Stop Comparing, Start Working

In the past several weeks, I’ve had several conversations with people who are going through a hard time, and each of them has said, “I know this is nothing compared to what others are going through.” Or even, “I shouldn’t even be saying this to you because you have it even harder.”

I think most of us can say that we’ve been there, said that. We’ve tried to silver-line our situation by comparing our situation to one that seems harder. One of the last times I remember saying something along those lines was to my counselor. And she immediately said, “You’re not going to feed me that line, are you?”

Life is full of struggles. No one is exempt. Some are small, some are huge. Some come and go relatively quickly, and some might actually last a lifetime. There is no avoiding hard life experiences from time to time. And when they arise and we want nothing more than to make them disappear, the very last thing that’s going to make that happen is playing the comparison game. You comparing your struggles to mine or me comparing mine to yours at best provides temporary “relief”, but in the end is essentially as effective as trying to put toothpaste back in the tube once you’ve squeezed it all out.

You are not me, and I am not you. You do not have my past experiences, mindset, or perspectives nor do I have yours. What is a struggle to you may not be as much of a struggle to me. What’s a struggle to me might not even register as a hiccup in your day.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

(1 Corinthians 10:13)

We may all struggle in common areas of our life, such as relationships, work, and even faith, yet our struggles are unique to each of us because we are simply unique beings. You and I may be in the exact same difficult situation and perceive it much differently. As individuals, we are bound to perceive and process experiences differently for so many different reasons.

Take, for example, receiving constructive criticism at work. If we both work for the same organization in the same position, let’s say sales, and we are both told that our work performance has subpar and are given suggestions on how to improve, there is a really good chance and you and I will not have the same response. You will be able to listen openly to the feedback and be genuinely grateful for the suggestions. That’s because you have a beautiful growth mindset that helps you view mistakes as opportunities to learn and the confidence to know that, despite this current critique, you are still good at what you do and are going to just keep getting better. I, on the other hand, will be so devastated that I will barely be able listen to the words being spoken about me. That’s because my fixed mindset has taught me that mistakes mean I’m clearly not smart or good enough to do this job. I’m also a perfectionist and my main goals in life are to 1) never fail; and 2) never let anyone down. The constructive criticism has let me know that I am both failing and letting my boss down. I will likely give my two weeks notice tomorrow.

When you’re faced with a challenge, whether it be a poor work performance review, trouble within a relationship, the loss of a loved one, whatever it may be, comparing it to another’s situation isn’t going to help you. Even if you decide that his situation is worse or her challenge is greater than yours, it’s not like yours is going to magically stop being hard. That everything is going to *POOF!* be all better.

Since my counselor put me in my place, I have learned to stop comparing the tests that I experience in life to those of others.

For example, my son has Down syndrome. Yes, he can not only eat food, he also feeds himself. Yes, he can walk and run. Yes, he can do so many things that other kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities can’t. Yes, he brings an insane amount of joy and light to my life. Yes, there are still times when being his mom is hard. Yes, there are still things that he can’t do yet that I wish he could because it would make my life easier.

Comparing all this to someone else whose child has more or seemingly more difficult limitations doesn’t make the hard stuff go away. It also doesn’t help me to mentally or emotionally feel better.

Over time, I’ve learned to say, “This is hard for me right now.” For me – for my brain, for my emotions – this is hard.

There are no comparisons. No feelings of guilt. No excuses for why it gets to be hard for me.

Just acceptance that it’s hard. For me. Period.

I’ve learned to pray about what’s hard. Sometimes I even ask “Why, God? Why me? Why my family?” I ask for guidance and strength and patience and whatever else I need to get me through whatever situation I’m facing at the time. And then I trust that God knows my heart and He knows my mind. He knows my strengths and He knows my weaknesses. And He knows “why”. Which is why I know that He’ll give me who and/or what I need to be in the challenge or get through it.

I’ve learned to ask for help from others.

I’ve learned to say, “No.”

I’ve learned to accept that I am not in control.

