them without anyone putting forward too much effort. They’re easy to get along with, are not naturally contentious, and never show it if they’re stressed or in a bad mood. They always get enough sleep. They have no idea what it’s like to be depressed.
You should be realizing by now that these people don’t exist. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to understand that. While I certainly know individuals who express several of these traits (I do attend BYU), I am yet to meet anyone who exhibits every checkpoint on the list. Why, for so long, did I think I had?
I can’t say how exactly it happened, but I think my brain subconsciously combined every trait I admire or envy in every person I have ever met, and created a superhuman “other.” Without ever questioning it, I thought NEARLY EVERYONE ELSE had it so much easier than I did. What a fun little pity party, am I right?
Nobody has it easy, stupid past self. No one is perfect 100% of the time or ever. We all have special, unique struggles. How could I have been so selfish as to have forgotten that completely?
It’s because of these blasted imaginary “others.”
Only now has it occurred to me that I’ve talked to precisely three people about hiking Timp. That’s how many people I know, with certainty, who’ve done it. My brain, out of envy and shaken confidence, decided that OBVIOUSLY all skinny people are capable of hiking seven miles up this mountain. I, on the other hand, could NEVER do it because I’m fat and have suckish lungs and cannot hike up mountains. I was just BORN this way. UGH.
When a potential future studying-abroad professor asked me if I liked to hike, I said yes. When he followed up the question with, “Do you like to hike up mountains?” I took slight offense at his implications and lied, “Yes, I do like hiking up mountains.”
I had to like hiking up mountains because others like hiking up mountains. Almost all others, by my estimate, except for prissy dirt-averse wimps, I supposed.
So what did I do? I started hiking up mountains! Because of imaginary peer pressure! I may be a brick wall of a person, both physically and emotionally, but I would not let my body get in the way of a magical journey hiking my way through some of the most beautiful countries on earth. I would not be an outsider in my imaginary world brimming with mountaineers.
It only took a day before I realized how truly delusional I’d become. “Why would you do something like that?!” my lovely, perfect coworker asked, horrified, as I told her I planned on hiking Y-mountain three times per week.
“Because I’m a wimp and can’t be the weakest link if I do the British Landscape study abroad!” I replied, as if it were obvious. “I have to be STRONG,” I said with a little too much enthusiasm.
And so it goes: I schlep myself up the trail, mortified whenever some energetic five-year-old passes me on the way. I stop at about every other switchback to sigh and sip from my water bottle. Superfit couples in spandex and bro tanks speedwalk up the dusty, gravely terrain like it’s a literal stroll in the park. PUPPIES have overtaken me, with their stubby legs and oversize paws.
But that’s the funny thing about hikes; on the way up, you only really see the people doing better than you. It isn’t until you’re calm, cool, and collected during the descent that you realize how many equally-if-not-more strugglers are out there. There are always tired people wondering if they’re almost there, or thinking it might be time for them to turn around. I saw some “perfect” tan and toned girls hiding in the bushes ready to call it quits, for goodness sake. Even the people who “beat” me to the top might have trained for years to be this fit, or at the very least have a whole slew of life issues I never would have dreamed of.
I realized that I’m not hiking to impress anyone, or fit in with the crowd. It may have started that way, but now that I’m on week three I’m past that ridiculous stage. As it turns out, almost everyone I know hates hiking the Y as much as I do. The couple times I’ve gone with friends, they are just as tired and out of shape as I am, and that’s wildly comforting at a time like this. I’m not hiking the mountain to become skinny like all others (I promise I know plenty of lovely fat people whom I idolize – for some reason I still consider them perfect). Not to mention, I haven’t lost a single pound in the past couple weeks, so my dreams of being a sinewy beast of a woman are probably unreasonable.
Seven successful hikes in, I’ve finally learned that I’m climbing this freaking hideous and terrible mountain for me. That’s it. I’m strengthening my body and increasing my stamina so I can do things I never thought possible. Maybe I will hike Timp and Rainier and the mountains of Snowdonia and the ever-fabulous Lake District someday. Maybe I will learn that the “others” don’t matter, and that I should only improve myself for the sake of improvement, not to fit into some imaginary construct I’ve created for myself.
I could potentially spend my whole life pining for a size 8 hourglass figure and a metabolism that tolerates a large amount of sugar and fat, but that’s not going to get me anywhere beyond a pit of self-loathing. I have an awesome body that gains two pounds each time it eats chick-fil-a and has hiked a mountain seven times in recent weeks. It lifts 60-pound tubs of chuck roast on the regular, craves sugar every day, and has only broken a handful of times. Its ankles swell after long days on its feet, it loves the taste of ice cream, and it has ENORMOUS biceps and properly-proportioned curvy bits. I love it, despite all its weird and frustrating quirks.
I must remind myself that even though I don’t read my scriptures for 30 minutes a night, I try for a few verses in bed and show up to church every week despite kind of crippling social anxiety every time I attend a single’s ward. I bake delicious cupcakes and pie crusts and am a champion of women’s rights. I claim the kitchen as my rightful place, but not because any man or perfect person tells me I have to. I am passionate about poetry and writing and travel. I lived in a sort-of foreign country for four months, and am already planning my return. I lose myself in art and music and find comfort in beautiful things. I function as a strong, ultra-single, independent woman despite every bit of me wishing I didn’t have to. I have emotions that range from ecstatic to ultra-angry to depressed, which happen to be extremely sensitive to factors completely out of my control, including but not limited to stress, the weather, and hormones. I have somehow learned to love that about myself. These things are what make me, me.
I can never know for sure, and a nasty voice in the back of my head tells me it can’t possibly be true, but there’s a good chance that I too have qualities contributing to my peers’ make-believe “others.” I like to think we all do. There isn’t a human out there who can’t benefit from a little inspiration from seemingly-perfect individuals around them. The key in reaping such a benefit comes from acknowledging that each one of us is a complex, frustrating, multi-faceted individual. It’s not all that difficult to find common ground that transcends perceived perfection, envy, and self-pity, and once you do, a whole world of mutual support can be opened.
We’re all drastically inadequate in some way. It’s part of the human condition, and that’s neither a good thing or a bad thing. All we can do in the meantime is embrace our imperfections, strengthen ourselves where we see fit, and remember, above all, to love ourselves – and to not hate Miss Perfect too much. I know by now that, just like me, she’s got to have TONS of baggage.