For every sincere congratulations on my upcoming marriage, there's at least one criticizing remark about the rashness of marrying young or foolishness of not continuing my education. I don't think the polar-opposite responses are limited to me, my fiance, or our plans. The temptation to compare and judge runs rampant at this time of year, especially for graduating seniors.
We compare ourselves to those that are getting married, going to grad school, getting a job at XYZ company, teaching overseas, becoming missionaries, moving back home, taking an extra year to graduate, are in 5 weddings, didn't get invited to any weddings, are getting a job at IDL company making more money than the person at XYZ company, have 3 interviews lined up, are working at a summer camp, winning this award, volunteering with that non-profit, and the person that has no idea what May 17th will hold.
To justify our own decisions, we line up all of these options, place our plan at the top of the mental measuring stick, and then demonize the rest to assure ourselves that we are wise, we are valued, our four years at college did mean something.
I've done it. I've watched my friends do it to themselves, to others, and to me. As I watch this phenomenon unfold, a children's book I read when I was 7 or 8 comes to mind.
In Max Lucado's You Are Special, there is a village of wooden people, each expertly crafted by the Creator. Each wooden person has a box of gold star and grey dot stickers. When someone does something impressive, looks attractive, or says something witty, everyone rushes over and showers them in gold stars. But if you aren't so good-looking, have a tendency to blunder, or trip over yourself, it's grey dots for you.
It isn't until the protagonist, a grey-dot-covered fellow, talks to the Creator and learns that he isn't a mistake but was carefully crafted by the One that loves him despite earthly successes and failures, is he able to start shedding the stickers. The more he trusts in the love of his Creator, the less stickers will stick to him. This confuses the other wooden people. They rush to cover him with gold stars for not having grey dots, but they fall off. So they try to cover him with grey dots due to his lack of gold stars, but those don't stick either because his identity rests not in the comparison of relative achievement or lack of failure, but in his identity as a creation of the Creator.
The story is beautifully illustrated in this 8-minute video below:
The stickers only stick if you let them. The stickers only stick if they matter to you.
While the moral of the story is obviously to rest in your identity as a child of God, I particularly love the point it makes about the foolishness of comparing oneself to others. People will love you for your lack of grey dots. They will judge you for your lack of gold stars. Which means if your worth is wrapped up in grey dots and gold stars, you'll always be better and worse than someone else and you'll always be miserable trying to change that.
As peers all transitioning from our undergraduate experiences to something, anything, whatever it may be, I think it's time to throw away our stickers.