I was raised in a very tidy house. Everything had a precise place, down to the arrangement of dish towels and placement of toothpaste. As a teenager, I rebelled against what I felt was a nazi-like cleaning regime and my bedroom became my clothes-strewn sanctuary (sorry, mom!). Then in my late twenties, living in my own grown-up house, I found myself trying to match my parents’ level of cleanliness, constantly berating myself when I missed the mark (which was, like, always). My sudden need for everything to be uber clean wasn’t my parents’ fault, just my own inability to see the ways in which I was dissimilar from them. I had never really taken the time to suss out the differences between me and them and everyone else.
It’s crazy easy to fall into the trap of thinking other people are doing things right and that we, with our Ben & Jerry’s and not spotless house, are doing it wrong. This has pretty much always been a thing, but blogs and diy weddings and decorating magazines and social media have elevated it to a sort art. The art of doing ‘all of the things’ as perfectly as possible.
We can unconsciously adopt the standards of others without ever checking in to see if they’re a true reflection of our values and capabilities. We play the comparison game, assuming that we should have the same exact standards as the people around us. This is especially true for perfectionists, whose internal dialogue can go something like this: “I am a super huge failure for not making the buttercream frosting for the bakesale in ombre colors like in that Pinterest tutorial I pinned five months ago.”
Setting personal standards seems like such an obvious thing, but when I was reflecting on guilt and comparison earlier this summer, I realized that there were many areas in my life where I just hadn’t done this. And it was at the root of a lot of comparison angst. One of the ways it crops up for me is when I start something new: instead of just allowing myself to be a beginner, I compare myself to people who are really advanced. But it’s so silly (and debilitating) to try and live up to the standards of Picasso when you’re just starting to experiment with painting. And it takes all of the joy out of it.
For instance, it’s easy for me to get down on myself for not posting on my blog seven days a week, as some other awesome bloggers do. I’ve even had people straight up ask me to do this. I used to feel a yucky twinge (okay, bucket, really) of guilt and then think, “Man, I must be doing this all wrong.” But the truth is, that’s not really my blogging style. So one day I sat down with myself and set my own standards for blogging. It allows me to politely say (and genuinely mean), “Oh, that’s so great that you do that. Go on with your bad self. I’m pretty happy posting once or twice a week and taking a break now and then while on vacation.” Because those are my standards–standards that I clearly defined for myself outside of the sphere of other people’s influence.
Defining your personal standards is a fantastic way of taking your values and goals and capabilities and turning them into little flags that direct you on your own path. Standards can be raised and modified and ditched entirely as we grow and progress and choose new paths. But they’re great for staying motivated and keeping comparison angst to a minimum.
And one of the fantastic byproducts of knowing what’s right for you is that it allows you to be genuinely happy for other people, rather than jealous and competitive. If a friend posts something on Facebook about running for the fourth time that week in record time, that clarity allows you to put it in perspective and think, “Rock on. I’m not at that level but I’m kicking butt on my two runs,” rather than “Screw you and your stupid Lululemon pants.” (amiright?)
Today, my own standards fall happily in between my hoarding sixteen-year-old self and my perfectionistic twenty-seven-year-old self. I don’t mind if things are imperfect and a little messy, though, much to teenage Rian’s horror, I like things to be tidyish. And when a neat-freak friend uncomfortably eyes my big stack of design magazines, I don’t bat an eye. Because it’s my stack. My standard.
What do you think? Do you have clearly defined personal standards that you feel confident about? Or do you sometimes find yourself mixed up in the you, me, and everyone else stew?