I’ve learned to rest – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I’ve learned to call my counselor when I need an unbiased ear to listen.

I’ve learned that my way is not the best nor the only way.

I’ve learned to keep my heart and my mind open to possibilities that I haven’t even thought of yet.

This is what has worked for me. Maybe some of it will work for you. Maybe it won’t. Because you are not me, and I am not you.

In the end, however, comparing ourselves and our troubles will not work for either of us. Let’s stop comparing and start working to figure out what will actually help us and do that instead.

Three Hundred Eighteen Days

Almost a year ago, three hundred eighteen days to be exact, I shared about reaching my breaking point. Physically, mentally, and emotionally I was exhausted. I was burned out from investing too much time and energy into people and things outside of myself and not consistently investing enough quality time and energy in myself.

I didn’t get to that place overnight, and I knew that getting back to a place of health – physically, mentally, and emotionally – would take time. Sure, I could have gone to my doctor and asked for an increase in my antidepressant medication, and I’m sure that would’ve “helped”. However, deep down I knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t depression (although it was definitely part of it), and putting the band-aid of more medication wasn’t going to get down to the root of the issues I was experiencing.

There was no magic formula I followed to improve my overall health. I didn’t follow a particular program or introduce anything radically new into my life (other than planning to take a leave of absence from work which got the Covid-wrench thrown into it). Instead I found that what I needed was already in my life…I just needed to utilize my time, energy, and resources differently.

First off, I prayed. A lot. I’m not just talking saying a few extra Our Fathers. There were a lot of big conversations between God and me happening. Some of them were a lot of me asking “Why?” about a multitude of different things; others were of the begging nature in which I pleaded with him to just make it all go away and show me the fast, easy road back to “normal”; then there were the ones in which I surrendered to Him and just asked Him to hold me because I couldn’t hold myself up any longer. 

The weekend before I was supposed to begin my leave of absence, I was invited by a couple of friends to join them in a 40-day yoga and personal growth challenge. Through that, I did find that doing yoga daily helped me improve my physical health. I don’t know if you’ve ever done yoga, but some of those poses are hard. And then you have to hold them for forever. Even though I wanted to give up pretty much every day in the beginning, I stuck with it and found myself getting stronger and not hating all the hard poses so much. I also found that my mental health was improving from both the nature of yoga and being focused as well as being pretty proud of my progress.

Sleep became a priority. I found a sleep app that tracked not only how long I slept but also how much light and restful sleep I got. I have learned that: a) I feel best when I get 7 hours of restful sleep; b) too much alcohol before I went to bed decreases my restful sleep; c) exercise typically increases my amount of restful sleep; d) not enough sleep usually mean I’m not going to be as peppy and patient throughout the next day; e) the less sleep I get directly affects my eating habits the next day (and not in a healthy way). Overall, I learned that sleep is essential to my overall health.

I started watching The Office. As a school counselor, I have learned about the science behind how laughter affects the brain and can improve your mood and mental health, which is why I knew that if I was going to watch something, it had to be my kind of funny. Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam, Stanley, and the rest of the crew at Dunder Mifflin are my kind of funny!

With the help of my husband and my counselor, I began to reconcile with things from my past that were still affecting me even though I thought I had put those people and things behind me. I learned the true meaning of forgiving and letting go of the pain of the past. I learned how to finally forgive myself for the hardships and the mental and emotional pain I had inflicted upon myself and endured from others.

I rediscovered the importance of not comparing myself to others. Although I am nowhere near the perfectionist I once was, I still fell into the trap of comparing myself to other women in various ways – physically, spiritually, intellectually, professionally, etc. I stopped following people and groups on social media that served to be a source of unhealthy comparison rather than positive inspiration.

I experienced the beautiful power of relationships. Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to meet and know some truly amazing people, and firmly believe in the idea that people have come into my life for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. I have been especially thankful for the people in my life who have supported me and cheered me on during this turbulent season of life. These people have helped me to remember who I am and who I wanted to get back to being. For their love, support, and encouragement, I am forever grateful.

