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If Comparison is the Thief of Joy, Then Context is the Gift of Relief

Without fail, the Monday morning after a weekend where Beyoncé drops a surprise album or a magazine cover, everyone goes apeshit (could not resist). Scrolling through social media, the praise quickly turns into motivation. I can't help but get frustrated with the number of makeshift Iyanyla Vanzants that pop up on my Twitter timeline with their "seize-the-day", "rise-up-and-grind", and my least favorite, "no-excuses" quotes and reminders about how we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Bey.


I used to find comfort in these kinds of messages and as such I am not writing this post to criticize those who still do. At one point in time, these kinds of messages made me feel motivated and that I could conquer any thing I put my mind to. But over time, I found myself frustrated with my lack of progress compared to what it seemed like how well others were doing. I was putting in time and energy into my crafts, so why wasn't I yielding the results I desired?


What the productivity preachy section of my timeline does not take into consideration is this: the reality is that we don't all have the same 24 hours in a day. Some of us work more part time jobs than our friends. Some of us are juggling parenthood with our passion projects. Some of us are balancing school and work simultaneously. Some of us might be doing all of that while managing anxiety and depression. To those of us who do, I salute you and I see you. Your day is a lot more complex than you think.


Our daily lives are constantly challenged by circumstances out of our control; circumstances that redirect our time and our energy to solving crises or dealing with more pressing issues. Think about it for a minute. You wake up with an ambitious goal to accomplish many things on your to-do list and deem the day a productive one. Only, you discover some Big Terrible News about race relations, be it Black kids having been kicked out of school for having locs or children being abused at the border. Overwhelmed, you become distracted. The list of things you want to accomplish gets tackled at a slower rate. You just lost some of your time because of things you did not choose to be affected by.


Dr. Brittney Cooper talks about how time is both politicized and racialized. In a Ted Talk she gave in 2016, Dr. Cooper declares that if time had a race, it would be white. By using the example that it took 100 years from the end of the Civil War to bring about the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act to establish that discrimination would not be tolerated, she goes on to say that white people own time because they dictate how long it takes for people of color to be fully incorporated into social life. Considering how we as nonwhite people still have to fight for the full incorporation of our rights, I'd say Dr. Cooper is onto something.


People of color in the United States have had more obstacles to overcome and these obstacles impact productivity. You might be asking, why am I quoting someone describing time and the opportunities it affords as white when I started out describing Beyoncé? Is she not a person of color who could, in theory, be affected by the same Big Terrible News that I described earlier? Yes, but there's more.


In the same vein that Dr. Cooper says that time has a certain race, time also has a certain class. If time is money, then many of us are broke. Being wealthy affords many people more time because they don't spend it doing labor intensive work or just regular chores. Take for example doing laundry. If you don't have a washing machine in your building, you have to factor in commuting to and from the laundromat, while also waiting on machines to free up. The time it takes you to do laundry is longer than the time it takes your friend with that rare find third floor walk up with a washer dryer in-unit.


It's unrealistic for us to compare ourselves to Beyoncé, a woman who has been honing in on her artistry since childhood and has had tons of help along the way. It is also unrealistic and detrimental to ourselves to compare ourselves to one another.


They say comparison is the thief of joy. The quote itself is attributed to President Teddy Roosevelt, but it has largely become an idiom in American English. I strongly resonate with this belief. Often times I am proud of an accomplishment until I size it up to someone else and an accomplishment that they have made. I wouldn't call it envy, though. I am usually very excited to see my friend excel and I extend that to people of color working hard to make their dreams come true. It just feels like at the same time


So what should we do about not having the same time as everyone else?


I can honestly say contextualizing circumstances instead of comparing strictly outcomes has allowed me to take back some of my time. It has allowed me to work differently, rather than work so hard. I should not have to overcompensate for not having the same amount of time as others by overworking myself and compromising my health.


So, instead of comparing myself to others, I am contextualizing our environments. I am contextualizing how long it has been since I have been working on myself as well as how much work. I am a newly dedicated creative who is in graduate school full-time while also maintaining an internship. I am also about to launch a full time job search soon. I am a first-born daughter to Caribbean immigrant parents, meaning I am on-call whenever there is an issue at home. Like many of you, I am juggling my education, my career, my family, personal relationships, and my goals all at once. It is natural that I won't have everything figured out.


I challenge you to do the same. This upcoming school year, when you think about that paper deadline, remember the multiple work study jobs you are holding in order to be there in the first place. It's okay to be tired! It's okay if that paper isn't your best work. When you look at other grad students who are able to explore life in different ways than you, consider that they might be in a fully funded program. When you miss your writing deadline, consider that you also had to pick up groceries and meal prep and take out the trash and balance yourself against the world.


Another reminder that I must remember to tell myself more often is this: give yourself room to grow. Some of the things you are trying out might be new to you, or the method in which you are carrying things out might be new. You need time for things to develop. Flowers don't bloom all at once.


Give yourself some grace, love. You are working hard, and it shows. Even if it is isn't in the way that you think it is showing, it is still showing. Let context be your gift of relief.

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