I know, at first glance these two song lyrics just don’t go together. The first a line from Madonna’s Vogue and the second from a Christmas Carol. However they’ve been running around in my head on a loop for the past week and helping me realise how careful I need to be with knowing what I’m looking at and understanding the full picture of what I see, not just a specific angle of it.
I’m talking about perspective. It’s something I believe we all struggle with from time to time, that old comparison thing where we look around us at friends and family and judge how well we’re doing based on how well or not they’re doing.
We’re caught in an endless cycle of comparison from our media too, especially in the world of celebrity from the high end Beckhams and Kardashians to the bargain basement people in reality shows like Love Island and Big Brother. The newspapers and internet endlessly dissect every aspect of celebrity lives, the improbable and probably not true stories about their loves, their bodies, the plastic surgery they have had or not, the clothes they wear, the holidays they take and how much money they make, how much money they are worth, how much money they have lost.
And all these people are pitted against each other too. Magazines and celebrity websites ask who do you like more, who wore a dress better, which tribe do you align with and create imaginary feuds that can often become the real thing. We’re invited to compare celebrities down to the tiniest and most personal of details which I think is really rather obscene, not to mention cruel.
But we save our worst viciousness for ourselves, asking questions that are designed to put ourselves down – hard! You know the ones I mean, after all it’s not as if you haven’t said it to yourself. ‘Why aren’t I doing better?’ ‘How come he/she/they have a nicer car/house/life than I do?’ ‘How comes they’re more successful when I’m doing the same things?’ ‘Am I the best I can be?’ ‘Have I totally wasted my time with this job/relationship/project?’ ‘Look at me, why have I made so many mistakes?’ and sometimes, my favourite ‘What the f**k am I doing, how did I get it so wrong?’
And because we know ourselves so well, the questions are pointed and hurtful in the extreme.
Putting ourselves down is easy, taking about how good life is going for us is so much harder. We’ve been told that’s bragging and that it’s wrong. And somehow we can present a glowing snapshot of our life on Facebook but saying it in real life is cringe worthy and we sometimes feel like we have to apologise when life is good.
A mentor of mine, who’s a brilliant high profile writer shared a picture of her family kitchen on Facebook. She was sharing the smiling faces of her kids but all people seemed to notice and remark on was how messy and outdated her kitchen was.
She was embarrassed and ashamed and set about getting quotes for a kitchen renovation. But then she paused, and because of the woman she is, she sat with the uncomfortable feelings all those strangers’ judgements had caused in her and asked why? Why did their opinions matter?
She cancelled the kitchen renovation because she realised that from her perspective her kitchen was amazing. She had hot and cold running water, a fridge, a dishwasher, a coffee maker, cupboards full of food, full of vitamins and minerals and first aid necessities to keep her family fit and well. And most of all, her kitchen was overflowing with love.
So what if people didn’t think it was the kitchen they imagined a best selling writer ‘should’ have. It was the kitchen she did have and she loved it. And from her work helping refugees fleeing war torn Syria, helping those crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Greece, she knew just how fortunate she was to have that kitchen and everything in it.
Perspective is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
What are you looking at?
Because when we look at someone’s life from the outside, rarely visible are the traumas, the scars, the battles they have fought and lost. We don’t see the heartache, we only see what they choose to present to the world.
What are you looking at? If you’re looking at the big house, the fancy car, the multiple holidays and judging yourself for not getting there faster. What are you not seeing?
Do you see what I see?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a long circuitous route to finding what I’m good at. I had an amazing career 12 years ago and walked away from it because I wasn’t happy. I was successful in the ‘normal’ scheme of things, house, car, international travel, shoes worth hundreds of £pounds. (I loved those shoes, so many pairs, all ridiculously high heeled and impractical.) And I was lonely and miserable and drinking way too much to fill the hole in my centre.
Now I’m starting over in a brand new business and the big difference is how fulfilled, excited and content I feel.
And now, of course, I sometimes start looking at those who have been in this business a whole lot longer than me and kick myself for not getting here sooner. For not having followed my intuition faster and worse, for being so far behind.
Of course I do. It’s what we do. We kick ourselves when we’re down and we kick ourselves when we’ve climbing back up. And yes, I wish I could instantly manufacture the knowledge, experience and success that goes with years of practice. However, I know that all the twists and turns I’ve taken to get here make me uniquely qualified to help my clients because of the insights those wrong turns and roadblocks gave me.
Do you see what I see?
Very often when we’re looking at and judging ourselves we blind ourselves to the things about us that other people value and find amazing. Ask a friend or a family member what it is about you that they value the most. I guarantee you’ll be surprised and delighted by the answers you receive.
Comparison kills us, it kills our dreams and feeds our fears. Perspective gives us hope.
Instead of choking off the ambitions you have for your life, feed them with good thoughts about yourself and what you’re capable of. Nurture them with kind thoughts about how well you’re doing, how important it is to just keep going on those days when you don’t feel like doing it.
Encourage yourself by acknowledging just how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned and the good you’ve already achieved. Because if you’ve read this far, you care about yourself and how you’re doing in life and you’re doing what you can to learn and grow and improve.
Remind yourself about perspective when you start judging and being critical of yourself and others, and ask yourself those two questions, ‘What are you looking at? Do you see what I see?’
And right now, be gentle with yourself, give yourself a hug, you deserve it.