Even when you aren’t consciously thinking of that dreaded “comparison trap,” it still seems to creep up into any moment you should be giving yourself credit.
I’ve talked about comparison often because it’s something I find my mind constantly drawing toward. The problem is, I don’t compare myself to others. I compare myself to myself, or what I think I should be doing.
This lack of giving myself credit, basically ever, has inevitably bled into my position teaching in American Samoa. Ask the many ways I’m “falling behind” or “not doing enough,” and I’ll give you a full list.
Too easily, we sabotage ourselves by not recognizing success for what it is: success. Something to CELEBRATE! As much as you’re doing great stuff in your life, there’s a chance you’re not recognizing all that great stuff, even though you most definitely should be giving yourself credit.
when success doesn’t feel like success
My brother can step in here, using himself as an example to show you how this self-sabotage might happen. To plenty of people, he;s seen as someone who’s had a fairly successful life so far. (I agree, especially as the little sister always aspiring to meet his high bar.)
He’s always done really well in school, got into the law school of his choice, landed lots of fun internships, and generally has had his future set in a large city with plenty of opportunity coming his way. As someone I look up, I tear up thinking of how proud I am and how much we deserves every success and victory.
But even he struggles to feel like he’s achieved anything. What one person sees as achievement, he sees as simply meeting expectations. Like me, he always sets the bar high, which means he never really sees himself going above it.
Rather than having a problem with other people setting expectations,”I have a hard time setting my own [expectations] in a way that actually benefits me.”
why am I not a better teacher?
Here’s where my situation comes in. I’m in this year-long position, teaching to a class of Samoan-speaking fifth-graders. Only on rare occasions do I feel like I’m making a difference. When I have a student excited about an activity, or the “light bulb” moment of someone understanding a concept, I can feel good knowing I did something.
Otherwise, like I mentioned, the list of inadequacies is a mile long. Going into this experience, I have my favorite teacher of all time in the back of my head, telling myself, “I want to make use of her techniques and wisdom. I want her to see what I’m doing and be proud.”
Except I’ve only felt like I’d be disappointing her. There are several students in my class who rarely understand me, so they don’t even have an opportunity to meet their fullest potentials. I often go day-by-day on my lesson plans, which even then are activity and topic ideas while I wing it in the moment. I prefer not charting out every single second, but then I see where I could be doing more.
Sometimes I stop talking altogether because I get so frustrated seeing every single person checked out, or falling asleep. I think of how often I rely upon the textbook in science when we should be doing hands-on experiments they brag about doing before. Any independent work time, I utilize it just to sit, but I still think, “I could be walking around to help students one-on-one. I could be more stringent on discipline.” The thoughts digress.
As important as it is to strive to grow as a person, there’s a risk that you just make things too hard on yourself. From there, you take away from all your progress if you don’t appreciate how far you’ve come. Like my brother and I have done, you may set the bar so high that it takes just a little too much to reach it. Or a lot.
Then you’re never satisfied. You’re stuck in a cycle of self-depreciation over not reaching that high bar, even though failure was inevitable. You don’t give yourself grace, even when your model of ideal teaching is based off over twenty years of experience, living in a developed country.
So much space exists between the ground and the bar. If you only see the bar instead of feeling gratitude, you feel empty. You let yourself down. You beat yourself up. Everything is inadequate, not good enough.
So, what is it we can do to make sure we don’t end up trapped by our own skewed, unrealistic expectations? Ask yourself a few questions:
1. Where did I set the bar?
A goal you can never reach will make you miserable, and you’ll be so focused on the goal, you leave everything else behind without giving yourself credit for those million other things.
We all set out to do well, but sometimes, we don’t do a good job understanding our own human limitations and the world’s limitations.
Imagine all of the kids out there who wanted to be astronauts. Now take a few seconds to think about how many people have gone into space. Have a guess?
The answer is 536. I think we’d both agree more than 536 people on Earth right now are qualified to go into space, let alone over the last few decades. How badly should those dreamers feel if they haven’t achieved that incredible dream, literally shooting for the stars?
This post isn’t meant to be a lesson in how chasing dreams is a fruitless effort. Rather, this is a word of advice on the risks of chasing dreams. Don’t set some high goal for yourself thinking that, if you reach it, all your problems will disappear. That doesn’t happen.
