Comparing Ourselves to Other Women

On the Move Show 2Since my “Can’t You Just Workout” blog in December, I have been trying in earnest to workout regularly. It doesn’t easily fit into the schedule, and most days I feel like I need a nap more than a workout, but I made losing weight my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I ordered a new pair of running shoes and re-joined my favorite yoga studio. Now one month in, I’m building the habit but still feel more “out of shape” than in when it’s time to sweat.

Despite this, I recently signed up for the hardest yoga class at my studio. If you’re not a regular yogi and can’t imagine how the words “hard” and “yoga” belong in the same sentence, then you need to come to a class with me! It’s full of body weight exercise challenges and a tempo that leaves me sweating so much I almost slip off my mat.

So I showed up for the Strong Class and chose my place in the back corner. I wasn’t feeling very energetic after a long week at work, so I just set my intention to “stay present and finish”. No frills, no extras, just survive. But no sooner had we launched into the flow that I was distracted by sudden movements on my left. One of the reasons I like yoga is because I can just be in my own head space, with no interruptions, for an hour. I don’t usually pay much attention to anything but the instructor’s voice and my breath… but there was this periodic flutter of intense movement in my peripheral vision so finally I looked. The woman next to me, perfect body and full lulu-lemon yoga gear, was doing four extra push-ups before each chaturanga. And then, my comparison voice started talking…

“Wow, really? Is that necessary?”…”Is she just showing off?”…”Is she going to do this the whole time?”…”The teacher didn’t even ask us to do extra! Isn’t the Strong Class hard enough in itself?”…”Why is she in the back row?”…

I’m embarrassed that this was my first line of thinking. It clearly came from a place of insecurity and envy. In the end, the fact that she showed up with such intensity pushed me to re-imagine the extent to which I could push myself, and made it much harder for me to cheat on the basic moves knowing she’d be right next to me killing it on her mat. The comparison born out of insecurity led to feelings of inadequacy. While it drove me to do better, it also left me feeling bad about myself.

The comparison game is alive and well in the female community. For some reason we ladies compare and contrast ourselves with each other like it’s our job. I’ve heard all my life that women dress more for other women than men, that the mommy wars are real, and women can form cliques that keep other women out. One of the central messages I took from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is that women need to stop competing with each other in the workplace and instead lift each other up – making overall gains faster, together. Yet even though I am 100% bought in to debunking comparison in favor of collaboration, here I was in this yoga class thinking…

“Ugh, show off.”

Bad habits run deep. But there is hope.

Two years ago while working at The Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta our CEO at the time suddenly decided to leave. The board was then faced with a decision – they could either run a formal executive search or promote me and my colleague, Breanna Lathrop, into higher levels of responsibility (Breanna as COO and Medical Director, me as CAO) establishing us as something like co-executive directors. I didn’t know Breanna that well at the time, and I’ll admit being a little nervous as to how this was going to play out. I was nervous because Breanna is really incredible. She is a mom of three, a nurse practitioner, a gifted leader, a hard worker… would I just live in her shadow? My comparison voice spent a lot of time wringing its hands in the first few months.

But then I realized this was a waste of valuable energy. Comparison simply makes a judgement and then walks away, no better for the data. I decided I wasn’t going to compare anymore. I realized we have different skills sets and ways of viewing the world – I’d be much more successful if I had a posture of collaboration. If every time Breanna did something awesome, or better than me, or innovative, or amazing I said to myself, “How lucky that I get to work with her! How can we capitalize on this and maximize our collaboration?”

This line of thinking has led to some pretty incredible things. At the most basic level, collaborating means that we’re on a team together in leading Good Sam and making a difference in the world. Since we both have families, there is need for teamwork and filling in for each other on a regular basis. When family calls, we know we have each other and work doesn’t have to skip a beat. We also brainstorm regularly and, as first time executive leaders, have found a sounding board and a source of wisdom in one another.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that we decided to write a book together – a book neither of us could have written in a silo. We brought our unique stories and strengths to the story, rounding out the overall message because of our differences.

Last Friday Breanna and I were filming a workout and interview segment on a TV show for our newly released book. As we stood on the stage and did workout moves in sync, laughing at ourselves and feeling equally awkward wearing yoga pants on television, I realized this is women doing life together at its best. As we walk through the new territory of marketing and promoting a book, especially on radio and TV, I sure am glad I’m doing it with a partner.

In comparison thinking, I’m evaluating for a winner and a loser. In collaboration thinking, we’re winning together.

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