We all do it. And by ALL I mean ALL… We ALL consciously and subconsciously measure ourselves against the people around us in order to figure out where and how we fit into the world.
I know that we know we do it on social media. I know that we know we do it at school; at our kids' schools and/or in our families (sibling rivalry anyone?)
I have done it all, in all the places… Surprisingly though, the area or season of my life that has taught be the most about comparison has been my time in pastoral ministry; and the season I am in right now… serving and growing a heart-centered and servant-hearted coaching practice for other heart-centered servant leaders :)
I remember when (and see how), in an effort to grow and expand the good things we saw God doing in our ministry - we would look over the fence to see what was happening in our neighbors “yard” and see how we stacked up.
We called it “looking for inspiration”, and maybe it was… but slowly but surely it turned into something way more insidious, and way less helpful… we were comparing, and it was stealing so much from us.
Many of us have no problem quoting this famous idiom:
“Comparison is the thief of joy” … I think we can all point to experiences that can confirm it.
My experience, and the experience of my clients points to comparison as a joy thief as just scratching the surface of what it takes from the hearts and lives that make room for it.
1. Comparison always steals & stalls your progress.
When we get stuck in comparison… one of the inevitable stories we start to tell ourselves is:
“I can’t do _______ because I don’t have ________ like (person we’re comparing ourselves to).”
In high school I was convinced I wasn’t as popular as she was because I didn’t have as much money or shop at the same stores she did.
In early adulthood I didn’t have friends because I was the sucker God had called into full-time ministry (unlike her).
In ministry our congregation wasn’t as big as theirs because we didn’t have the right lighting equipment like they did.
In entrepreneurship, I am not as successful as her because all of my children are always hanging all over me and are clearly not as angelic as hers are.
In a nutshell, it’s never my fault that I don’t have what I want, It’s the fault of whatever it is that I want, that has not been given to me by God, life or the universe.
Comparison stalls your progress because it takes the power and control of your progress right out of your hands and leaves it floating out there in outer space while you wait for some magical power, item or miscellaneous circumstance to arrive on your doorstep.
Unfortunately that’s not how it works.
In high school I wasn’t popular because I was a jerk who didn’t like or trust other people.
In early adulthood I didn't have friends because I didn't prioritize the ones I had and I expected them to take full responsibility for our relationships.
In ministry we didn’t have a bigger congregation because… I have no idea why but I can assure you it had nothing to do with lighting displays.
In entrepreneurship, I wasn’t (or don’t) experience the success I desire because I: a) allow my children to prioritize for me (and need better boundaries with them); b) am better at having great ideas than implementing and c) am actually afraid of success and tend to push it away (or run away from it screaming) when it gets too close to me.
Comparison stalls your progress because it tricks you into thinking that someone or something else is responsible for it, and that you are helpless until you get what they have.
… to be continued….
I actually did a short video training on this exact subject where I unpacked the 3 ways comparison steals from you…
You can catch the replay by joining: https://web.facebook.com/groups/831898147554776?_rdc=1&_rdr
I will never forget that time when, after months of agonizing over whether or not to open up about how desperately lonely I was since I started working full-time at our local church. I was married, worked in a communal office, every single part of my life involved other people AND I was desperately lonely.
Lonely to the point of it becoming a mental health problem.
Lonely to the point where I was starting to really resent my job and question my calling.
Lonely to point where it was turning a soft, squishy empath & recovering people-pleaser into a cold-hearted, angry b*tch because “who the heck do you think you are to need love and support when I am not allowed to get any!!!!!”
I decided to reach out to one of my mentors for help and with every ounce of courage I could muster, asked if he had any tips for making friends (I couldn’t think of a more embarrassing question to have to ask as a 20-something).
His response floored me.
It motivated me to take action.
I left the coffee shop with an unwavering resolve to be the least loneliest person on our staff team.
To not settle for a life of isolation and dysfunction.
Want to know what that mind-bending gold nugget was?
Get ready… it will blow your mind too….
When i asked my mentor how to make friends and not be lonely in ministry he said:
“You don’t. Ministry is loneliness. The sooner you accept that the sooner you will feel better about it… here’s arbitrary and out of context scripture that’s helped me feel better about this ridiculously hopeless perspective on leadership” (Lauren’s sarcastic emphasis added).
That was my “OH HELL NO” moment.
I was literally going to go out there and make me some friends or die trying. That day I came face-to-face with my future with Leadership Isolation Syndrome if I didn’t choose a new path.
