Emily Vacek has not always bloomed where she was planted. But through the hard and life of endless transitions as a fellows wife, she has grown in wisdom. I just love how open Emily is with her story and how she puts words to the comparison struggle we all face at one time or another.

Where to begin, really? As I’m sure you can relate, my mental and emotional state has been rocked a few times by the sheer ridiculousness of the residency schedule, lifestyle, and the often solo-parenting of our children. This post has been put on the back burner of my life because I feel inadequate to be the one to encourage anyone to renounce the comparison game. Life in the medical realm often feels isolated and uncharted, and my navigation skills have not always resulted in smooth sailing. Not even close. But if I can pass on anything to anyone in this medical universe it’s this: Don’t let comparison steal your joy. 

Theodore Roosevelt originally said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and when I first stumbled upon that quote, I knew it to be true. Without safeguards for my joy, comparison left me with nothing but pride, self-pity, and bitterness. I promise, it’s not great. Don’t be like me!

I have always struggled with comparison, but I was definitely at my worst before I came to know Jesus. I was constantly measuring people up. How did I compare? How could I compete/outshine? What did people think of ME? Me, me, me…I was enslaved to self-worth and self-worship. I spent so much time thinking about myself and my appearances, it was near impossible to love anyone else. I loved myself above everything. Praise God for His transforming grace – I knew He had changed me when I found myself thinking for others and less about myself. I realized, in a tangible way, that I had been given the gift to love people freely because I had been freely loved, and I really had nothing to do with it at all. But even with major victories, I’m still a sinner, albeit a saved one, and old habits die hard. And once we hit residency, the temptation to compare took on a different (but in my mind, a more justifiable) shape. 

To make a story short, my husband and I moved to the Carribbean for medical school one year into marriage. An island adventure that looked beautiful and exciting online proved to be a tough and often lonely two years. Our clinical rotations were back in the States, where we had our first child at the end of MS3. We matched for surgery in our home state and our second child was born smack dab in the middle of intern year. Of surgery. Intern year. Oh wait, did I say that already?

My husband was often working 90-100 hour work weeks, and I was getting more sleep with our newborn than he was with work.

I often felt like I was dog paddling in the middle of an ocean while holding my two kids under two. My husband was often working 90-100 hour work weeks, and I was getting more sleep with our newborn than he was with surgical residency.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing, really. Thinking about it and typing it out, it seems so obvious, but at the time I was indulging myself in another area of personal expertise: self-pity. Man, I can throw some serious pity parties, and you better believe mine was a party-house during intern year especially. Fun times. 

We had moved back to our “home base”: our church, our best friends, our favorite haunts. It was going to be great being home! But “being home” proved much more difficult in reality, and I was struggling to figure out this new season in contrast to the way I thought things were supposed to be. And in my mind, I was planting seeds (fields, really) of bitterness. No one could really understand how hard my life was and how terrible residency was and how tired we were as a family. I remember a guy reaching out to my husband to hang out, and I got so MAD about it. Like, didn’t he know that his one night off a week was for ME and our FAMILY? How dare he try to be a friend to my husband! Good grief, I was allowing my heart to become a poisoned mess.

Don’t get me wrong: medical community is poorly understood and it would be helpful if we were supported in the situations in which we find ourselves. It truly is a unique lifestyle that other medical spouses are readily able to understand, but I was falling for the major lie that only those in my exact situation could be of any relatable use to me, and thus sabotaging my heart and relationships in the meantime. I was valuing being understood above everything else. Nearly every time I got together with others, I was measuring their “hard” against my own. I’m sure I was a lovely person to be around, thinking only of myself and all. 

I was valuing being understood above everything else. Nearly every time I got together with others, I was measuring their “hard” against my own.

I became stingy in my service to others. I was comparing everyone’s “need” to my own. I let my pride reign whenever I felt like I was “handling all the things,” when in reality I was self-reliant, self-important, and missing out on the joy that I could have been experiencing the whole time.

I had let comparison steal it. How could joy be restored? First, with gratitude. I wasn’t thanking God for what He had given me. Instead of looking around with humble thankfulness, I was looking around with complaint, waiting for my “real life” (the one I wanted) to begin. I wasted a lot of time imagining a non-existent existence and comparing my current circumstances to it. My call to be joyful and faithful regardless of circumstance had never waned, but I was choosing my own way and suffering the miserable consequences.

Second, I missed out on the joy of bearing others’ burdens. In measuring everyones’ “hard” against my own, I wasn’t loving other women. I had friends going through legitimate life struggles that I failed to love well because it didn’t look like my kind of hard. Others’ “hard” can be hard for them – because it is. Our life situations, family situations, marriage situations, work situations are unique to OURSELVES. And honestly, once I recognized the folly of my thinking, I was seriously ministered to by some women in my church whose external lives looked NOTHING like mine. And I gained so much wisdom that I would’ve missed out on had I just tried to stay “understood” in my medical crowd.

We all go through seasons of suffering and hardships, and in those times, we can lean in to grow. Please, please don’t waste hard times like I have. We are not slaves to our personalities and life circumstances – if we know Jesus, we’ve been set free to become more like Him when the going gets tough, especially then. We will have plenty of opportunity to suffer well, if we don’t waste it. Let’s seek to do it with grace and perseverance, taking our eyes off ourselves, thanking God in all things, and unreservedly loving those around us without the shackles of comparison.

Header Image by Emily Vacek