Let’s talk about comparisons. I have spent a majority of my life entangled
in this never-ending cycle of “he’s smarter than me”, “she’s faster than
me”, “they’ll go to a better school than me”, and any other he/she/they is
please fill in the blank here than me. It’s funny because everyone says not
to compare yourself to others, yet society continually sets up to fall
right into them, especially in high school. College applications are, in
essence, comparisons. Did you fill out this pre-designed checklist of the
“perfect, well-rounded” student better than everyone else vying for those
ever decreasing spots at the top colleges and universities? And I wasted so
much of high school comparing myself to my peers, I lost myself in the
process. So, when I found Global Citizen Year, I thought I was finally done
with this game of comparisons.
Boarding the plane to Stanford, resolve in my decision to experience Brasil
for 8 months only strengthened. This upcoming year was a new chapter in
life, one free of comparisons and full of self-assurance and love. Ashanti
Waters, our opening speaker, led a workshop on removing the masks we all
wear. His words “comparisons are the thieves of happiness” resounded with
me. I was more determined than ever not to let comparisons ruin this
life-changing experience. Then, as I mingled with other Fellows,
comparisons wormed their way in and I began to doubt choosing Brazil. All I
could think was “I wimped out choosing Brasil. It is not even that
different from the United States. Senegal would have been much more of a
cultural challenge”, and these thoughts trampled my entire week in
Stanford. The night before we were set to leave for Brasil, I called my mom
and all those thoughts that had been eating away at me came spilling out.
After listening patiently, she said that I chose Brasil for a reason, and,
like moms always are, she was right. Those thoughts were not because of my
own doubt but my comparisons to others. The day we left for Brasil was one
of happiness and excitement. I was leaving the thoughts, the doubts, the
comparisons over 4,000 miles away.
Arriving at my host family, my stomach was in knots. I was living with this
family without knowing anything besides their names and professions. When I
saw them coming out of the faded, blue house, my nervousness fell away.
They were so patient with my lack of Portuguese and so welcoming to allow
me, a complete stranger, into their home. Everything was fine until my
expectations began to crumble under reality. I turned to WhatsApp for my
fellow Fellows’ tales of their host families. I anticipated similar stories
of plain rice and beans and a calm night in; instead, stories of wild car
rides, beach trips, and Brazilian feasts floated across my dimly lit
screen. Slowly, those icky comparisons cracked through my feelings of
happiness with my family, through my perceived language “skills”, and
through my little neighborhood. My first night with my new family was
stolen away by my tendency for comparisons. I had no idea what to do. If
moving halfway across the world did not stop my comparisons, what would?
Then, after a family trip to the beach, the comparisons ended. Spending a
day engrossed fully in Brazilian culture left me too busy to even think of
comparing to anything. The more I explored Florianópolis, the more I talked
with the people living here, the more brigadeiros and Caldo de Cana I ate
the more the comparisons just disappeared.
Ashanti was right to say “comparisons are the thieves of happiness”, but I
was wrong to think comparisons would simply stop with high school
graduation. Out of the many lessons this first month in Brasil has taught
me, being fully present in everything you do feels the most important right
now. Just be content with who you are and where you are at is the easiest
step in reclaiming all the happiness we lose to comparisons. So, next time
I try and compare my experience to someone else’s, I remind myself that all
lives are different and an experience like this is truly incomparable.