The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy. A friend of mine used that quote (from Theodore Roosevelt) as part of her response when I asked for her views on ‘Sharenting’ for the article I re-posted last month. I think about that quote a lot. About how so many of the things that filter through into the little reflective moments when you try to work out what’s bothering you, what’s brought this little cloud of darkness to the corner of your brain, what’s made you snappy, shouty, sad… so much of it can be traced back to comparison. The Someone Else who is doing the Something You Care About so much better than you.

My friend’s example was about social media. And that does play a huge part in the mental-fuckery, particularly for a new author. It’s hard not to feel a bit battered by this joy-thief when your profession relies on using these busy, self-congratulatory platforms to market your work because, of course, they are the very same platforms that everyone else is using to make ALL THE NOISE about how much better they are at writing books, selling books, marketing books, harnessing the very beast of social media itself… It’s hard not to feel a little defeated when confronted with a 17-year-old BookTok pro who churns out bestsellers for a hobby, has lovely skin and, you know, might not even end up DOING this for an actual career because perhaps they’ll go to medical school or become a marine biologist… they are but a child after all. Meanwhile here I am deleting yet another draft video post whilst muttering darkly about the point of having a bloody broadcasting degree but being unable to fathom how to use two audio tracks, stitch drafts together and why, why must all the edits get deleted when I go back to the recording page?! I swear, grappling with TikTok makes turning my kid’s eyes digitally green for my book trailer video a damn doddle.

Here I am, looking suitably unhinged (and oddly angry, which I really wasn’t) in the name of BookTok. This particular video about different reader impressions features me quite obviously not knowing how to cut the beginning and end where I press record/stop. I do rather like the automatic airbrushing though.

Comparison can do strange things to you and it can be a sneaky, insidious foe. Coming via a screen is bad enough, but at least it’s obvious – you can click onto social media knowing you’re fairly likely to come across something that’ll make you pang. Photos of someone’s glorious holiday on Instagram, someone else’s adorable baby/puppy spamming up Facebook, notification of a job promotion on LinkedIn, a smug tweet about a brand new dream car, etc… The noise of it all is deafening but you can at least SEE why you’re jealous. But then there are the other times. Times where you’re not guarded or expecting it… and the comparison, that slippery little joy-thief, will shiver under your skin and encroach into the very core of all your deepest-most insecurities. The things you care the most about. For me, I sometimes find myself thinking that other people are automatically better parents than I am because they planned their kids and we (mostly) didn’t. It’s an utterly ridiculous – not to mention illogical – line of thinking because of course ticking certain boxes (married, thirties, own house, stable career) does not make anyone better-qualified at knowing what the fuck what to do with a baby. I know this because I ticked those boxes myself with my second-born and the only thing that made me better at parenting was the fact that I’d done it before.

Unfortunately comparison does not account for irony or, you know, actually making any damn sense because as much as I know all of the above, I will still rock up at school stressed, disheveled and on the brink (and often past it) of being late, and I see so-and-so’s mum on her way out looking so nice and put-together and in it creeps, that strange, irrational insistence that because she did things the right way however many years ago, that’s why she’s got her shit together in the morning. Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s an illogical cow and really, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with so-and-so’s mum or some adolescent prettily flogging their books on TikTok. So what can you do about it? Whatever you bloody can. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier and get the kids dressed before breakfast instead of after (we are still late but not quite so regularly). I try not to listen to the noise of social media and view it more as a business tool. I take the deepest, darkest feelings of parental insecurity and I write fiction about a mother who secretly believes she should never have become a parent in the first place.

And I try to remember that there will always be someone else out there doing The Thing I Really Care About better than I am. But that there is still enough joy for us both.

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