In my personal and digital relationships with hundreds of women, I’ve learned that everyone has a different idea of success, and everyone has their own hustle to achieve it. For one friend, it’s a PhD. For another it’s part-time nursing. For some, it’s motherhood, free from a job. For others, it’s full-time work while their husband stays home with the kids. I have friends who are best-selling authors. I have friends who have started companies. I have friends who are doctors and lawyers and crossfit trainers and housekeepers and stay-at-home moms. They are all happy in their pursuits, and they are all working toward more happiness.
The one thing I’ve learned that can distract us from our own success is the success of other women, especially if we perceive it to be greater than our own success. Why do we do this to ourselves? Her success does not equal our failure. She didn’t succeed instead of us. It’s like we believe that her happiness was headed straight for us and she leapt in front of us and snatched it. Nothing has been taken from us by her accomplishments. And yet, we convince ourselves that we lost our opportunity because another woman grabbed it. The feeling that other women are better than us despite our best efforts? We’ve all felt it in one way or another. She has better behaved kids than me. She can afford cuter clothes for her kids (or herself) than I can. Her house is so much cleaner than mine. She’s thinner than me even though she’s had more babies. She has more followers on Instagram. People must think her kids are cuter than mine. The cause is comparison. While it’s completely possible and common to experience these feelings with women we know in person, social media is probably the biggest catalyst for feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and even anger. When we know someone personally, it’s a little easier to rein in our envy because we can see her personality, shortcomings, and flaws in person. Her house may appear perfectly staged in the pictures she posts, but if you carpool with her twice a week, you might know for a fact that her car is full of fast-food trash and crushed goldfish crackers, and her kids are actually noisy and naughty just like yours. It’s easier to feel jealous when we don’t know the person in real life.
Her house appears spotless and furnished with the trendiest, most expensive items from all the hottest shops. Her children are clean and smiling, captured forever in a picture of happy silence. Her meals are healthy and lean and full of garden fresh, colorful produce that she, of course, plucked from her own immaculate garden just moments before. Her clothing is stylish and beautiful, never pilled or stretched by tiny hands needing her attention, with nary a spit-up stain or wrinkle. Oh, and look, she just announced that she’s collaborating with fifteen shops and opening a storefront. And buying a house. And she’s pregnant. Once people have painted this picture for us and shown us all the beauty in their life, we start to compare, which evolves into judgment and jealousy, which evolves into anger and entitlement. Why can’t I have that life? I wish my house looked that nice. I bet those clothes would look better on me. I’m smarter than her. I deserve that success and she doesn’t. What we don’t see is that just beyond the frame of the picture, her kids are climbing in the dishwasher and breaking it, just like yours. Or that her husband is almost never home. Or that her in-laws are carrying their house payment. Or that she struggled with infertility. Or that she’d rather be working a full-time job. Often, all we see is the reaping. We don’t see the tilling or sowing. The many hours of hard work she spent, or the money she invested, or the sacrifices she made, or the failures she has experienced are not seen, only the ultimate success. Unfortunately, many of us fall into a pattern of jealousy rather than congratulations. We feel that her earned success was somehow meant for us, and that she has taken that opportunity from us. I deserve that success and she doesn’t. I’ll jump to the moral quickly and then explain: There is enough sunshine for everyone.
Flowers are not hindered in their growth because of other flowers. As long as the sun shines, the flowers grow. We, in turn, are like flowers seeking opportunity and happiness like sunshine. Just because one woman finds joy doesn’t mean our own possibilities are lessened. As hard as financial misfortunes, unhappy marriages, poorly timed investments, naughty kids, a dirty house, plus all the smaller stuff we beat ourselves up about are, they aren’t what will keep us down. And other women’s happiness certainly doesn’t keep us down. Only our attitudes and efforts (or lack thereof) keep us down. The only opportunities we miss are the ones we do not take - not the ones other women seize. If happiness is a choice (and it is), there is no one to blame for our discontent except ourselves. You want a cleaner, better decorated house? You want nicer clothes? You want to further your education or raise better-mannered kids? You want a happier marriage? Get to work, girl. If all you’re concerned about is Instagram followers, five bucks on Fiverr can help you out with that. There is literally nothing standing between you and what you want except yourself. Change your attitude and work harder. If you still feel jealousy and find yourself comparing on social media, it’s time to unfollow some of the people who trigger those emotions. Let’s make an effort to share our experiences more honestly and without intent to make others jealous. We can either contribute to the problem by provoking (or experiencing) feelings of jealousy and discontent, or contribute to the solution by encouraging each other to pursue our individual ideas of joy and success.
At the risk of overusing metaphors, here’s one more. A lot of times, we adopt the “crabs in a bucket” mentality. If one crab is placed in a bucket, it will climb right out and escape. But if two crabs are placed in a bucket, and one tries to climb out, the other will pull him down. We are jealous, even angry about other women’s good fortunes, so we make excuses for our own failures and become bitter. We feel we are the only ones who deserve to get out of the bucket, so we don’t provide the support or kindness to other women who appear to be doing better than we are. We need to lift other women up to their individual ideas of happiness and success, not to keep them down in order to reach our own success. And who knows? Maybe one of the women we help boost will turn around and help lift us out in return.