Finally, and most importantly, I was patient with myself. As fantastic as it would’ve been if I had woken up after the end of the first week or even the first month, thrown off the covers, and announced, “I’m baaaack! All better!”, that didn’t happen. Sometimes it seemed like I was moving backwards and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t moving at all towards feeling better. Then there were the “A-HA!” moments and days that I could feel myself moving forward that helped me to know I was on the right track. There were the glimpses of the “me” that I had been missing that motivated me to keep working.

Three hundred eighteen days and counting. (Because I’m working every day to maintain my progress…I haven’t put in all this work to go back to where I was!)

Why have I worked so hard to gain control over my overall health for the last three-hundred eighteen days?

Simple. (Kind of.)

I did it for me.

Because I deserve it. I deserve to feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally. Because God didn’t create me to lead a life of sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and gloom. Taking care of myself – mind, body, and soul – has helped me to love who I am again. It’s helped me to be a much better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and advocate. Taking care of myself benefits everyone in my life. 

I know that I’m not alone in feeling lost, alone, unhappy, burned out, etc. My hope for anyone reading this thinking, “Where do I start?” Start where you’re at. Make today your Day 1. Your journey will most likely look very different from mine, but you’ll never know what yours looks like until you start. Once you start, take it day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. You’re worth every second.     

For Those In Education

I have a favor to ask.

It’s no secret that our healthcare workers are overwhelmed and exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They need our support and prayers now more than ever.

I want to ask that you remember to also support and pray for those in education right now.

There are so many people in education that are also being tested day in and day out during this time.

Teachers

Administrators

Administrative assistants

Counselors

Social workers

Custodians

Cafeteria staff

Athletic directors

Therapists

Literacy aides

Paraprofessionals

Classroom aides

Coaches

There are so many people who are on the front lines in education that are working tirelessly to continue to provide not just an education but also a safe place for students and staff to go to every day. These men and women are being asked to put the welfare of others before their own.

It’s not easy, but they’re doing it.

Just like those in healthcare, these people need support and prayers now more than ever, too. And just like those in healthcare, they’re also often the least likely to ask for help.

It doesn’t have to be much. Just something to let them know that you know they’re in the trenches, that you’re thinking of them and supporting them.

Send an encouraging message. Or a funny one. A smile can literally change the way your brain feels, and laughter is good for the soul.

Drop off a snack or meal that they don’t have to prepare. Or booze.

Send a card. Homemade ones are best.

If anything else, pray for them. Pray for them to have the health and strength to continue showing up and serving the students they love.

A Letter to Mrs. Cordelia

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I want to share about one of my special role-models, Mrs. Cordelia Conn, through a letter I’ve written countless times to her in my head: 

Dear Mrs. Cordelia,

You had no idea, but you were one of the early pioneers and advocates for people with Down syndrome and a personal role model for me. And you did it simply by being the best mom you could be to Patrick.

When I was younger, I always admired you. You had a confidence about you that even a young girl like me could pick up on. You had the sense of humor that was essential in being a mother of seven. There was a genuineness and openness about you that just felt safe. You told it like it was without a cloud of anger or judgment hanging over your statements. 

What I remember most, though, was how you were with Patrick. How you acted like he was a normal human being that belonged anywhere he wanted to be and especially belonged wherever you were – church, parties, Boomland, etc. You didn’t try to hide that he had Down syndrome, and you didn’t emphasize it, either. You made it clear that Patrick was not a person to be pitied or coddled. You had expectations of him and didn’t make excuses for him when he did or said something you didn’t approve of. Most importantly, you treated him with respect and love, and I saw that. 

Neither one of us knew it yet, but God did. He knew that I needed a role-model to look to when I had my own son with Down syndrome. He knew that I needed more than to just know Patrick and see all that he was able to do. He knew I needed to know you. To see you as a mom to Patrick so I would know what kind of mom I would want to be to my own son. 

When I got to sit down and talk with you last September, you told me that you didn’t know that Patrick had Down syndrome until you took him to your family doctor for his first round of routine immunizations when he was two-months-old or older. 

