My advice to my younger self?

To compare is to despair.

I think about how much angst, stress, and time I would have saved had I appreciated this when I was younger. I also would have spared myself some seriously questionable fashion and style choices (say it with me, bangs are BAD on T Nels).

And I didn’t grow up in the age of social media with its nearly endless stream of comparative fodder. Small blessings.

To compare is to despair.

I tell myself this every day. It’s been my mantra for the last two years and started with a dear friend who I’ve known for nearly 20 years. She’s my “sister from another mister” and the godparent of my children.

High-profile in our industry, she’s pursued by organizations to pontificate on all things brand and social. She hob-nobs with impressive glitterati and has interviewed a former First Lady. She manages a large global customer success team and navigates interactions with titans of industry each and every day with grace and confidence. She’s polished, poised, never fails to send the perfectly written thank you note (and her kids do, too!), and her Christmas cards are ALWAYS on time. 

She is my mother’s FAVORITE daughter (and I’m an only child).

For years, I struggled with this. How could she be at the top of her game, while I felt that I was just getting by? Our paths were largely the same: we graduated from the same university, started our careers at the same company, married around the same time… While my biggest, unique accomplishment is having seen every single episode of Law & Order SVU. At least twice.

One day, I stopped. I took a deep breath and realized that we each made choices that lead us down our respective paths. I can’t speak for her, but I wouldn’t change any of the choices that I made, because they were best for me.

I chose to have my kiddos early rather than put them off for my career, because I was already tired.

I chose to stay in Austin rather than travel for other opportunities, because I love the heat and love this town.

I chose a career that puts me more in the background, because I love to see others shine.

I chose to binge-watch all manner of TV shows, because I prefer the comfort and quiet of home to a packed schedule of networking events.

Sure, I could have picked a different path, jumped to page 23 instead of page 56 in my “Choose Your Own Adventure” to be where she is. But, then again, I might have ended up in an entirely different place, missing all of the things I cherish today.

I realized that not only was upward social comparison unproductive, but that downward social comparison was also doing something funky to me: making me less sensitive and appreciative of other people’s unique situations. Turns out the “compare and despair” thing actually works both ways. 

So now, I do my best each day to take a step back and stop myself before I compare myself to anyone else. I am not always successful, but I’m at least more thoughtful about it now. I find that I’m better at celebrating my bigger accomplishments, and more appreciative and prouder of my smaller ones, too. I stopped sweating every tiny difference, every little choice, and just settled into what was right for me.

And, I find that I have a lot more grace and goodwill to go around.