Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and contributor at O, The Oprah Magazine, has written a piece in which she urges women to just stop. Stop stressing about the things we think we should be doing. Stop comparing ourselves to each other. Stop second-guessing ourselves. In other words, lighten up.
Instead of counting all the ways in which we think we are failing as women and mothers, she suggests we give ourselves a break and recognize the fact that we are all forging new territory. There’s no road map that tells us where to go and how to get there and the only rules, restrictions and expectations are the ones we impose upon ourselves.
And then she goes on to describe some of her friends who, despite being quite accomplished, are tormented by the idea that they may be living their lives all wrong. One friend worries that instead of going for her Master’s degree, she should be traveling the world. Another, a mom of two who is writing a cookbook, fears that she’s squandering her education by staying home with her kids. Her other friends, a successful Hollywood producer, a bank manager and an artisanal bakery owner, all suspect that they are somehow failing at life. The author herself admits to worrying that, despite the fact she’s written five books, she hasn’t written the right books.
I know this isn’t what Gilbert intended, but my first thought upon reading about her friends was, “Wow, what a bunch of whiny babies.” These women are second-guessing lives that are already far more impressive and interesting than my own. And then I got it. That is exactly the point Gilbert is trying to make. I automatically judged and compared. And made my myself feed bad in the process.
Honestly, I don’t spend my days regretting my choices and relentlessly comparing myself to others. My dissatisfaction is more subtle than that. It’s a nagging feeling that everyone else is getting it right while I am not getting it at all. I don’t have an advanced degree to waste or the financial means to travel the world. I am not even sure what artisanal bread is, much less how to make it.
But what I do have is two beautiful, healthy children and a loving husband. We own a nice home and have some great friends. I enjoy my work and my hobbies make me happy. And if reading that makes you feel the urge to judge and compare, please don’t. Like Gilbert says, there is no map and no ultimate destination and if we could all just lighten up on ourselves and each other, we would surely find the happiness we deserve.
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