May 19, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
Sometime in the past year, Instagram has swept through the Plano middle school social scene, aided by the fact that all the kids these days seem to have smartphones by the age of ten, which continues to make me feel really, really old.
They are very aware of how many followers they have, how many likes they are getting for their pictures, and, perhaps most interestingly, how many followers each of their friends has. These are the sorts of things I learn as a middle school catechist, along with which sections in the band are the coolest (I’m agreeing with my student who plays bass clarinet’s opinion), and how standardized tests are seriously the worst, most painful things that any human being could ever have to suffer through.
Like my seventh grade students, most of us are quick to compare ourselves to others. We wonder how we compare to each other in a lot of ways, whether it’s physical attractiveness, intelligence, popularity, talent in a particular skill, success, or how good we are at taking interesting pictures with our smart phones and applying just the right filter to it. And sometimes we can really let it get to us, like when one of our co-workers gets a promotion that we didn’t because they’re naturally better at the job, or a girl or guy we like ends up being interested in someone else because they may have more desirable qualities about them than we do.
Technology has made it even easier to quantify our success and compare it to others. The middle schoolers are quick to note who has fewer followers than they do, and who has more. And then they wonder about why someone else is quantitatively more popular than they are. What is the more popular person doing that is getting them so many fans? How can they change who they are to appeal to more people? I can fall into a similar trap when I let the number of views on my blog dictate how successful a recent post was at appealing to as many people as possible, or how many “likes” I get on a Facebook status that I meant to be funny determine how objectively witty I am.
Comparing ourselves to others can be useful at times. It helps us notice our flaws and find ways to improve ourselves. But more often than not it leads to us only getting angry at ourselves or God. We fail to be content with our own gifts, our own friendships, our own successes, and focus only on the ways that we’ve failed to live up to our own high standards or the ways that we’re inferior to others around us. That sort of mindset will always lead to despair, and never to joy.
If you catch yourself comparing your traits to others frequently, stop letting your pride control your thoughts. You don’t need to be the best at everything. Be thankful for the gifts you’ve been given, the successes you’ve had, and the life you’ve been handed, and strive to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Never try to be another version of someone who seems to be better than you. If you see something that you admire about a friend, try to emulate it in your own life, but don’t get upset at that person for their gifts and talents.
So whether you find yourself feeling like someone who has 20, 100, or 1000 followers on the Instagram of real life, don’t worry about all of the people with 21, 101, or 1001. We’ve each got a lot to be thankful for, and like in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we’re each expected to do something awesome with what we’ve been given. Stop worrying about the guy who has 5 talents, or the girl with 2, and go do something with what you’ve got.