Stop Comparing

This week we continue with my fifth installment in our list of suggestions for how we could live and operate our businesses from a place of greater happiness…

Suggestion #1: Assume the best.
Suggestion #2: Roll with it.
Suggestion #3: Visualize responsibly.
Suggestion #4: Say what you want and expect.
Suggestion #5: Stop comparing.

As I write this week’s Stretch, we are currently living and working from Tom’s beloved summer cabin nestled in the Western Sierras where we spend 6-10 weeks a year if we can manage it. Located just 13 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe, Silver Firs is a rustic gem of a cabin only 150 yards away from two small but stunningly beautiful alpine lakes called Echo Lakes. Upper Echo and Lower Echo are connected by a tiny but navigable channel and ringed on almost all sides by vintage lakefront cabins. Like Tom’s, most were built in the 1920’s when the Forest Service advertised in the San Francisco and LA newspapers for adventurous and hearty people who were interested in journeying up to build cabins on Forest Service land which they could lease for $1 a year.

At the time, none of the cabins had electricity or plumbing and were little more than camp houses with bunks and a fireplace. Building materials like lumber and rock were harvested from the local forest and waterways. Drinking water was piped from nearby mountain springs or from the lake itself and outhouses were built for daytime use while chamber pots served at night mostly out of a healthy respect for the local black bears.

The road to Echo Lakes dead-ends at the leading edge of the Lower Lake, turning into a well-worn foot-trail around both lakes (which is one of the prettiest and most travelled sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.) Cabin owners on the lakefront had to barge, boat, canoe, or backpack their building supplies and living essentials to construct and outfit their cabins. This is still the case to this day.

While Silver Firs and all the cabins that line the road down to Echo Lakes did eventually get electricity, indoor toilets, and phone service in the 50’s, the cabins on the lake never did. Some lakefront cabins have installed solar or occasionally use a gas generator but most still have propane-lit lanterns at night and heat their hot water with pipes that circulate at the back of their fireplaces.

But even without these modern comforts, they are heavily sought-after properties. They enjoy unobstructed views of the pristine lake on which they reside surrounded by stunning granite cliffs and rugged mountains generously sprinkled with Red Fir, White and Lodgepole pines which were the constant muse of John Muir.

Compared to the cabins on the road, they have no traffic noise or hordes of day hikers looking for a place to park. Instead of the hassle of launching their boat in morning to go fishing or a canoe or kayak in the evening for a tranquil ride around the lake, most “Lakers” have private boat docks right on the water on which they can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning sunshine and then hop right in their boat any time they choose.

They are indeed truly special places. And so, every time we kayak around the lake or picnic at one of the tiny islands for the day, we admire the beautiful lakefront cabins with their private boat docks and picturesquely quiet settings. We often wonder… why did Tom’s ancestors choose to build a few yards up the road from the lake instead of right on the water? They certainly could have had their pick at the time. Wouldn’t it have been so much better even then? We contemplate what our summers would be like now if his great-grandparents had made a different choice. We compare what the “Lakers” have and enjoy with what we “on the road” can’t and don’t.

Tom has his theory: Most people who took advantage of the government’s offer resided somewhere in Northern California and so didn’t have that far of a distance to travel. But a few, like Tom’s great-grandparents, were from much further south in the LA basin. Looking back at the old black-and-white photos of his ancestors making the multi-day trek in their Model T on two-lane roads and eventually on steep dirt logging roads as they climbed to the summit at 7500 feet hauling what supplies they could, convinced Tom that it must have seemed immensely easier to build on the road just steps away from the lake. Also, because they were about 300 feet higher, at the time they had a beautiful view of South Lake Tahoe from their porch. Not one cabin on the lake can see even a fraction of beautiful Lake Tahoe. Compared to the relative desert environment of the LA basin, it must have seemed like heaven to have both a Tahoe view, be within a stone’s throw of Echo Lakes, and not have to hassle with barging building supplies up the lake to construct your cabin. Makes total sense when you think about it now. And yet we wonder, and compare, and lament, and even envy.

And then thankfully, eventually, we ask ourselves if we’ve actually lost our ever-loving minds? How many people do we know who would give anything for a spot as sweet as Silver Firs? How many hikers walk by every weekend and look up at the cabin commenting in passing as to what it would be like to own or even rent a cabin like ours for the season?

Why are we never satisfied with what we have, what we are, what we’ve accomplished, or what we do? Those people have a bigger boat. She has more money. They have a nicer place. He gets all the lucky breaks. She’s thinner, prettier, younger, stronger, richer, funnier. There is seriously no end to the nasty habit of comparing ourselves, our businesses, or our cabins, to others. It’s a downward spiral that has no conclusion other than to make us feel inadequate, insecure, and jealous and worse yet… to miss the wonder of who we are, what we’ve accomplished, and what we have right in front of us.

This week… Stop it. Just stop it. Join me in stopping the incessant comparison to others. Let’s stand in our own inherent greatness, unique beauty, one-of-a-kind experience, and personal point of view. There will always be something better, grander, and more appealing no matter what we do, become, or obtain so join me in committing to this: Set your sights on what you want and fall in love with the journey to obtaining it and in the meantime, steadfastly reject the urge to succumb to the utterly useless emotion of envy and comparison and refuse to miss the glorious gifts laid right at your feet.

“Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are,
we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men.
It then appears that we are among the privileged.”
~~ Helen Keller

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