Seeing my firstborn son smile for the first time was one of moments in my life I will never forget. It filled me with indescribable awe and heartbreaking love. I was thrilled, and I wanted to share the joy I was feeling with a friend. “He smiled today!” I reported, “For the first time! He smiled!”
The fellow mom laughed knowingly and replied, “Yeah. Just wait until he can talk. Now, that’s incredible.”
I was incredibly deflated and disappointed, but even worse than that, I felt embarrassed. I remember apologizing and turning the conversation over to her wonderful children and asking what they had done recently, because clearly my story paled in comparison to her experiences. Clearly, I had no business reporting something so mundane as my child’s first smile when there were such other amazing things to come.
I felt inferior. I felt pathetic. I felt worthless.
Another time, in the aftermath of my three-year-old’s epic tantrum in the library, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and at my wit’s end, I called a different friend to vent. “I feel like I’m going to lose it – the Little Engineer just had a horrible fit in public.”
My friend replied, “Oh, that’s nothing. Just wait until he is six! That’s when it really gets terrible. Or just wait until you have a girl – they have much worse tantrums.”
Just wait. How can those two little words hurt so much? Those two little words felt like a punch in the gut in the above scenarios, as they do pretty much anytime I hear them.
“If you think final exams are bad, just wait until you have to write your thesis!”
“Congratulations on your 5-year anniversary, but just wait until year seven. That’s the real test.”
“That was a good presentation, but just wait until you have to give it to the people that really matter.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s cool that your team won the Rose Bowl. Just wait until they are good enough to play for the national championship.”
Just wait. For what? For something that happens to me to actually matter? When someone says, “just wait…” to me, it instantly invalidates my experience. Whether the situation is negative or positive, it suddenly becomes “less than” whatever the commentator is comparing it to. I’m either not going through something as hard as the person has been through, or I’m not going through something as wonderful as what the person has been through. They suddenly become the focus, and I am left in the background. I don’t matter. My experiences are pitiful in comparison to theirs.
Whatever I’m going through is not significant enough to matter.
I have no doubt that people are currently experiencing, or have experienced, compelling milestones in their lives that overshadow whatever I’m currently going through. I’m just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. However, I deserve to experience my own experiences and feel my own emotions, however they may pale in compare to anyone else’s.
I don’t think anyone wants to feel worthless, and I don’t think any of my friends ever intended me to feel that way, yet those two little words, “just wait,” certainly made me feel that way. In retrospect, I’m sure they were just trying to add to the conversation; however, there are ways to do that without comparing and invoking a feeling of superiority.
The main culprit of the “just wait” statement is the element of comparison. In each situation outlined above, I started the conversation intending to share something about myself and left it feeling judged. There was no need for that. We don’t always need to compare and contrast and see who ends up with the more significant experience at the end of the day. We can validate and empower each other instead of tearing each other down, simply by stopping the needless comparisons.
I don’t care if something bigger, better or brighter is going to happen in the future. I want to live my life right now. What I’m doing at this very moment matters. Life is meant to be lived in every single tiny little insignificant moment as much as in the big ones. Those big moments – your graduation, the day you publish a novel, the vacation you finally take to Europe – they are amazing. They are wonderful. They are worth living for. But so are the little wonders of the universe, the time your baby smiles for the first time and the day you celebrate your 3-month anniversary with a new beau. No one should take those joys away from you.
Do you use that phrase with people in your life? I know I do, unintentionally, even though I know how much the phrase can hurt. There’s no longer an excuse for me to accept my poor behavior. If I want to see changes in others, I have to change myself.
Today, let’s take the stories people tell us at face value. Let’s accept their experiences without trying to see how they fit into our own lives. Let’s allow people the dignity of their own experiences without needless commentary and comparisons.
All I really want is to be heard. I also want to hear, really hear, the people around me. It’s time to stop the endless chatter and start listening. It starts now.