Studies

Comparison beyond grades

Joseph Koh, SELAH // November 20, 2018, 10:02 am

Singapore class comparison

Photo: Christina Wong/ Thir.st

For a couple of weeks in recent months, the CNA Insider video featuring students from different school streams was the only constant on my Facebook News Feed.

Touching on the sensitive (and often swept aside) topic of class and privilege, I had never witnessed so many people sharing the same video and chiming in. I realised this this was a deeply personal concern for most Singaporeans.

As I thought more on why it had struck a chord with people, beyond the pronounced class differences in our country, I realised that the video was about the human tendency to compare.

We pit ourselves incessantly against others in almost any imaginable scenario, both overtly or covertly. So, within a world avalanched by an aching sense of lack, our heart wanders and grows discontent easily.

I grew up in the shadows of my brothers.

My elder brother did significantly better than the rest of the family at the PSLE and eventually carved out a side gig as a debate coach through his schooling days. My younger brother was earmarked for the Singapore Sports School early on due to his mastery in badminton.

I, on the other hand, didn’t have a specific talent to profess – much less own. When it came to writing, I found I had a long line of JC friends who were much better writers than me. They were eloquent and well-versed in literature – I merely had a diminutive interest that counted for little.

In a nutshell, I felt inept and voiceless when I was younger, trapped in the pits of mediocrity and self-pity.

Even today, I am prone to make comparisons between myself and those who have it all or have it all together. Our definitions of success are quite narrowly defined in Singapore, so one’s life trajectory in this city is often punishingly linear.

And if we fall out of line, we immediately feel the difference from our peers – and often denigrate ourselves for it.

The pitfalls of comparison

Recently, during a particular cell group session, it hit me that comparison is an issue that plagues most (if not all) of us.

Everyone had their own story to share about things like discrepancies in career progression. But undergirding these feelings of anxiety and frustration is the belief that we aren’t enough.

More days than not, the critic in me towers high above, bellowing, nitpicking at the areas in my life that require fixing and attention. This is made worse by the Singaporean mentality of more, more, more.

Life becomes like a marketing campaign, constantly needing to be bigger, better, bolder.

… within a world avalanched by an aching sense of lack, our heart wanders and grows discontent easily.

Inadequacy often feels like a chesty cough that I can’t shake off. It irritates with dogged persistence, yet it feels almost impossible to eradicate.

I have glanced sideways at people’s big moments — promotion, publishing deal, wedding — and craved for the same, pushing me closer to the point where I would choose to trade my life for theirs in a heartbeat.

Having struggled with feeling inadequate for a good part of my life, I’ve begun to see that it cannot be attained by stature, power, wealth, or any form of accomplishment.

If our worth is built on something that could be taken away in an instant — like the morning mist — we will never find the centredness, confidence, and quietude we seek. Self-worth becomes a quivering, ephemeral shadow we cannot grasp.

Are you content to be nameless?

In our haste, we have forgotten this truth: Our worth is inherent, bestowed by a loving God who made us carefully with intention and attention.

We’re made enough. All we need is to open our hearts to Him, and allow His words to define us. The Bible exhorts us that we were born at the time and place he determined (Acts 17:26). We are a product of His grace, and this very grace encounters us and keeps us – again and again.

Jesus has chosen and appointed us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you” (John 15:16).

Envy, and clambering for things out of our reach, are reflections of a heart that has turned away from our true love — Jesus. We’ve been created to look to Him in all things, yet we succumb to the devil’s gambit, gambling our lives in pursuit of this world’s inferior pleasures.

I’ve found that I’m most susceptible to forget my sense of worth when my life is focused on everything but God. It is scary to think how easily we are distracted by the world.

Many of my best friends entered marriage this year, and accompanying this new transition was a sudden assuredness and stability in them.

Peculiarly, for a split second, I started to hanker after the same for my life. I managed to snap out of it when I realised that our lives aren’t meant to be one and the same — I have my own journey and calling. I saw through the spell of how we can be caught up in the things not meant for us.

We need to live a life that follows Christ and not the world.

Can we truly say that we’re allowing God to lead us in the way everlasting? I’ve leaned on my human performance way more than I’ve leaned on God.

I haven’t gotten it all together. While it’s much easier said than done to stop comparing, I’m learning that adequacy can only be found in a Person. I’m leaving the shadows of my past behind, and choosing to dwell on God’s Word and perspective of me.

May you find the faith and conviction to anchor your heart in the Constant One. He not only created you, His love for you never changes.


This article was first published on Selah.sg and is republished with permission.