She came into the world all bright lights, rush of cold, her own screams ringing in her ears. Large hands pulled her, she heard a snip, then experienced the blessed relief of her mother’s arms. She heard that familiar voice soothing her cries and calmness overcame her. She filled herself on warm milk, then rested in her mother’s arms, perfectly content in her world.
This feeling of contentment remained until she became more aware of the world around her. The first time her mother set her down to hold her brother, she wondered, Why is she holding him and not me? Does she love him more? And she shrunk just a little.
She took her first step with pride and everyone celebrated, but then her sister came home and demonstrated a pirouette. Suddenly her step seemed insignificant in comparison and she felt a little smaller.
The playground offered possibilities and she celebrated learning to pump her legs and going down the big slide independently for the first time. She felt content until she looked around her and saw others swinging higher and running faster, and she slumped her shoulders in defeat.
When assignments for the school play posted, she spun in excitement to be the Fairy Godmother. Then her best friend clasped her hand, excited to share her big news, I’m Cinderella! And she wondered what she’d done wrong to miss out on the big part.
Middle School felt like an endless competition where she didn’t add up – her clothes, her hair, her grades, everything. Her mother told her You don’t need to compare yourself to others! You’re perfect just the way you are. But she couldn’t believe it in the shadow of her peers.
She left behind the awkwardness of early teenage years in high school and experienced a surge in confidence. Her grades put her near the top of her class, she excelled at soccer, and enjoyed strong friendships. But insecurity dogged her steps and she wondered why she felt the need to compare her grades to others or threatened when even a friend succeeded. When these thoughts crept in, she felt ashamed and small.
College brought more academic successes, along with the challenges of the “freshman 15″ and failed relationships. When her childhood best friend called to announce she’d been accepted to a prestigious graduate program, the girl publicly celebrated, but privately felt discouraged by a job prospect that seemed promising only the day before.
Marriage and children meant new pressures, with new comparisons weighing her down. It seemed that when her child learned a new word, someone else’s child spoke in sentences. She found herself shrinking in the shadow of envy and comparison day by day until she became determined to shake her old habits.
As the girl’s daughter grew, she watched with alarm as her daughter adopted the poisonous habit of comparison, gradually diminished by compliments and successes surrounding her. The girl found herself saying in all sincerity, You don’t need to compare yourself to others! You’re perfect just the way you are. But her daughter couldn’t believe it in the shadow of her peers.
When a well-deserved career opportunity of a lifetime came for the girl, she picked up the phone to invite her best friend to lunch to share the big news. She hesitated, remembering her friend’s recent struggles and wondering if this news would hurt her. By chance, the friend called and the two agreed to meet for lunch.
The girl’s friend cried at the news of her new career and the girl felt terrible, saying, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. She saw herself reflected in her friend’s tears, assuming that her success meant another’s shrinking.
Upset me? I’m thrilled! her friend responded, standing tall, and wrapping the girl in her embrace.
But…but. You don’t feel bad? You’re truly happy for me?
And her friend understood because she’d been there before; becoming smaller each year with envy and jealousy, fading among feelings of inadequacy compared to others around her. She pulled away slightly, looked the girl directly in the eye and said simply, Your success does not diminish me.
The girl looked puzzled, so her friend continued, I used to constantly compare myself to others until I couldn’t celebrate any success fully – theirs or mine. One day, a friend, seeing my unhappiness, told me a secret. She said, We are not competing for accolades, compliments, or achievements. Your accomplishments only say something about you. They say nothing about me. Our successes are our own. There is no scale metering out bad for every good. One person’s success does not diminish someone else.
The friend wrapped the girl in her embrace once more, whispering, Your success does not diminish me. Understanding this truth changed my life.
Tears welled in the girl’s eyes as she walked to her car, repeating in her mind, Your success does not diminish me. Gradually, she began to stand a little taller with each repetition. She felt years of pain rush out, running down her face, into her hair, past her mouth, and then dissolve into the air.
The girl arrived home and took the stairs two at a time until she reached her daughter’s room. She lightly knocked, then entered at the Come in. She sat next to her daughter, wrapped her arms around her, and said, I want to tell you a story. It’s called the Parable of the Diminishing Girl.