The curse of comparisonitis
Updated: Feb 28
The kids and I were leaving the pool one afternoon after some swim training, and I told them what an awesome job they had done. Archie looked at me and said, “Not really mummy, I am not a very good swimmer.” I sometimes wondered if these increasing moments of diminishing himself were a result of an arsehole of a year, or a result of the fact that he is getting older and more aware. “Don’t fucking grow up!” I wanted to scream at Archie and Rissie. “Don’t start doubting yourself and thinking you don’t matter.
And don’t start posing in front of bathroom mirrors after a night on the turps, pulling your top down to reveal cleavage whilst making weird sucked in sexy duck faces.” I am glad I did not start yelling all that, as they would have looked at me with that look that meant they were thinking I was batshit crazy. I asked Archie why he said that, and he just shrugged. “You know what Archie,” I said, “you just swam for an hour. You did every stroke, including butterfly and you are a hell of a lot better than you were two months ago. So why don’t you instead say, “I did well, didn’t I?”
The kids do swim training three times a week, which basically involves doing laps of all descriptions with a coach for an hour a time. I enrolled them, not because I think they are little champions in the making, but rather because I think it is awesome for their fitness. I was also hoping that Archie could meet some other kids outside of school. And if I am completely honest, I also did it, because the idea of being away from my computer for 3 hours a week and being able to read if I wanted to, for a whole hour was just so damned appealing. The curse of working from home is that there is always this underlying niggling irritation, that work is never done. To get away from my computer with a book sounded like bliss to me.
Truth be told, most of the kids in their classes are better swimmers than Archie and Rissie. But, as I told them, those good swimmers probably go to regionals and struggle against kids who have access to a 50m pool. Then those kids who get to State probably struggle against kids who are training all year round, 4 hours a day, 7 days a week. Then those kids who make it to Nationals will one day meet a new champion and won’t have a clue what hit them. And if Archie looked on the other side of the lane ropes then there were probably kids who could not swim a lap and who were looking at him and thinking, jeepers, that kids just swam a length of butterfly. I am not nearly as good as him. If you look to the left, there is always someone better, if you look to the right, there will always be someone who is not as good. What I really want them to do though, without sounding like a wanker, is to learn the ability to look inside and to work out how far they have come, by not worrying about how good or bad anyone else is, but by simply celebrating their own achievements.
I don’t know when it is, but it has started happening now with Archie and Rissie when a child loses this amazing confidence in themselves and starts valuing their worth based on others around them. God help everyone, when they discover Social Media and enter that monster of comparisonitis. Then, depending on your maturity, your strength, your life experience, you will realise you genuinely don’t give a fuck and that you are happy in your own skin. Some people never lose that ability, some never regain it. Some people like me, get pulled into the whirlpool occasionally and then something happens one day to remind you that your own value can only be determined by you. I just hope the kids are strong enough to realise that you don’t determine your own value by someone else’s experiences. Especially those experiences that have been photo-shopped, embellished and carefully selected to only show the best, rather than the mundane and the normal.
I want them to know that everything has been done before. Well, probably not cures, inventions and time travel, but generally, whatever you choose to do, someone will be out there doing it and doing it better than you. Everything I do is being done by someone. Vegan food. Travelling single mum. Tree change experience. Dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. A tendency to talk like a pirate. Done. Done. Done. So it is almost impossible to do anything better, which is what I desperately want the kids to know. The reason you do anything is because it touches your soul, because you are passionate about it, because it makes you happy. It does not matter who else is doing it or how they are doing it. You simply must love what you are doing. End of story. Full stop. It must move you, it must keep you awake at night.
With the age of social media, it is acceptable to showcase whatever you want to the world, be your audience big or small. But the best is tweaked, never fully explained and sometimes downright odd. The little quirky food shot? It took three hours of preparation and 30 minutes of styling and when someone says, I just whipped this up for breakfast – they are generally bullshitting. That happy go lucky face after a gym workout? A result of 50 attempts to get a selfie in the car, whilst telling the kids to shut up so mummy can concentrate. That single mum traveller whose child in an immaculate red dress just happened to be standing next to an elephant in front of a temple whilst the sun rises? The elephant was in chains and the shot took multiple attempts over three days to achieve.
The child just wanted to chuck on some swimmers and go play in the pool for fuck’s sake, and the mum spent an hour a day with the ironing board and 3 hours a day checking devices to see how many likes she got.
Then there are those who are just too cool to play this game and become the anti-social media heroes. Look at me, I am so relaxed as a mum I will drink a beer in the shower and say fuck a lot. That is awesome, but it is not spontaneous, as you must have someone to take the photo, you must set up the shot and you then must post it to all and sundry. I am a big hot mess of a mum, I don’t care what people think, my kids did not have matching socks to go to school this morning. Well if you don’t care, why post it? If you were that much of a hot mess mum, you would not be able to find your phone or your kids.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing any of that. If you want to let people know you couldn’t find socks, go for it. If you want to take a selfie after a gym workout knock yourself out. Whatever you want to do, there is now a world where you can share it. I just hope one day that Archie and Rissie can read between the lines and understand that what is out there is there to inspire you, make you laugh or give you ideas. But absolutely none of it is a reason to put a value on yourself. The stunning photos, the idealised lives, the perfection, the creations – they all took hours of work and are hiding a million things that people will never ever share.
I just hope they get that. The world is changing so fast and it scares me sometimes what lies ahead for them. I hope next time they are in the pool, completing those four laps of butterfly after swimming for an exhausting hour, they don’t focus on the fact that they are coming last. They focus instead on the fact that they did it, and how far they have come. And I will keep to myself that fact, that occasionally they remind me of Eric the Eel. I just desperately want them to remember, that ultimately, they are the only ones who can determine their self-worth.