“Your sister is the artist.”
“You’re really daddy’s girl, and I connect more with your sister.”
If you asked me if I struggle with comparison, I would flatly tell you I don’t. I have a pretty inclusive personality. I don’t even have a favorite color. When people start talking about struggling with comparison, I have thought, “I struggle with many things. Comparison isn’t one of them.”
But that initial reaction doesn’t contain the whole picture. As I look back on my childhood, I remember growing up in a mire of comparison. Though my mom never intended to delineate our talents or interests, she regularly said things like, “Your sister is the artist. You are more of a scholar.”
I felt sorted out as a child. I excelled in things like reading, which I started doing at age three. I still have numerous stacks of books around my home, not to mention the audiobooks and kindle selections I’m consuming simultaneously. Still, I wanted to be an artist – a good one. While I can draw and paint a little, my sister, “the artist,” went on to do graphic design, henna, and work in two Trader Joe’s stores doing their chalk art. She IS an artist. A real one.
I adore my sister’s talent. I am inspired and humbled by the way she can think of something in her mind and with the precision of a world-class surgeon, convey lines on paper or skin which look as good as any computer-generated image we aspiring creatives use these days.
The fallout of childhood messages comparing me with my sister left me refusing to pursue certain things I actually enjoy. If anyone appreciated or complimented my art, I would say, “Thanks, but I’m not really an artist.” While that sounds humble, those words only covered the cavernous ache I felt because I missed out on pursuing something I wanted deeply. I accepted a limitation and boxed myself in based on what others said about me. Art isn’t the only area where this happened. My sister was incredibly agile and could do all sorts of athletic activities. I had to work to become physically adept – translation, my cartwheels looked like a turtle trying to right itself.
Going through life, I sought others’ approval to shore up these places that felt deficient or less-than. Empty and broken places demanded overcompensation. I became good at keeping others’ eyes off the fact that I was the girl who got hit in the head with the volleyball every game and never seemed to be able to spike it farther than the row ahead of me.
One year, I was struggling with being the third wheel in a friendship. The other two girls were inseparable. I was an afterthought. My remaining in this friendship reflected how much I esteemed myself. I felt I wasn’t worth a really sweet connection. I believed I didn’t have enough to offer. That was the lie I had grown to believe about myself – that my worth depended upon my ability to perform well and be as near to perfect as I could.
I shared the pain of this situation with my boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry). He said something key: “Go where the love is. I figure about 50% of the people are going to love me no matter what, and the other 50% aren’t going to really care – or worse. When you think about it, those who really love you can’t be easily turned away. Those who don’t can’t be easily converted. So, just go where the love is.” That man. He’s quiet, so you have to seek out his input, but when you do, it’s solid gold.
After that conversation, the tide started to turn. I gradually grew healthier. Over the years I have released the need to have others give a rubber stamp of approval to who I am and all I do (or don’t) accomplish.
Just this year I have been included in a group of women who meet together at the back patio of a coffee shop every other Wednesday to journal and share our hearts with one another. We call ourselves the “Girl Tribe.” Our gatherings start with a conversation, and it’s never superficial. In powerful ways these women have called out my unique giftings and celebrated my successes. They not only love me right where I am, they challenge me to become all I was made to be. We do that for one another.
I am becoming more whole. Love does that. Being loved well has filled my empty spaces. My solid sense of self has given me the capacity to truly love others from my heart. I don’t spend so much mental energy worrying what others think of me. That frees me up to truly care about what is going on in the lives and hearts of others. Because I am full, I can spill out.
I do have setbacks. I sometimes get down on myself or feel insecure – sometimes hormones or lack of sleep cause me to get a little wobbly in my emotions. Then my confidence can careen into unsteady territory. These descents never last. I pray, share my thoughts with a loving friend, and get back to what I know is true. I’m broken, and I’m beautiful.
I learned to go where the love is.
Patty Scott is a mom to two boys, ages 9 and 16. She has been married to her surfer/skater husband for over 20 years. Her home is full of neighbor kids and a whole lot of joyous mayhem most days. Patty writes to inspire and empower moms to love intentionally and make room for what matters most. Her passion is to encourage mothers and to create a place of solace for them as they do the most important work of motherhood. You can connect with Patty on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog.