Monday, April 06, 2009

Writing and Signing a Non-Compete Clause

I watched Oprah today - a show on motherhood. I saw someone I know on the show, which was great for her! And she was wearing jewelry made by someone else I know, which was great for her!

One of the main points of the show was the ways in which moms hurt ourselves and one another with our constant comparisons. Whose children are happier, cuter, smarter? Whose outfits are cutest, most expensive, least expensive, and worn by the most siblings? Whose photos and scrapbooks and Christmas photos and family letters are most clever or funny or interesting or boastful about our families? And the list goes on and on.

As I watched, I wondered what Karen had that I don't have - why couldn't I be on the show? I wondered what Andrea had that I don't have - why couldn't someone have been wearing jewelry I have made? As I watched the show, I realized how often I have allowed myself to get caught up in the comparison/competition thing! Then I realized that all those jealous, self-critical, snarky thoughts were stupid - and I stopped myself in my tracks and quickly wrote to both of them (leaving comments on their blogs) and congratulated them on their work and wisdom and creativity. And I realized that the entire thought process I had gone through as I watched the show was exactly the point of the show: listen to one another's stories. enjoy one another's successes. share one another's burdens. be-friend one another. be real. be honest. be true. just be me. let them be them. let go of the urge to compete, compare, and be contrary.

So I pulled out my journal and began to compose "a non-compete clause" that I hope to incorporate into my life. Here's what I have come up with so far:

I am committing myself to not compete with -
* other mothers
* other wives
* other daughters or daughters-in-law
* other sisters or sisters-in-law
* other homeschoolers
* other churchgoers
* other teachers
* other homemakers
* other travelers
* other writers
* other women in general

I am committing myself to not compete with others based on their:
* religion or lack thereof
* height, weight, muscularity, fitness level
* skin color, ethnic or cultural background
* hair style or lack thereof
* accent
* first, second, or third language
* colorful language
* shoes, clothes, accessories
* blog or website
* photographs or artwork
* artistic ability or lack thereof
* intellectual or educational background
* career choices
* income or apparent wealth
* house or neighborhood
* car or lack thereof
* parenting or educational choices
* children: behavior, ability, grades, athleticism
* spouse or ex-spouse or future spouse
* political persuasion or lack thereof

Even as I make this list and add to it, I already find myself comparing and competing: Will I be as good at giving up my prejudices and competition as _______ is? Will I be better than _______ because he/she is _________? That's what I'm already thinking, and I haven't even finished writing the blog post.

I am being made painfully aware of how ingrained competition and comparison are to my psyche. It's going to be a challenge to free myself from my immediate urge to compare and contrast and compete. What I hope and pray is that, by raising my awareness of this problem, I will be able to make strides in towards freedom from constant competition.

It's not that I expect to stop noticing the differences. I will never stop noticing the differences. I don't even want to stop noticing the differences between us as women and mothers and family members and people in every category of life. What I want to stop doing is assigning unmerited value to those differences in an effort to either put myself on a pedestal far above others or put others on pedestals far above myself.

With all that in mind, I hereby declare that I am entering into a non-compete contract with myself and those around me.

I hereby declare that I will try to stop telling a story about myself in an attempt to outshine your story.

I hereby declare that I will try to stop berating myself for any and all of my faults in an attempt to elevate others and their skills, but that I will accept and embrace my messy, sticky, stuck, beautiful, wide-open, wonder-filled life - just as it is right now.

I hereby declare that I will attempt to listen to you speak without cutting you off in an attempt to impress you with who I think I am and what I think I know.

I hereby declare that I will try desperately not to compete with you for attention, time, energy, pity, or the urge to be right.

I hereby declare that I will breach this contract very soon, that I will mess this up very often, that I will forget what I am writing here and will be snippy and snappy and mean in how I talk to and about other people at some point in the not-so-distant future, so I ask for forgiveness in advance.

I hereby declare that I am turning off my computer and going to bed.


Lori said...

Thanks Gail, I needed to hear that. I sometimes think that Mothers with perfect kids are out to make me feel bad for my imperfect kids and then I realize we all bleed the same. We are all human. Have a happy Easter!

GailNHB said...

Lori, you have always been an inspiration to me in this issue of parenting, of loving our kids no matter what, of not getting caught up in all the things that people tend to get caught up in. Thanks for your comment here and for your friendship over the years. Blessed Easter to you too!

Karen Maezen Miller said...

Honesty is so brilliantly illuminating and refreshing. How can we compete when we are all alike?

Amy said...

I needed to read this. I read certain blogs that I like fro various reasons but they're what I call "fluff blogs," not a lot of substance, but they are very popular. Then I have to admit that I do nothing to "market" my own blog. I write to share my life and thoughts.

I will say I am glad my long association with our local school system is over. I live in a VERY competitive school district, and my kids' alma mater is one of the nation's top high schools (and the official always remind you of this at every school function). I am SO glad to be somewhat disconnected from competitive parents!

Lisa said...

Wow. Powerful stuff, here!

Kudos to you for this huge breakthrough and new level of awareness/commitment! I anticipate it will be very liberating for you.

I look foward to experiencing the 'new' you without all this ego baggage in tow. (Not that I realized it was all there in the first place ~ you hide it well!)

jena strong said...

I am going to have to come back tomorrow, and quite possibly the day after that, to read this again, take it in more fully. You have spoken such a truth, and laid it out in no uncertain terms, in ways that are applicable and tangible and thorough.

I could write a million words about the comparing, the judging, the competing. Ugh.

But we don't need those words. We just need your post. We need you. We need each other.

How awesome would it be to create a template women everywhere could use based on this post? A kind of contract with oneself? I can imagine it having its very own site. We need this.

And of course, with Passover starting tomorrow, I find myself thinking about chametz and matzo and mitrayim - what enslaves us and what can we let go of, what nourished us and what liberates?

With much love and gratitude that you took the time to write this.

jmgb said...

LOVE this.
comparing almost always produces one of two things...pride or shame. neither of which promotes the freedom our individuality and spirit's crave. i salute this intention and want to join you in it~

GailNHB said...

Thanks to all of you for your supportive and engaging comments. I am always a little surprised by the blogs that get the most comments. I had no idea that this one would strike such a chord with so many. I guess it's true what Karen said: We are so very much alike.

I've done fairly well this week with not cutting people off in conversation or telling stories to "top" their stories. Still a long way to go, though... as I knew there would be.

Thanks again for your support.

Kyley said...

As a 22yo woman who is going through a 'who am I' phase in life, I thank you sincerely for this post. It's exactly what I needed to read and it has left me feeling so refreshed and ready to make a change.