Thriving in a Comparative and Competitive World

“I wasn’t a good figure skater. There was a girl 2 grades below me  better than me.” 

“You are an excellent skater and were good at figure skating,” I replied to my grand daughter.      

“No I wasn’t,” she argued back

I grappled for words. “You skated two to three times per week, so you could do other things, while those other gals skated more. But you were not a bad skater because they had more practice.” 

She’d just finished telling me a story of a recent time public skating with her friends, some who played ringette, and how she drove them a bit crazy with her fast turns and stops (which they could not do). And how they had asked her to do spins and jumps. “But I’m a bad skater,” she remarked. 

My heart broke.

At thirteen years-old, her thoughts have begun defaulting to comparison rather than to growth. She is looking at what others can or cannot do, rather than seeing her growth. Even statements such as “You’re much better at that than I am,” are negative and self-effacing. Unfortunately, these statements can become self-fulfilling prophecies, reinforcing the “truth” to ourselves and others. 

Words Matter

Words matter. 

I try to reassure my grand daughter that she is not “bad” at anything. But she deflects my words, mentioning a school mark that she feels is bad (another comparison—this time to a school mark that she believes is good).

Thinking back to when I was a teenager, I did the same thing. I thought I was bad at math because it took me longer (it seemed) to grasp the concepts. I failed chemistry each high school year, and went to summer school —three years in a row—to get a passing grade. I never made any sport teams, and didn’t win any academic awards. Interestingly, I still remember the students whose pictures and trophies were behind a glass case in the school hallway. They were the celebrated; not us average students. 

 So, in a comparative and competitive world,  how can we stop ourselves from uttering negative and self-effacing statements? For when we put ourselves down, we are possibly closing off potential opportunities and making ourselves smaller in the world. We are potentially shutting down our God-given gifts and opportunities to serve others as only we can. 

1 Corinthians 12:25-28 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 

How to Stop Negative Self-Talk

Ways to help negative self-talk.

1. Ask if it is true. 

Are you really “bad” at doing that task, or is that you have not had the same experience as someone else? Are you even interested in learning that skill or is God calling you to spend your time on something else? Let yourself be okay with not having the same interests, ideas, and skills as others. Prayerfully consider where God wants you to spend your time. Does He want you to develop more in a certain skill that you “believe” you are not good at, or move on to something else? 

2. Ask yourself why you are making these comments about yourself.

Are you putting yourself down because you want to control the expectations you “believe” are being placed on you? Instead of making our tasks about others expectations, we can make them about our personal growth goals. 

3. Ask yourself what you would tell your best-friend. 

 If your best-friend is saying negative statements about themselves, how would you react? Write down what you would say to your best-friend. 

I continue to pray for my grand daughter, that she will see her value in Christ, rather than through competitive and comparison thoughts. But I know I also need to work on being my own best-friend, intentionally accepting my worth is not in achieving or failing. I’m not sure we can free ourselves completely from worldly measurements. Yet, we do have His Truth. 

May we soak in His words, the words that matter most, to become our best, so we can serve our world as only we can. 

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  1. This is a very important message. The way we see ourselves can be different than how others see us. I can see the comparison factor working in young children, too. We have the opportunity to help each person remember who created them and why that makes them special. :-)When I feel “less than”, I am thankful to remember that I am a child of God. I am special because I am His. Great post Lynn.

    1. Melissa, you reminded me that it is important to encourage each other by grasping those opportunities to remind them who their creator is and why that makes them special. May we always have a heart of gratitude, too, toward Him and His ways! Wise words you’ve written here. Thank you.

  2. Unfortunately your granddaughter is growing up in a day and time where comparison and competition are the name of the game and that’s why this post is essential. This line struck me: “Let yourself be okay with not having the same interests, ideas, and skills as others.” It is okay to be different. It is okay to carve out a lane for ourselves that is unique to who God created us to be.

    1. Yvonne, I love how you use the word “lane” to describe our unique selves and journey that God takes us on. It reminds me of other teachings about “staying in our lane” as we are not meant to block or take over another’s, too! We are meant to take our own journey and encourage others on theirs.

  3. I tried to help my kids by changing the narrative from good and bad to strengths and weakness. I would share one child is strong in art yet struggles with math. You are strong in math yet struggle with grammar. This one struggles with writing yet is great with building. Little by little they began to accept and embrace the fact we all have strengths and weaknesses. Reading the book, Strength Finder also helped them. And doing the DISC test and learning about the different personalities helped them view themselves and people differently. Anyway, these are a few things which helped my children when they were struggling in this area.

    1. Lisa, thanks for sharing what helped you encourage your children to know their strengths, and “accept and embrace the fact we all have strength and weaknesses.” I’ve done Strength Finder and DISC, and now wonder if there are tween/teen versions or something similar for teens? Like you mention, it won’t change overnight, but with an understanding how everyone is made different, little by little an acceptance in how God made them (and it is good!) develops.

  4. Reading about your granddaughter made me sad, Lynn. As adults we’ve all been there and sometimes still struggle with comparison. But these days with social media, I feel like kids don’t have a chance, especially if they aren’t being taught their worth and value by the Word of God. I’m thankful your granddaughter has you in her life.