I am happy to report that I did, and I invite you to as well…
In a nutshell, Leadership Isolation Syndrome is what happens to us socially and emotionally as we begin to grow in the sphere of influence or leadership. Basically it’s feeling like you don’t have permission to show weakness, make mistakes or seek support when you need it because you have an obligation to be strong and well… perfect.
Leadership isolation syndrome is what happens when our unrealistic expectation of leaders becomes our unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
It’s actually extremely common, and almost normal… the only problem is that it's extremely unhealthy.
Human’s don’t magically outgrow their need for mutual support and connection when they enter into a season of leadership and influence… in fact, I would argue that they probably need it MORE… instead we are isolated by the expectations of others AND we isolate ourselves because of our own expectations and more than likely, the shame associated with not having it all together (GASP!)
What I want everyone reading this to know is that just because leadership isolation syndrome is common, it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
If our old ways of thinking about leadership and influence turn out to be a terrible idea, we have the freedom (and the responsibility maybe?) to update and change them.
So, why is Leadership Isolation Syndrome a thing to begin with?
My theory is that our culture strips leaders of their humanity in our perceptions of them. When we look at our leaders, our tolerance or margin for error, mistakes and failure for them is so tiny and we stop seeing them as human to some extent. In the same way, when we step into a leadership position, those same assumptions and beliefs we judge other leaders by, now start to apply to us as well.
So, the extent to which the culture around you and you yourself dehumanize leaders, is the same extent to which you will feel dehumanized as a leader/influential person. What we expect of our leaders will become what is expected of us (either by ourselves or others). When we see leaders more as machines instead of human, we often expect them to leave their human needs or human frailties/weaknesses at the door. The irony is however, that in order to be a healthy leader who leads others in a healthy way, you must first be a healthy human being.
More than ever, the world needs healthy leaders. We cannot afford to become dehumanized and neglect our human needs as a leader or person of influence.
Here are 3 things you need to look out for if you suspect you might be in dangerous water…
Phase 1: Feelings of Isolation and loneliness
The first real sign of Leadership Isolation Syndrome is that you often start to feel like NO ONE UNDERSTANDS YOU or what you’re going through.
You’ll find yourself thinking or saying, “Well no one understands how I feel” or “no one understands me”; “I can’t talk to (fill in the blank) about this, because they don’t understand what it’s like to be me”.
You start to feel that no one can possibly empathize with our ‘human-ness’ because we are in a different category of human as a result of our position of leadership/influence. You start to isolate yourself from other people because you increasingly feel separate from them.
Phase 2: Feelings of shame and guilt
The most characteristic sign of this phase is that you start to feel like YOU DON’T HAVE PERMISSION TO RECEIVE SUPPORT FROM OTHERS… or to have any human weakness.
What usually accompanies this is feelings of failure and shame. This is because, (as we discussed) we as a society expect superhuman or machine-like performance from our leaders and in turn we also expect this superhuman, or ‘perfect’ performance from ourselves and when we don’t live up to those expectations we feel immense feelings of shame and failure.
Beyond that, you may also feel that you can’t confess or admit to these feelings of shame or failure because that implies that, according to cultural standards, you’re a failure as a leader. Which is NOT TRUE.
Phase 3: Feelings of anger, judgement and resentment
Now when you hit this phase, you know you’re in trouble. When you start to feel angry, judgmental and resentful of other people and their neediness, weakness or humanity.
Just like in me, when I noticed my own loneliness getting carried away, and just like in my mentor - you start to feel angry that other people get support and that you don’t and you become increasingly unable to support & care for others when they need it.
I actually did a short video on steps you can take to combat Leadership Isolation Syndrome. You can watch it right here: https://youtu.be/e0h5d3qsoKI
...And boy am I glad we did. Aside from the really great (NOT perfect - more on that later) day we had as a family, doing something completely new for us created a really great opportunity for us to see things about ourselves, our children and parenthood that I had never seen before.
We don't really care if our kids think we're fun police (although we do like having fun together as a family), but we did like the idea of giving our kids some responsibility (I think that this is what most of us misunderstand about a yes-day - its actually giving children MORE responsibility than usual, not less), and we were very curious about what they would choose for us to do together if they had (mostly) zero restrictions placed on how we do family time.
