“Comparisons are odious.” -Popular fourteenth-century saying
Lately, I have been comparing. Comparing myself to others, in a range of areas including but not limited to: how I look, what I am wearing, how far my leg stretches compared to the woman beside me in yoga class (because THAT’S what yoga’s all about, right there), who has more “likes” on Facebook, who is doing more seminars, who has an “in” with Oprah.
It is a distraction, it is a form of self-sabotage, it is odious.
I am certain of this not just because of how comparisons make me feel (small, miserable, defeated) but because of an experience I had last year with a hawk. Since moving to a small town in Ontario twelve years ago, I have delighted in almost weekly sightings of red-tailed hawks. Their power and grace in flight enthrall me, and I am filled with joy whenever I see one.
So naturally I was drawn to reading “H is for Hawk” by falconer Helen Macdonald, about her experience of coming to terms with her father’s death through the acquisition of a fierce goshawk named Mabel and her struggles to tame and train her to hunt. The book jacket has it right: “it is a beautiful story about the hard-won trust between hawk and human.”
As I finished reading this book, I actually sighed with sadness and thought to myself: “This book is so beautiful, I will probably never write anything this good, or have that kind of relationship with a hawk.” In short, I was jealous of Helen.
Instead of celebrating the profound relationship that developed between her and Mabel, and being grateful that she shared this story with the world, and that it came into my hands, I was sad because I was comparing.
Comparison is the thief of joy. -Theodore Roosevelt
I felt like less. As if her words could diminish mine. As if her experience could diminish my own experience with and love for the hawk and all of nature.
Very shortly after finishing the book and the work of making myself feel like crap, I went downstairs and was standing at my kitchen sink looking out the window when a red-tailed hawk flew right past the window and landed on a fence post about 20 feet directly in front of me!
The hawk’s back was to me and as she perched she spread her wings out wide and flared her red tail feathers, before speeding off after her prey.
In that moment I was profoundly humbled.
And so I am not too proud to tell you that I burst into tears and although I was weeping, I certainly wasn’t miserable.
I felt redeemed.
I felt the weight of all those comparisons lifted from me and knew that the hawk, in the face of my self-doubt, had shown up to remind me of my worth and my work. To bring me back to joy.
As often as I can, I return to that moment of communion with the hawk to help me rise up from the shadow land of comparison, to help me focus on my own inner journey and not on what others may or may not be doing or working on or achieving.
It keeps me from letting comparisons bleed the joy out of my life.
It keeps me moving forward even when it’s hard, when my darkest thoughts tell me I will never be as good as or as committed as or as brave as…when comparison makes me want to quit.
Instead of giving up on our work and our dreams, we must learn to give up the habit of comparing ourselves to others.
I can look back now and see that there were times in my life when I gave up a project and even a dream because I felt that there was someone else doing it better, that I shouldn’t even try because my best efforts would fall short, or that my idea wasn’t as good as theirs.
For me the hawk is a light in that storm of defeating mind-chatter and I can trust her to bring me home to myself and to joy in my own work every time, and for that I am filled with love and gratitude.
If you feel trapped in the joyless, odious cycle of living by comparisons, I can help.
I know the terrain well and I can attest that once we learn to abandon our habit of comparing, instead of abandoning our dreams, we can more fully awaken to what calls us with a sense of joy, confidence, and renewed purpose.