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Past You and Beyoncé

  • July 19, 2022

In a recent XOMU, I talked about not comparing yourself to others—not Beyoncé, not the influencer you follow on Instagram, not your next-door neighbor—because any comparison between your lived experience (of which you are intimately familiar) and someone else’s (of which you know virtually nothing) is both unfair and meaningless.

After which a bunch of you wrote to me saying, “I’ve learned not to compare myself to others—but I still compare me to me. Younger me, pre-baby me, pre-illness me, pre-injury me, pre-pandemic me… when I compare Current Me to Past Me, I always come up short, and it makes me feel like crap about myself.”

What if I told you that Past You was no different from Beyoncé, the influencer you follow on Instagram, or your next-door neighbor, and any comparison you make to your past self is equally unfair and meaningless?

If you’re comparing Current You to Past You in some particular area (your career, athleticism, body, finances, love life, etc.) and coming up short, one of two scenarios is at play: You’re either going through something hard now (or recently have), or you had a ton of advantages in your past, which were unacknowledged or unrecognized at the time.

Or both. (It’s both.) Let’s unpack it.

You’re going through something hard

In the first scenario, you’re going through something hard, or recently have. (Which, P.S., is ALL OF US, because pandemic.) Maybe you’ve also had a baby, had an injury or illness, gone through a divorce, lost a job, lost a loved one, or struggled with your mental health. Whatever the reason, life is harder right now, and you’re punishing yourself for where you aren’t.

You used to be (fill in the blank—happier, fitter, more energetic, more capable, smaller, more successful, wealthier), and today you feel less of that thing, and you can’t help but look back with envy, grief, or frustration. Except it’s not a helpful comparison, and it’s certainly not fair.

Imagine Past You was a different person. Look at their life—pre-baby, pre-injury or illness, pre-divorce or job loss, pre-grief or depression. Their life is not your life. They do not have the same challenges Current You has. Of course they have more capacity, energy, happiness, or success—their context is very different than yours right now.

You can look back with fondness. You can give Past You a high-five for loving where they are and enjoying it with blissful abandon. You can thank them for giving you these wonderful memories and experiences. But they are not YOU, and you are not THEM. So you can stop comparing, because you are different people living in different times under different circumstances, and a deliberate comparison is both grossly unfair and (said with love) not very nice to Current You.

Past You had unacknowledged advantages

In the second scenario, maybe you’re doing just fine—pandemic and all—but you’re still not as happy, fit, energetic, small, successful, or wealthy as you used to be. And when you look back and compare, you think, “I have no excuse—I should be, and I’m not, and that makes me feel crappy about Current Me.”

Except you’re missing something. Think back to Past You. What advantages did they have that they didn’t even realize? They were younger—made of rubber and magic, with tons of capacity, excessive energy, and youthful optimism, not to mention far less adult responsibility than you have today. They didn’t have kids—yes we love them, but they’re a huge financial, time and energetic drain, and they haven’t experienced the effect of pregnancy and birth on their body. They hadn’t yet lost that crucial loved one, they needed less money to survive, and/or they weren’t yet injured, ill, depressed, or anxious.

Right now, comparing Current You to Past You, I want you to ask yourself, do you two have the same 24 hours? The answer is 100% NO. So why are you comparing? It’s no different than looking at the influencer on Instagram and saying, “Why can’t I do what she does?” (Um, because she’s 24, lives on cereal and take-out, doesn’t have to take care of anyone but herself, and doesn’t have an autoimmune disease.) Past You had advantages that you’re still not seeing, because if you were, you’d realize that any comparison was (say it with me) completely unfair and not very nice.

Where I bring it all home

To be clear, it’s almost always both. Looking back at Past You, you’re always younger. You were probably freer, with less responsibility or stress. You were certainly pre-baby, pre-loss, pre-illness or injury. Because of the nature of this specific type of comparison, you’ll always go back to a point in time where you had SO many advantages, because that makes the comparison far more stark, and that starkness is important. (Stay tuned.)

I’d also venture that 99% of the time, the reason you started comparing Current You to Past You is because things aren’t going so well right now. I rarely feel compelled to look back and compare when things are going well, like, “Let’s compare Current Me to Drug Addict Me. Wow! Current Me is really doing well. High-five Current Me, I feel great about myself now.” (I wish we did that more often, but we don’t.)

No, it’s the Post-Concussion Me looking at Pre-Concussion Me saying, “I used to be able to do so much more.” It’s the Post-Baby You comparing to Pre-Baby You saying, “I used to be so fit and energetic.” It’s Post-Divorce You comparing to Happy Marriage (or Pre-Marriage) You saying, “I used to be so confident, outgoing, and happy.”

And here’s why we do this, and why we deliberately aim for as stark a comparison as possible—one that makes Current Us look as bad as possible compared to Past Us: Because we think (misguidedly) that this comparison will motivate us to do more or be more now.

Sit with that for a minute. We deliberately do this to ourselves because subconsciously, we think it will help. And if that doesn’t resonate, try this one: We deliberately do this to ourselves because subconsciously, we think we deserve to be punished for where and who we are today.

But it doesn’t motivate us. It can’t. And we don’t deserve to be punished. We deserve to be accepted, loved, and empowered exactly where we are.

What to do instead of comparing

If you take away one thing from this discussion, let it be this:

If you ever find yourself comparing You to You and coming up short, it’s because you’re in a rough spot. And any comparison in this moment isn’t fair, isn’t meaningful, and isn’t being kind to yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself, “I don’t need to feel shame, and I don’t deserve to be punished. This comparison is not helpful, so I’m going to let it go now.”

Past You is no different than Beyoncé. Let go of the comparison. It’s not serving you, but more than that, it’s not real. And you can’t start doing the real work until you stop looking back and take a kind, accepting look at where Current You is right now, in this moment.

That is where you have real power.

If I reminded you of your power today, or gave you permission to finally let Past You rest where they belong, let me know by replying to this email or sending me a message on Instagram @melissau

XO Melissa

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