One day when I was twenty-six, I was huddled up in Sarah’s cubicle at work. Sarah was a good work-friend of mine of similar age and outlook on life. She and I were commiserating over how hard our lives were compared to others’. Sharing whispered laments of how no one understood how hard it was for us. How everyone else had it easy… and how we had to struggle to make it.
[side note: looking back, I realize just how silly we must’ve sounded… two young, well-paid professionals living in a major city and lacking nothing except maybe a little more love.]
We were overheard by Missy, who was a few years older and definitely wiser than we were in that moment. Missy poked her head into the cubicle, and looked at us not unkindly and said: “Girls, don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
Screech… spit-take… whaaat did she just say?
Talk about life changing. That one phrase has helped me through lonely post-divorce dating droughts, disappointments due to being passed over for promotions, and a multitude of challenges as an entrepreneur/writer/stepmom/person.
I’ve shared that quote with more people than I can count, from friends to clients, and many tell me years later that they still think about it and how it changed their view of life.
(By the way, I found out years later that this saying is used in Alcoholics Anonymous… in case you’re curious where it came from.)
This one phrase is the ultimate counter to compare-and-despair syndrome. It is a great balance to your friends’ happy highlight-reel lives on Facebook. It reminds you that you’re not comparing apples to apples.
Of course you are going to feel inadequate or hopeless when comparing your deepest, darkest insides to someone else’s highly-curated public persona.
Of course you feel like no one understands you. Those unpolished inner thoughts are not the things we put onto Facebook or talk about in public.
Of course you feel like everyone else’s life is so much better when you compare their happiest & hippest moments shared on Instagram to your unfiltered day-to-day.
The point is, you don’t know how much someone has struggled (or still struggles) to be where they are today. You don’t know if behind that smile is a broken heart. You don’t know if your pain is any deeper than anyone else’s.
And that is okay.
So… stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides. And…
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~ Philo
P.S. this is #12 of the 40 things I would tell my 20-year-old self.