Duncan: Comparison is the road to discontentment

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Megan Duncan

I recently ran into a 20-something friend at Walmart.

As she told me about her career aspirations and a possible move to another state, her cart called out to me: two bottles of wine, a frozen dinner for one, and a bag of party Snickers, which I know she fearlessly displays on her coffee table.

My cart overflowed with a family size package of generic toilet paper, an oversized bag of dog food, a knock-off cereal going by the name Tootie Fruities, and a week’s worth of snacks that would probably last two days.

This was more than Walmart cart envy though. She represents me 20 years ago, with a lifetime of choices ahead.

A little piece of me thinks if I could hit the rewind button, then maybe I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and uncertain. Maybe, just maybe, I could have gone farther and done grander things. Because on some long days when I can’t listen to another argument, judge another burping contest, or pick up another sock, I want to be her — that girl whose life seems perfect.

I see her all the time on social media. She posts her healthy lunch on Facebook while I am waiting in line at the drive-thru. Why don’t I have that kind of self-control?

The one who sits every morning with coffee, her Bible and a journal spread out in front of her? Why aren’t I that faithful?

Smiling faces of people whose houses are in the background and look so much nicer and cleaner than mine, or the mom with her kids who just seem a lot more normal and put together than my wacky little family — that’s the girl I want to be.

And that young friend whose life is ahead of her — I certainly remember being her.

But when I think about it, all I wanted then was everything I have right now. A family.

The difference is that my perception of family life seemed a lot more like a fairy tale than it really is — and I think that’s what this is all about.

The perfect lives we paint for one another based on snapshots of their best moments aren’t reality. If someone makes good choices over easy ones — like healthy food over convenient food or Bible study over sleeping in — and I choose to be bitter rather than inspired, well shame on me.

Shame on me for failing to wish the best for others, and for the secret hope that I will run into Miss Healthy at McDonald’s chowing down on a Big Mac. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

Maybe it’s all because looking at a picture of what we want in life is a lot easier than doing the work to create that life.

Getting healthy, becoming organized, and being disciplined aren’t as easy as they look — although I think they get easier with practice.

Allowing someone else’s success to fuel our own choices is a great way to stay motivated, but the constant comparison is a sure-fire road to discontentment. It has been for me, at least.

But I don’t often realize how much alike we all are. Sometimes I make great choices — some days, I am the one posting about my salad with low-cal dressing while someone else waits at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

It isn’t until I feel guilty about what I am doing that I start getting antsy about what everyone else is doing.

And for my dear friend with everything ahead of her, no matter how many great choices I know she will make, one day she will also look back and wonder what she might have done differently.

Maybe her cart will overflow with boxes of value diapers and knock-off cereal with her kid interrupting every ten seconds to announce he needs to pee even though she just took him to the bathroom five minutes ago — or maybe her life will be completely different than mine.

Either way — and for all of us — it’s her life to build and her choice to be happy. Although I can still hope she ends up with her own wacky little family.

Honestly, there’s nothing better.

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