Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thief of Joy

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw it.

We're ten days from our move now, and I can feel the doors closing on this era of our lives.  It will take some time to process all that was the last two years.  We got the opportunity to return to Boston when little J was about nine months old, and I think the husband would agree with me that our life has pretty much been in a state of constant upheaval ever since.  After six years in Vermont, I've loved the opportunity to live in this cosmopolitan, cobblestoned city again and to feed off the energy of such an intense place, but I'd be lying if I told you that these haven't been two of the most stressful years of our lives.  From employment uncertainty to budgetary wrangling to landing in a neighborhood incredibly ill-suited to our lifestyle (not the city itself, mind you, which I actually adore and think was a pretty good fit for us overall, but our little four-square-block radius of said city, which has been loud, dirty and crime-ridden way more often than it has been as charming as the rest of this place), this has been a challenging time in the history of our little family.  As we prepare to depart, I can't help but reflect on the bittersweet nature of this time, and why it was what it was to us.

The sweetness of our time in Boston came completely from the people in our lives. We lived here before we left for Vermont in 2004, leaving some of our oldest friends and favorite people behind, and they were all still waiting for us when we returned in 2010.  People who have lived within ten miles of us in this incarnation here include my husband's closest friend from his childhood, one of my best college girlfriends, my husband's sister, friends from our twenties who we only grew closer to in our thirties, culinary soul mates, a high school friend and his wife who I absolutely adore, and my sister's whole college posse, who act as an infusion of hipness and energy in my life and her proxy since she absconded to Manhattan.  How lucky are we?  To have such a crew all in sugar-borrowing distance was one of the reasons we jumped at the chance to come back here.  And then there are the new friends we've made this time around, in particular a phenomenal group of young moms in my neighborhood who have taken me into their fold and enriched my life in countless ways.  Focusing on all of them makes our stay here seem nothing but sweet.

And yet.  When we left in 2004, we kind of jumped off the train of young professionalism we'd been riding along with all of our friends.  We spent a year working in restaurants (incredible experiences that I wouldn't trade) before embarking on three years in a rural town in graduate school, with most of our grad school friends being a bit younger than we were.  Career-changing a little late in the game was a leap of faith for the husband, and following him to rural Vermont to support him in that change was a leap of faith for me.  The decision was the right one for both of us, and has already been worthwhile in immeasurable ways, but the flip side of that is being in a very different place than most of our urban friends.  When we left we made a conscious decision to hit the reset button on life and essentially start from scratch, while our Bostonian counterparts really took off in careers they'd been chipping away at for the better part of a decade.

Here comes brutal honesty: the differences in our trajectories, and living that contrast daily, is part of what has made this stage of life so hard.  In law school our social circle was all in the same boat, living in student apartments on an academic schedule and budget, and we all bonded together and made the most of it with a lot of humor, camaraderie, and creativity. Landing back in Boston, we were instantly surrounded by dear friends enjoying comfortable homes, domestic help, international travel, and all of the other the fruits of many years of labor.  We work hard too, but live like people just out of grad school, which indeed we are.  It is only now in our departure that I realize what a subconscious thief of joy my internal comparison of our situations has been.   This is embarrassing but important to admit, I think, as I say goodbye.

Why am writing/publishing this for the world to see?  Because I think it is important not only for me to stand up and admit it to myself, but I also want to make a mark of it both in the timeline of my life and in my brain.  I want to stand and face this ugly truth about myself and then LET.IT.GO.  As we pack and say farewell, all I can think about is how much I care about these people and how much depth they bring to our lives, and yet in our living here, the comparison I felt between my life and theirs soured me more often than I care to admit.  I also wanted to say all of this out loud because pointless comparison is something that I think we all engage in as part of the universal human experience, and it is something that makes us all a bit smaller and less whole in the end.  If seeing that butt-kicking quote and hearing me out as I think this through can help someone else shed the burden of comparison, then this outing of my smaller self is totally worthwhile.

Fact: we have what we need.  We have more than what we need.  We are blessed in innumerable ways from a healthy child and a healthy second pregnancy, to families and friends who would do just about anything for us and break their backs to help us out on a regular basis.  I have a life rich not only in the things that truly count, but also showered in frivolous extras like delicious, healthy food, lovely products, cultural experiences galore, and trinkets and togs that suit my fancy.  I want for nothing that is necessary or beautiful in this life.  So why the comparison? If there is one thing I want to take away from this period, I think it would be this primary and fundamental lesson that COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. 

In our next station in life, I want to focus on the blessings this family has and not waste an iota of energy thinking about how they measure up to those around us.  Even our most successful friends in the city have faced grueling life challenges while we have been here by their sides, and might even compare themselves back to us, living in relative simplicity and blessed good health here in our cozy apartment.  Comparison is odious and entirely a waste of time.  If that is the one lesson I take away from our time here, I think it going to fare me well going forward more than I even know.


  1. Such a timely message for me...thank you so much for sharing as well as for your honesty. While I've always been grateful for what I have in my life (friends, family, experiences, health, etc) it's difficult to not compare myself to others and how I 'stack up against them'. Thank you for the reminder that the only comparison that matters is the one you have with yourself.

  2. Thank you. I needed this.

  3. SMJ - such an amazing post! Thank you for always sharing everything with us, even if it's not all sunshine & roses. I too grapple with this often, comparing where I am in my life with others. When this occurred in the past, I would have a moment of clarity - much like you did...but then I would fall into guilt & judgment of myself for feeling that way; for having missed out on the opportunity for joy during that period of time. And that I believe is another component for us all to remember - quit the comparison & also don't judge yourself for falling prey to it when it does happen. There are two quotes from the amazing Byron Katie, who I think I've mentioned to you before...they've helped me from time to time. "Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like's just easier if you do." And also, "All I have is all I need and all I need is all I have in this moment".

    Much love & an easy move! xoxo

  4. Very nice post! It's nice to be reminded to focus on all the blessings we do have, and to let the comparisons go.