joy comes "as is"

Recently, I was in Louisville, KY reading AP exams like I've done for the past 5 years. Each year I insist I'm not going to read the next year and yet, I find myself returning, forgetting perhaps, the grueling schedule. Because it is such tasking mental work, we often do "norming" or "calibrating" and have discussions about how to survive reading so many essays and giving each student a fair shake. It's tough, particularly on the last day, to remember that the student has only written one essay on our particular topic and shouldn't be penalized because we've read thousands of essays by this point. It's challenging to read each essay just as it is, without comparing it to the one before or after. After Sandy's comment on my last post, which reminded me that "comparison is the thief of joy," I've been thinking a lot about ways to focus on the moments that come and enjoying them for what they are.

One of the things I learned in graduate school is that there are many ways to approach the same task, reading, assignment, course design. I tried to use comparison to my advantage, as a benchmark to gauge my understanding and success. I found out quickly the futility of such an exercise and instead focused on being inspired by others' ideas, applying my own passion and know-how to what I was studying, at any given time. My friend, Maria, who I met in my Master's program and who, coincidentally is celebrating her birthday as I write this, was an amazing study in the best ways to be not competitive but inclusive as in I'm doing this, and therefore I think you can do it, too. Half of the reason I am a teacher today is because Maria said, "You should apply to be a TA with me." (On a side note, a similar story is how my grandmother got into nursing).

I can see how comparing your abilities to others can lead you to miss appreciating your own talents for what they are. As a culture, we spend a lot of energy creating models to whom we compare ourselves, whether they be celebrities whose money we wish we had or reality stars whose lives we may see as tragic. Much of popular culture sets up comparisons for us. We compare this house to that house or this year's vacation to last year's. We think about how we would do things if it were our birthday party, or child or wedding. Our bosses compare our work to other employees'; it's how we're built.

So, how do we move beyond this kind of thinking? It's so embedded in our daily thinking; how do we stop judging ourselves and everyone else along the way?

I don't know the answer but lately I've been thinking that, for me, joy is about being inspired, about collecting ideas for projects, about feeling relaxed and content. It has been a difficult year to find joy in particular areas of my life and incredibly easy to discover joy in others. I am searching for a better sense of equilibrium among the extremes. In doing so, I think remembering to take each moment for what it is without comparison can be key to the process of accepting joy. But, man, it's tough, sometimes.