Any prediction you make about how your life’s going to turn out one, two, five, ten years from now is going to be flawed in more ways than one. Trust me, making long-term plans only leads to more confusion.
But still, we all try. All the time. We paint ourselves pretty pictures and find out that life is much messier. God’s the one in control, not you. It’s nice to envision all the possibilities, but God will put you in the right place in the right time. He doesn’t promise it’ll be all sunshine, but He does promise He’ll never forsake us.
2. Why set the bar there?
Always be sure to remember you are already an amazing person. Beautifully and wonderfully made. So loved by God and so many people in this world. You should be giving yourself credit for those facts alone.
More often than not, we set our expectations in the form of some expected achievement. We do this so we can receive the satisfaction of “victory.” Satisfaction. A confidence boost. The problem is, that’s just not likely to happen the way you expect.
What if you happened to get your dream job? You made that goal and achieved it, but now new expectations arise. You’re responsible for doing well in that new job and not screwing up the opportunity. In your mind, you have to feel like you’ve truly earned that success. The glamour is gone. Maybe you even realize, this “dream job” isn’t all it was cracked up to be in your mind. Rarely does the expectation and reality of something ever coincide.
Make your goals worth dreaming about, but also still realistic. That old saying of having your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground. You’re setting your own expectations, so you have the power to set ones that actually benefit you.
Jesus took the wheel, and He’s steering you wherever you’re meant to be. You’ll set goals, make mistakes, readjust your direction, and feel every emotion along the way. It’s about time to be giving yourself credit not just for setting expectations, but also for making the best of everything life throws your way.
3. What did I do well today?
We know all too well how much pressure society puts on us to “succeed” in plenty of ways that don’t really matter. What’s important is to try your best in every moment.
Nobody’s perfect. We all have flaws and ways we could be better and do better. Giving yourself credit and trusting in God that you’re okay as you are can be the hardest feat. But seriously, you’re great as is.
Even if you want to make goals for yourself to improve in certain areas, just have something to strive for, personal development takes a long time. A new practice takes at least a month to become a habit. I think back to my own past attempts at breaking bad habits or doing something new, and once I screwed up once, I didn’t try again too hard. It’s such an arduous task that can and should sound daunting.
There’s no need to beat yourself up over not being the best version of you right now. You’re not supposed to be. You’re still learning and growing, and always will be.
Instead, stay present and recognize the little things you can do now that you weren’t able to do before. Think about all the good things you’ve been consistent with. In other words, recognize your progress. You’re not the same person you were a year, a month, or a week ago. Every day, you move forward. Each morning you rise, you have a reason to celebrate.
Gratitude: the word you should be seeing all time. That’s because it’s important, and you probably still haven’t seen this word enough. Often, we’re so inundated with blessings from God, we forget to consciously acknowledge them. Every breath we take is a gift. We should feel awe and wonder simply opening our eyes, or stepping outside, or carrying out the basic tasks of each day. You’re not just giving yourself credit, but you’re giving God credit for all He does, too.
If you learn anything today, it’s to make gratitude a habit.
What have you done so far today? Nothing is too small. You woke up. You ate a meal. You stay hydrated, took a shower, went to work, made it through a challenge. Seriously, life has far too many reasons to start giving yourself credit than you might be noticing right now.
4. What can I do better tomorrow?
Remember: while reflecting and expressing gratitude to God and yourself and all life brings, include activities that you’re doing to work toward a long-term goal. The reason you work toward goals in the first place is to develop yourself, not to reach a certain point.
Not every experience may be something you want to remember, but it all helps you in one way or another. God gave you that experience for a purpose we might not yet see. He’s testing us, and He’s molding us into who we’re meant to be. We need to trust in His timing and His process. We need to trust in ourselves, that we’re strong and capable enough.
You need darkness to see the stars. There cannot be negatives without positives. Bad days will happen, but there’s something good in every single day. Find it. Lean on it.
Life feels hard enough, but if you’re becoming your own worst enemy by setting unrealistic expectations, it’ll always feel like an uphill battle. You’ll never be good enough, worthy enough. If you’re giving yourself credit, you’ll remember that yes, you’re doing just fine. You’re not a failure. Everything will work out for good. The best is yet to come.
So maybe I’m not an amazing teacher. But I’m still here, still teaching, still doing my best. And that’s all I can ask for.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie