Insides and Outsides

Mike Starkey

Every so often I come across a nugget of wisdom that fits the moment exactly, a proverb or phrase that makes me want to shout, ‘Yes! You’ve nailed it! You’ve expressed exactly what I’ve been feeling, but didn’t have the words for.’

My favourite of these comes from the American writer Anne Lamott. I wish I could pass on her eight words of wisdom to everybody alive at this moment – everybody in today’s online, social media infused age. She writes:

“Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”

Throughout history most people’s life choices were limited. Whether it was work, or clothes, or the music you listened to, you wouldn’t have many options. And the same would be true of your friends and neighbours.

Today, that has all changed. We have almost unlimited choices. And the rise of social media means we can tell the world about our lifestyle choices, and our friends can do the same. So I get a window into lots of other people’s lives. Or at least, I get a window into the ways other people present their lives.

The temptation then is to make comparisons. I compare the exciting lives other people post about on social media with my turbulent feelings about the ups and downs of my own life: my own unsatisfying career, my own family problems, and so on. In other words, in an age of social media, I compare my insides with their outsides.

The full quote from Anne Lamott says this:

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.”

Anne Lamott’s quote takes on special meaning when you find out about her own life. She is a recovering alcoholic, who found God relatively late in the day. For Anne Lamott, hope came in two forms. Firstly, through finding faith in a God who loved her unconditionally, however messed up she was. And, secondly, by learning not to compare her feelings about the ups and downs of her own life with the edited highlights of other people’s lives.

Now that’s what I call wisdom for our times.

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