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked you if you thought the doctors and nurses knew he had Down syndrome when he was born, and you said, “Supposedly they did, but they thought maybe I couldn’t handle it. Who knows what their feelings were?” When I asked if he was healthy as a baby, you again just said, “Supposedly.” To say I was shocked to hear these things is a gross understatement because in the world of information overload we live in today, the chances of a baby being born with Down syndrome and it not being communicated to the mother is virtually unfathomable. To not know if he or she had any medical conditions that would need additional medical attention or care. 

But that’s what makes you so incredible. I honestly don’t think it mattered that you didn’t know right away that Patrick had Down syndrome. Because Down syndrome or not, he was your baby and you were going to love and provide for him the best you could. 

You may have only met Moses a handful of times, but your impact on him is much more than the sum of your brief meetings. Because of you, he had a mom that was ready to accept, respect, see, and love him for the person he is and will become. 

As we talked, you were amazed that Moses has been receiving therapies since he was 6-weeks old. That he was about to start preschool and would be going to school just like any other child. Those things were not available for Patrick, but yet you still made sure that he wasn’t just tucked away and dismissed. You gave him the opportunities to grow. To be seen. To be known. 

Along with a journal and some of Patrick’s old books, you gave me an angel to take home to Moses. You told me to put it up so that he couldn’t reach it and so that it could watch over him. I’m thankful to know that he has another even better angel looking over him now. 

Thank you, Mrs. Cordelia. With my whole heart I thank you for being the mom you were to Patrick so I could be the mom I am to Moses. 

Love, 

Jenny (a.k.a. Moses’ mom)

In loving memory of Mrs. Cordelia Ann Rock Conn (1928 – 2019)

Where I’m Supposed to Be

I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This is the mantra that has gotten me through this week as I’ve found myself struggling to make sense of life these days. 

This isn’t new territory, either. A couple of months ago, I was going through some old things and I came across a letter I had written to God. I can remember writing it like it was last week instead of 12 years ago. At that time, I was definitely not where I wanted to be. To be honest, I felt like I was on the road to nowhere and I was lost even trying to find my way there. Not exactly what I had pictured my life looking like at 27. 

In the letter, I poured my heart out to God. All the thoughts and feelings of anger and frustration, sadness and loneliness, confusion and fear. I asked Him to help me know what to do to help myself. 

Here I am 12 years later in a much different season of my life yet feeling those same emotions and a little lost again. And this time it’s not just myself I have to worry about. The stakes are definitely much higher now, and my sense of urgency to know what to do to help myself and my family is much more intense.

Where am I? 

I’m at home.

I’m serving my family. I’m cooking meals, washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning up messes. I’m cheering for my daughter as she learns to make a lowercase ‘a’ and for my son as he correctly identifies objects when given two choices. I’m rocking outdoor recess duty. I’m snuggling with Josie when she crawls into bed with me each morning and rocking Moses at naptime because he wants me to. I’m taking deep breaths so I don’t completely lose my temper and reminding myself to keep small problems small. I’m asking for hugs and forgiveness when I fail to do both. I’m excited to see my husband when he gets home so I get to talk to an adult and hear about the outside world. 

When I was at work, I would often announce “I’m going to go change lives!” Now I feel like the only thing I’m changing is diapers. 

Believe you me when I say that I NEVER saw myself as a housewife and definitely not as a stay-at-home mom. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either of those by any means. It’s hard work and the pay is horrible. I’m one “official” week in and I’m ready to turn in my two-week notice. 

But I’m supposed to be here. Even when I don’t want to wash another dish, it feels right. I don’t have the luxury of knowing why I’m doing exactly what I never wanted to do, but I do have the luxury of trusting that God knows why I’m here and will help me to understand when I’m supposed to. 

Over the last 12 years I have learned that life isn’t about getting where you want to be and staying there. It’s about continuing to live and experience and learn and grow, and that still includes going through some growing pains at times.

I’m where I’m supposed to be

And who knows? This may end up being the best place I’ve been to yet.