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I have been telling my husband the same thing for almost 20 years. I tell him, “Honey, you never need to worry about me looking at other men. I’ll be too busy looking at the women with them.” Some of you women know exactly what I’m talking about. But for those who might not, let me set the scene for you.
You’re with your husband (or boyfriend, or partner), and you enter the party. Maybe it’s an office party, so you recognize some of the faces and smile hello. Maybe it’s a birthday party for a friend’s spouse, and so most of the faces look unfamiliar. That’s not what’s important here. What’s important is where your eyes go. And where your mind goes. Because from the minute you walk into that party, your eyes leap from woman to woman. Her gorgeous dress. Wow, I wish I looked that gorgeous in a dress like that. Ooh, her hair. Is that her natural color? How is her hair so shiny? I’m already hiding way too many grays. Or how about her smile? Her teeth are so white, so gorgeous. She must have had braces as a kid. No way can teeth naturally look that beautiful. Yikes, I can’t smile at her, or anywhere near her. All night long, your eyes bounce from woman to woman, from gorgeous figure to beautiful skin, to impeccable taste. And your mind jumps from judgement to judgement. Not at them. At yourself. Every time your eyes fall on another woman, a judgement falls on you. You cannot stand with her, or her, or her. You fall short over and over and over again.
Does this sound familiar to you?
This is what many of us women do every single day. Comparison. We spend day after day comparing our bodies, our jobs, our families, our minds, to other women. And we come up short.
This quote by Teddy Roosevelt sums up most women perfectly. So much, so that I almost want to pretend that maybe he first heard it from his wife. Too many women know the painful truth of these words. The joy of any moment can be stolen by our comparing ourselves to other women around us. Once the comparison is made, the joy is gone. The fun outing at the pool with the family? Gone in one glance at the mom with 4 kids and a fantastic figure. The afternoon trip to get ice cream? Gone in one moment as you spot another mom whose kids are much better behaved than yours. Lunch with the girlfriends? Stolen away in self-judgement after self-judgement.
OK, let me stop here and turn to you, reader. Are you finding yourself agreeing with every point I’m making here? Are you nodding your head with every sentence, murmuring in your heart and mind, “Oh my goodness, yes! This is me. I do this all the time.”? Can you relate to my story? To the stories of so many other women who live this life of comparison?
Well, there it is. The fork in the road. The crossroads where we women stand, right now. The crossroads of comparison and connection. Of isolation vs. relation.
If comparison is where you always find yourself, perhaps it’s time to consider the other path. Where comparison isolates you from the women around you, connection brings you closer. While comparison hurts both you and “the other woman”, connection benefits you both, through encouragement and compassion (for both you and her). Comparison is a losing battle. Connection is a win/win for sure.
But how can we move from comparison to connection? I ask this with all sincerity and honesty, as I all too often find myself stuck on the rocky, downhill, comparison road. How can we stop comparing ourselves to others and start connecting with them? How can we move from self-judgement and self-loathing, to self-compassion, and self-kindness? How can we stop seeing those other women as unapproachable, unrealistically ideal, or completely separate from who we are?
Let’s brainstorm a few ideas.
1. Exercise Vulnerability
I think the first thing we can do to move away from comparison and toward connection is to look inward. Be courageously honest with yourself. Call yourself out on your comparison, as soon as you recognize it. I have been catching myself a lot in these moments, and am trying to call myself out. It’s not easy! And it doesn’t mean I miraculously move forward, away from self-judgement and into self-compassion. I wish! No, it’s not always that easy, but I think, like anything else, practice is making perfect. And so I’d encourage you to try the same thing. Try to recognize in yourself the specific moments when you find yourself comparing. Is it at the park surrounded by other moms and kids? Is it at the office, surrounded by other creative professionals? Take a look inward, and recognize where you tend to self-judge. Then gently call yourself out when you do.
Not only is it important to recognize our own personal tendencies to compare and self-judge, but it is equally important to look outwardly toward those “other women”. Chances are they have their own tendencies to compare and self-judge. You might see a perfect waistline, but what she might see in herself is her lack of patience with her kids. Where you might see her power in the office, she might only see her self-doubt with her financial capability. Remember that many of us women tend to compare. So chances are high that the woman you’re putting yourself down to is doing the same somewhere else.
Take the time to recognize the struggle for all of us. This will help you see other women less as stars on pedestals, and more as women just like you. Ah, the connecting has begun.
3. Be Beautifully Brave
We’ve all heard that saying, “The most important thing a girl can wear is her smile”. Cheesy, maybe. But consider it here. How brave would it be to stare right into the eyes of that woman you just compared yourself to, and smiled? How kind to both of you, to make her less an object of comparison, and more a fellow woman? Your smile is beautiful. I know it is. I’ve never seen a smile that’s not. So share yours with other women. Even the gorgeous ones. Even the powerful ones. Even the best moms. Chances are you need to offer it. Chances are they need to see it.
