‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ said Theodore Roosevelt wisely. It is almost too obvious to state that endlessly comparing ourselves to others is a recipe for unhappiness, if not total meltdown. I’m sure there are humans among us of a zen-like countenance who are oblivious to this, but I’ll wager that most of us have measured ourselves against our friends, family, or even our enemies, and found ourselves wanting.
Women are particularly bad for it. We compare our bodies to other women all the time. Can there be anything worse than the sight of a younger, fitter, prettier new girlfriend for our exes? If they are smarter, with better jobs, the agony is even greater. This can apply whether we were the dumper or the dumpee, which is a really fucked up way to think about things. Although women are scrutinised more intensely for their appearance by the world at large, men do not get to escape this anguish. In my experience, their focus is more on wealth, status and achievement. I can never fail to be amused by the passages in American Psycho, where Patrick Bateman obsesses over the quality and style of the business cards of his rivals; something that seems so trivial to me, but signifies and quantifies power and influence in their world. I guess it’s easier to laugh at things that don’t affect you.
Of course, social media doesn’t help. We are all guilty to an extent of only putting our best selves out there and showing the world our highlights. Our airbrushed lives. How envious we are of the lives of others, is no doubt directly related to the satisfaction we have with our own lives. I expect the happiest people of all are those who don’t look regularly at pictures of the brilliantly fun times that their friends are all having on Facebook.
The good news is that once you hit your 40s, you become less obsessed by this sort of thing and more content and happier with yourself. Possibly because you realise that you can never compete with the physical state of people in their twenties, and you have other attributes that you can only really get with ageing. Like the understanding that life is short, and you’d better crack on with making it the one you want. Those young ‘uns don’t have a clue, I like to tell myself, instead of wishing that I still had my whole life ahead of me too.
So, are those days of comparison behind me in my zen like middle age? Are they fuck; I’ve just found something else to worry about. When I was a 20 something, lazy arse (I don’t think dancing til dawn really counts as proper exercise), I would not have been remotely concerned by other people’s fitness or athletic achievements. And until recently, I still wasn’t – being happy if friends achieved something they were proud of by climbing a mountain, or getting a PB at the gym. In fact that hasn’t changed; I love to hear about this.
But…the fact remains, I have signed up to a race. In a team of younger, fitter, stronger people, with flat stomachs. And an edge of competiveness has crept in. Until now, my competitive streak has been limited to the arenas where I think I might stand a chance. A family game of Trivial Pursuit could be likened to gladiatorial combat, and I actually took pleasure in beating my 76 year old father several times at Connect Four the other week. The pupil becomes the master, eh dad? (Insert evil laugh). Not in anything sport related though.
Like many before me, I am comparing myself to other people in the gym, a place where many inadequacies are born. I love this cartoon from The Oatmeal, which perfectly sums up the insecurities of even the most fit and fabulous looking people:
On a more worrying (and possibly more offensive) note, this clip from Family Guy uses gym fever as the reason for the Holocaust:
Trust me, even if I gain my Queenly powers, I will not use them for the forces of evil. In truth, my anxieties are not about whether I can beat these people, who are not arrogant show offs, just friendly young folk who love getting fit and have the damned good sense to have discovered this joy before all their bits start to fall off. I will never have their flat bellies because mine has a little shelf, caused by the scar of the C-section I had when my son was born. A battle scar I can be very proud of. And I do not want to be so uber fit that I would have to give up all the things I like, such as eating good food and drinking. I value food and wine more than a bikini body. For me, exercise is the balance to my excesses; the yin and yang.
However, I do not want to let them and ultimately myself, down. I do not want to be the old fart, struggling at the back, slowing the team down. I want to hold my own, an element of ‘I’ll show them!’ Maybe this is crazy. The likelihood is that I WILL be struggling at the back, unless I can curb my appetites and prove something. I am not quite at that point yet. Only time will tell.
I have run the women’s 10k the last few years and have never tried to beat anyone except myself. Remembering this will help, but the reality is that I have never tried to do anything like the Spartan race before. How do we push ourselves to do which we cannot? Firstly, by accepting our weaknesses. And then, bit by bit, learning to overcome them.
Until next time,