...but here are some things that I learnt about motherhood, myself & my children that really made the whole experience worth it:
I don't think that they derailed our day much, I was just surprised at how much anxiety the experience generated. I am not in a crazy shame spiral about it or anything - I choose to make it ok - in that I see it as something to see, know & learn from, not something to judge and heap shame on myself over. Like everything in life, we can't change or address what we can't see and I am grateful for the opportunity that this day gave me to see something that I am hopeful for change over :)
2. I set my own bar for "supermom" waaaaaaay too high
One of our greatest fears around a yes-day was that our kids were going to want something from us that we weren't capable of... that they were going to ask for something we couldn't give them... and so we just avoided ever making room for them to ask.
Meanwhile, our children's requests were simple and easy. Our children's wishlist wasn't insane, it wasn't even that indulgent (accrording to our standards anyway)... it was thoughtful, fun and revolved around simply being together. Swimming, water games, walks in the park, unlimited swinging, splash pads, more swimming, a visit to our old farm, more swimming, movies with slushies & more swimming & some Starwars.
It made me realize that I have been holding back from really embracing the simple joys I am able to give to my children, because I focus so much on the more extravagant and elaborate 'joy' that I can't.
3. A great day does not equal a perfect day.
Life doesn't need to be perfect to be good.
There is magic, but it doesn't look like the movies. It's much more special than that. We just need to be willing to see it without them (the movies that is).
When I am following Christ and learning how to live from him, the exact opposite of my lived experience would be true. That Christ would lead me away from and teach me how to live free of hustle, burnout & overwhelm! (gasp!)
1 Samuel 16 tells us the story of how David came to be anointed as king in place of Saul.
Jesse presents his sons to Samuel in order of his assumption of who was most likely to be chosen. In their culture, men divided the privilege, power and wealth of their households to their sons according to their birth order, so Jesse leans into his culture’s values and perspectives when choosing who to present to Samuel for his consideration, and in what order.
It appears as if David’s own father didn’t think he was king material. Not only did his own father not even present him as a candidate to Samuel - he wasn’t even invited to the banquet being hosted at his own house. According to the people who “knew him best” his place was in the field with the sheep.
Or what if it had nothing to do with whether or not he had potential to lead a nation - Think about his track record as a shepherd: David could kill lions and bears with his bare hands. Maybe it’s not that his dad didn’t think he was good enough to lead a nation, maybe his dad just didn’t have anyone as good as him to care for the sheep. Ie: my theory anyway is that MAYBE he wasn’t invited to the party, or presented to Samuel for consideration because his dad was protecting his own interests, and his decision had nothing to do with what he saw/didn’t see in David (later, when David kills Goliath we see how David was able to go to the battlefield with a care package for his because his father did in fact, have people he could delegate the responsibility to :P)
Samuel (the prophet/man of God) looked at each of Jesse’s sons and evaluated them according to what he thought a king and military leader should LOOK like. It literally took the voice of God to be like: seriously... how well did that work out for us last time - There is someone else.
Friends here’s what I’m seeing:
- People keeping you in their place for you is probably more about it being convenient for them that you stay there. Ie: it represents a truth about them, what they think they want/need; and may have very little to do with you at all.
- If God wants you in a certain room, he will get you in there.
- The fields in which we feel “stuck” shepherding can change everything...
The most popular song of all time.. (Look it up) is psalm 23, even notorious BIG/gangsta rap has a version!
A hymn, written by David, inspired by his time as a shepherd about HIS shepherd.
That psalm has gone on to bless and inspire and change the lives of millions of people around the world for thousands of years.
There would be no Psalm 23 without David’s season tending to sheep.It went beyond and into places he could not have even begun to comprehend.
Don’t limit yourself, your ideas or reach because you can’t see as far as God can.
Just create it because it’s what’s coming out of your heart in adoration, in worship, in service. Put it out there, and let God take care of the rest.
In my own life I have spent way too much time feeling bound & held back by what I believed to be other people’s perceptions of me. I have stood aside, waiting for others to see, name and celebrate what I had been hoping was there all along. My hunches about David’s father cannot be substantiated - and I guess that's the point of the story- we can never know for sure what's going on inside someone’s heart & mind - and we don’t need to: our challenge or our act of faith is to proceed along the path we have been called to in spite of our fears, assumptions and desire for acceptance or approval that we may never get.
if you would like to join an incredible community of women pushing through their unbelief and transforming it into confidence and calling then consider joining a free Facebook community I moderate called "Succeed past the self-sabotage" - and check out free training, resources, great discussion and more!