    1. Hi Jill, It is sad to see someone you love and care about put themselves down. Especially a young person who still has so much to discover about themselves. My prayer is that there are no believes that hinder her from living a joy-filled life! Actually, that is my prayer for all of us!

  5. It breaks my heart to hear children, young people – anyone, really – talk so negatively about themselves. But I was there once, and more recently than I’d like to admit. My prayer for the younger generations in my life is that they will realize their uniqueness, their specialness, their potential, and the beauty in who they are much sooner than I did. A really thought-provoking post. Thanks, Lynn.

  6. Lynn, these are such important thoughts from Scripture and God’s heart! Oh that we could allow Him to change our eyes to see the way that He sees. What a precious gift of love you are sharing with your Granddaughter. I pray that I can be that same kind of beacon for my own grandchildren.

    1. Hi Bettie, I have a feeling that you are that to your grandchildren–one who prays for them to see God’s love and that He created them in His perfect image! You’ve reminded me, too, that the children are watching. We are more of any influence for the younger generation than we may realize! I pray you are well, and have a day full of seeing His blessings!

  7. I feel so sad for your granddaughter, Lynn. I’m glad she has you for a grandma! Yes, words matter! So much! I know I have to learn to be more kind to myself, too. You have such important advice here. Thank you! May we and our grandchildren see ourselves as God sees us! Love and blessings to you and your grandkids! Thank you also for the breathing spaces your photos always give me! 🙂

    1. Hi Trudy! I hope you are being kind to yourself right now, as you absolutely deserve it! And it is what God wants for us, yes? Our kindness to ourselves shows His love to others, too. And somehow treating ourselves good tends to overflow, giving permission for others to be kind to themselves. Gosh, we are complicated species, aren’t we? But it really comes down to loving ourselves and others, just as Jesus taught us. Thanks for your thoughts here, as they reminded me about the importance of being kind to ourselves!

  8. This is a common issue, not only in teens. I have quite a variety of different things that I enjoy doing. I have often been told, “I couldn’t do that!” My response has always been, “Have you ever tried?” Usually the answer was, “No.” And I would assure them that there are things they can do that I don’t know how to do. It is, as you have said, simply to do with our choices, our likes, and even opportunities. I think probably people have many abilities they don’t even know about because they haven’t had the opportunity to try or haven’t had anyone to show them how. When that equates with “I can’t do that” it is not good. We need to work on our mindsets according to the truth of the matter and not, as you have said so well, anything to do with comparisons. If I do my best, it’s all I can do. If someone else can do better, than there is no comparison except we both did our best. That calls for no comparison opinions. And we are all unique in the Lord with differing abilities, talents, interests, etc.

    1. Amen, Diane. It really is about doing our best, God’s best for us. And you’ve brought up a good point that we are not to listen to others that say “You can’t do that!” How do they know? They are not God. 🙂 May we follow His promptings, and may He open our ears to hear only what will bring us closer to how He made us.

  9. Enjoyed the elk picture. It is sad when we put ourselves down due to comparison. And it starts at such an early age! I love your 2nd point. Why are you making these comments? Discovering the why behind things can help us stop the actions. Often the why is quite enlightening.

  10. “May we soak in His words, the words that matter most, to become our best, so we can serve our world as only we can.” So important for us to recognize the truth of our individuality. Each of us created uniquely to fulfill God given purposes in a way only we can. May we see those around us, particularly children, as individuals who do not need to fit a mold or expectation. They need only be themselves. Thank you for this reminder!

  11. Great questions to guide our thoughts (or those of someone else) toward a more positive state of mind and heart. Navigating the teen years has never been easy, I suppose, but seems especially difficult these days with social media. The old Dutch theologian, Erasmus wrote, “A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.” Your words of affirmation to your granddaughter, Lynn, can be the nails of encouragement driving out those of discouragement!

  12. Lynn, this is such an important message. It took me far too long to learn this truth. Your number three is such a good benchmark! I would never say to my best friend some of what I’ve said to myself. I’m so glad your grand daughter has you to speak truth and life into her tender heart!

    1. I think being a woman and trying to do “it all” can make us believe we don’t deserve to be our own “best friend.” I remember trying to live up to a ’90’s magazine cover of an executive dressed woman with a brief case in one hand, and a perfectly combed haired child beside her, while she walked in high heals on a downtown street. But real life is a pair of runners, a back pack with your work pumps in them, and child whose pony-tail is falling out! Haha! I think it is changing now–the woman who has it all image, thankfully. Regardless, learning to not compare ourselves to others is the key, I think! Have a wonderful, be-your-own-bestfriend weekend, Jeanne!

  13. It is so, so important to help our children to understand what it means to define themselves by how they are viewed by God. Of course, to be able to teach this we would firstly have to believe it ourselves. On this long journey of faith, I am becoming more and more aware of the distance I have yet to go before my identity is firmly rooted in Christ alone. This is perhaps more challenging than ever in this digitally driven cultural-moment when competition and comparison have been elevated to unprecedented levels. As Grandma’s, we have an important voice in redirecting our young ones minds to Jesus and speaking His truth into their lives.