What other ways can we women move away from comparison and closer to connection? How do you help yourself move away from self-judgement and toward self-compassion? Help us women grow more connected by sharing your ideas in the comment section below.
And remember, next week I’ll be sharing my new Self-Compassion Startup Workbook right here on the blog. And it will be FREE! Make sure you’re subscribed here so you don’t miss it.
Have you ever had an idea that felt so outrageous, you knew you had to pursue it?
Ever felt a stirring so deep in your heart to pursue that outrageous idea, that you believed the only really outrageous thing would be not pursuing it?
Ever heard that voice in your head whispering, “This doesn’t matter. It won’t succeed. Don’t do it. It’s a failure waiting to happen.”
Well, I have too. I’ve been hearing it every day for the past several months, Today is the day that I tell that voice to SHUT UP and move on, because I’ve got important work to do.
Maybe I should back up a little, and tell you a bit of my story.
In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t written a blog post in quite a while. I haven’t shared but one or two portrait sessions in the last few months. Haven’t posted that much on social media, nor shared too much about Jen Lebo Photography. Because I had been preparing to walk away from it. I had been planning to give up my portrait business and quit calling myself a photographer.
A lot contributed to this decision, but the gist of it was that I felt like a fraud. Over the past few months, I took a look outside my own little bubble, and discovered that the portrait photography industry was so over-saturated, that I could find more than a dozen photographers in a 5 mile radius from my own home. I began comparing my work (no, let’s be honest here- comparing myself) to them all, and I would constantly come up short. It became a journey toward self-loathing. It grew old fast, and I was ready to quit.
I shared this struggle with a good friend, who completely understood, being a portrait photographer herself, and having walked a similar road. For weeks after, she would touch base with me and gently ask how I was doing with the decision, and whether I needed to talk. We would meet and share our stories, and even though I wouldn’t leave her any closer to a decision, I always left feeling encouraged, and feeling better. My discussions with her always resurfaced when I would toy with that decision to quit.
I realized that I was comparing myself to all the other amazing photographers around me. Constantly comparing. Never connecting. Never enjoying. Just comparing. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was doing this in almost every area of my life. I compared myself to other women, and saw myself as less beautiful. I compared myself to other moms, and saw myself as less gracious, loving, or nurturing. I compared myself to other teachers, to other friends, to other wives, and I always came up short.
But then a beautiful thing happened. I shared that pain with that friend. And with a few other precious girlfriends. And they all said the same thing. They said “Me too”. They said, “I understand. I feel those things too. I struggle with comparison. I struggle with my aging body. I struggle with being a better mom, with being a smarter professional, with being a closer friend, a more loving wife. I know how you feel.” Being vulnerable with each other connected us, and gave us a bit of courage.
It was so powerful to realize I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Powerful, also, to discover that this struggle seemed to grow in us women a bit later in our lives, as we moved into our 40s and 50s. A little less naive and confident, and a little more worn down but wise, walking through these mid-life years is not easy, but discovering I didn’t need to walk the road alone made the hard beautiful.
And then I realized something more. I discovered my purpose, my passion. To create a place where all of these beautiful women might share their stories, through word and portrait, in order to connect, encourage, and empower each other.
That’s when the voice showed up. The one that said “You are absolutely INSANE!”.
I know that if you are one of these women, you are probably thinking it too. It is insane! Very few women my age (myself included) have the confidence or the courage to step in front of a camera, especially on their own. Very few of us feel courageous enough to share our stories, to be vulnerable.
It should be noted that this is also insane from the viewpoint of most photographers. Older women are not a sought after target market. High school seniors, weddings, newborns, families- that’s where it’s at. Not older women!
But it’s that exact mindset that has me wanting to pursue it. As we women grow older, we become less sought after, almost invisible, if not to society, then at least to our very own selves. And I want to change that.
I want to show women my age that they are still beautiful today, maybe even more beautiful than they were yesterday. I want to teach older women that vulnerability takes courage, and that it is never weak. It is always beautiful. I want to connect women like me to other women like them, so that as we share our stories, and hear those precious words, “Me too.”, we will stop comparing ourselves, and start connecting.
And so here I am, standing at the bottom of this beautiful, powerful, tremendous mountain. I have so many ideas, so many plans, and I will create, and build, and share them, one step at a time. This is just the first step up the mountain. Telling that voice of doubt to go away, and sharing my story with you.
The changes are already starting. Jen Lebo Photography will become something new, both in name and in purpose. It will have passion and connection and a powerful vision.
Sure, it might fail. It might be my greatest failure yet. But I’ll be ok with that, because to me, the only failure would be in not pursuing it.
Please stay with me through this journey.
And connect with me if you want to be a part of this new endeavor (either locally or online), or if you know someone who might. I can’t wait to walk this journey with friends.