I like to pretend that Annie F. Downs and I are best friends. I’ve read her books, I listen to her podcast every week and I just adore this woman’s raw emotion, wisdom, love of all things fun, and her humility as she admits her flaws as a women pursuing Christ. She doesn’t know it yet, but one day we’re going to meet and it’ll be a match made in Friendship Heaven. With that to say, one of the nuggets of wisdom that I’ve treasured the most from listening and reading Annie’s story is this: the concept of loving your own lane. In the age of social media where the comparison game is almost unavoidable, this is something I know I wrestle with, and I can imagine that you may have had your weak moments in this area yourself. When I watched Annie’s speech, “Why I Love My Lane (and How I Found It)”, I was #shook. I cried, I laughed and I literally exclaimed alone in my apartment, “YES!” once or twice. The idea that not only should I stay in my own lane, but I could actually love and appreciate my own lane was a tremendous eyeopener for me, as silly as that sounds. Tossing out the ugliness of the comparison trap saves an enormous amount of time and emotion– freeing you up to be able to intentionally spend your time pursuing what’s meant for you and you alone.
I was so fired up after listening to that speech that I wrote “Love Your Lane” in dry erase marker on my vanity mirror and it stayed there until I moved out of my Nashville apartment. But then something happened… I forgot. Sure, I could see the quote, but I forgot what the meaning truly meant at its core. Even with the knowledge that I don’t need to keep up with what everyone around me is doing, I still found myself scrolling Instagram with a bitter taste in my mouth every time I came across another engagement, another career achievement, another photo of a giggling girl squad out to brunch, or another overseas vacation that didn’t belong to me. I will humbly admit– I need a constant reminder that my lane is my lane for a reason. I also need to be reminded that my lane is beautiful and unique and worthy of appreciation, if not admiration.
When I started to think practically about how I would continue to remind myself to be grateful for my lane and release the envy I have for those around me, the idea came to me to write letters. Writing has been the most therapeutic and genuine form of artistic expression for me as of late, so I decided it would be the most authentic way to let go of that resentment I still harbor for the girls in my life that I continue to compare myself to. Reader, I hope you don’t mind me sharing this experiment with you and I hope that you go out on a limb and try it yourself. Just see what comes up…
To the Girl That Was Cast Instead of Me:
I worked really hard to be told “no” in this moment; lots of mental preparation–probably hours of daily self-talk in front of mirrors–was done leading up to the highly probable rejection that I am currently facing. And yet– I still feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. No matter how many different ways I tell myself, “this opportunity wasn’t meant for you” or “something else is just around the corner”, I cannot–in this moment–shake the story I’m telling myself, the story that you must be better than me in some capacity. I won’t admit it to myself until much later, but what I’ve learned is this: my self pity should not and will not take away from the recognition you deserve in this moment. My “special” is no less special because you were offered an opportunity. What I didn’t see while I was in my own all-consuming world of preparation, was that you too probably spent hours at home researching, deliberating your outfit choice and giving your own firm pep talks in your bathroom mirror. What I don’t know is how many times you have also put your heart into an audition and didn’t receive the outcome you were hoping for. What I don’t hear are the voices inside your head that make you doubt yourself and your ability to pull off this role even though you were cast justifiably. I’m sorry that while wrapped up in my own disappointment, I forgot to congratulate you… and worse, I forgot to humanize you.
To the Girl That Is Further Along In Her Career:
Maybe you’re my age or maybe you’re younger (if so, I probably have a touch more resentment). Maybe you have the same degree and education I have or maybe you have less (once again, I will most likely be judging you more harshly if this is the case). Maybe you have been working towards this career for years or maybe you just stumbled into it… Either way, if you are making more money than me and have a fancier title than me, I have more than likely thought (at least once), “why her?” Sometimes I get extremely caught up in the world being “fair”, and by “fair” I mean that the world should follow black and white patterns and yield predictable outcomes. I want control and I feel safer with guarantees. I have nothing against you personally, but when I see you further along in your career, I feel like that must say something about me. As if the idea that because you published a book or you earned your PhD or you started your own business or you got a promotion–whatever it may be– proves my theory that the blessings available in this world are scarce. The more that are given to you, the fewer there are for me. And how unfair that I took the long route to get to something that for you, seems to have been granted from a place that required much less personal, financial and emotional sacrifice. When I get caught up in how unfair it is that you’re further along in your career, I have to remind myself that my pessimistic theory of scarcity is false. We live in a world of abundance and even when we don’t believe that, we have to try to believe it and tell ourselves that anyway. Your success does not determine my success. Your success says everything about what you have earned and what you have rightfully achieved– It. Says. Nothing. About. Me.
To the Girl Who Is Engaged:
I see your professional engagement photos on Instagram and it almost, embarrassingly, makes me what to cry. Maybe I’ll comment: “I’m SO happy for you!” and maybe I’ll mean it, but deep down, I’m wondering if that picture perfect kind of relationship is ever going to be in the cards for me. And I wonder– will I be okay if it isn’t? I don’t know how many heartbreaks you’ve previously endured and I don’t know what your relationship is like behind closed doors. I don’t have control of when and if a relationship like yours will come into the picture for me. I do know that I can pray for a strong union between you and your partner. I do have control over how I react– I can react from a lonely place of bitterness and jealousy or I can react from an open place of compassion and genuine happiness for you. I want you to know, that while it’s difficult to do sometimes, I’m striving to choose the latter.
To the Girl Who is Dating My Ex Boyfriend:
The mere idea of you can, in my darkest moments, make me feel like an inadequate and outdated piece of equipment. You are the shiny upgraded iPhone (whatever that is right now, I can’t keep up) and I’m the broken and discarded flip phone no one seems to have a use for. You make me feel like a faded memory that will only be dusted off to highlight your greatness and illustrate my shortcomings. In my ugliest imagination, I am the butt of many jokes between you and him, I am the “psycho”, the “bitch”, or worse yet– I’m simply “that poor girl” that you feel glorified in pitying. As you can see, I can invent a plethora of stories about you without ever having met you or heard your voice. My imagination can be cruel, but I’d like to change that. I want to begin to imagine you as someone not too different from myself. You are someone with hope and someone at the beginning of a fresh start. I don’t know what you’ve seen, heard or experienced before this season in our lives, but I’m sure that it hasn’t been exactly a princess fairy tale. I’m sure you’ve escaped your fair share of villains and I’m sure you have your own dreams that you’re afraid won’t become a reality. Me too. Maybe this new relationship is also your new dream. If that’s true, then I sincerely wish that you’ll get to see it realized. Every princess deserves to leave the tower once in a while and see her dream come true. You chase your dream, sister. I’ll chase mine. The good news is: we can both have a happy ending.