I think a huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier cell phones, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.
An important part to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their budgets. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they are affording their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.
And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.
I think I mentioned before, in some previous blog posts, Dr. Hannah Katan – an Israeli Orthodox ob/gyn who is the mother of 13 children. She is often talked about as an example of a woman who “did it all”. I greatly respect her views and her experience and wisdom. But in her most recent personal column, she told about working 36-hour shifts during her internship, while she also had young children waiting for her at home. I can only imagine how taxing that must have been.
Even if in retrospect, grown-up children can be generous and understanding, and say they say they acokeeaks their hearts, and the ramifications of such a lifestyle perhaps aren’t even realized until they start families of their own.
Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strength, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.
Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax - an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome.
Perhaps your parents thought they were giving you motivation to succeed by such comparisons, but in reality all it did was sow resentment and made you feel as though you can never be good enough. Which is far from true; G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are.