Cathi Kennedy explains how she kicked the comparison habit to the curb.
I am attempting, once again, to create a workout routine that will stick. I have joined gyms, bought DVDs, signed up for classes, and all of that. I’ve stuck with some for a week or maybe a month, and then a slight change to my routine occurs, and it’s all over. Sound familiar? I thought it might.
A few weeks ago, I texted my friend to commiserate after a particularly humbling dressing room experience (I may have momentarily considered burning down the store). We planned to start going to the gym together—an accountability partner is critical. This is clearly stated in the hundreds of articles about workout routines I’ve read over the years, usually while sitting on the couch eating ice cream.
My friend and I synced our schedules and went to the gym. And it felt good! We went back a few days later—boom! We’re on the brink of a routine! And then, we went A THIRD TIME! We are killing it. High-fives all around.
After this third trek to the gym, I was scrolling through my phone while standing in line waiting for my iced coffee and breakfast sandwich, which I 100% deserved after my fantastic workout. I saw a friend’s post about his 63-mile bike ride that same morning.
Whoosh. My feeling of accomplishment was gone just like that.
When I converted to Catholicism, I was eager to learn but knew next to nothing about saints, feast days, litanies, and so on. I was blessed to be surrounded by good and holy people who taught me so much (and continue teaching me 10+ years later). But I remember feeling like it was an insurmountable hill to climb.
In those early years, our youngest son was in second grade and preparing for his first Reconciliation and Communion. We practiced his prayers together, which is how I learned a lot, including the Hail Mary. I was happy to be taking baby steps in my faith, more and more sure of my footing.
But whenever I started to feel confident, someone would mention a topic I didn’t know about. Should I be going on a pilgrimage? Who is Henry Nouwen? What’s a novena? “Look at them," I thought. “They are so much more holy than I am. So much closer to God. I’m not doing enough.”
But I did learn. I listened and asked questions, and I read and read and read. I read my son’s catechism book. I found a book called Why Do Catholics Do That by Kevin Orlon Johnson, now dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted to death. I attended a series of classes on becoming Catholic which adults take before being Baptized or Confirmed in the Church. I soaked it all in.
And little by little, I learned.
Comparison. It truly is the thief of joy. God was delighted that I was eager to learn about my faith and draw closer to Him. But my inner critic was telling me lies.
“You don’t know as much as you should.”
“You’re not as holy as her; not as holy as you should be.”
“She is closer to God than you.”
“You’ll never learn all of this. Why even try.”
A similar narrative started in my head at the deli after my workout.
“A three-hour bike ride—that’s a REAL workout.”
“Only three workouts this week? That’s not enough to matter.”
“You’ll never be at that level. Why even try?”
As I drove away, eating my delicious egg, bacon, and cheese biscuit, I evaluated the doubt that had crept in. My friend who biked for three hours that day has been biking for a decade or more. He has trained for and ran marathons. He is at another level than I am, and his workouts look different than mine because he has been at this for years. I am happy he is doing something he loves and crushing a workout. And I am happy that my friend and I started going to the gym together, building a routine I hope we can sustain.
My friend’s accomplishment did not diminish mine.
We are all in different places on this journey. I am thankful when someone teaches me something new about my faith. I am happy to ask, “Oh, I didn’t know about that. Please tell me more.” But I’ll be honest, as soon as I see the word “eschatological” in an article, it’s a hard stop. Same with burpees in a workout. Thank you, no. I’ve still got improvements to make.
It’s silly, really. To compare ourselves to others. We are all given such gifts; we bring something unique and wonderful to the world. Wherever you are in your faith, fitness goals, or life, don’t let anyone else’s accomplishments diminish your growth.
Be proud of the beautiful work in progress that you are.
Copyright 2022 Cathi Kennedy
About the Author
Cathi Kennedy is passionate about building relationships. At the University of Notre Dame, she advises graduate students for the Mendoza College of Business. An impassioned writer, voracious reader, and aspiring knitter married to a musician and mom to two amazing sons, Cathi is a convert to Catholicism. She seeks to learn something new about her faith every day.