The Joy Thief

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli
The Joy Thief

And just as quickly as it began, summer… not in the seasonal way but rather in the designated break between one school year to the next…is winding down.   In just one week my Marlowe starts first grade. How is that possible?  Weren’t we just sending her off to kindergarten?  Other school districts are already back in the swing of things, reminding me to once more heed the school zone speed limits.  And of course the stores are stocked with those gloriously irresistible school supplies teeming from every corner.

It has been a fully layered summer.  There have been late nights and sleepy mornings; living room campouts and cousin sleepovers; s’mores and swimming lessons; camps and fairs and concerts and friends.    It’s no wonder, then, that until the last day or so Marlowe has had absolutely no desire to return to school.  Who would, after a summer of adventures?   Dylan, too, who has had the benefit of plenty of time away from his preschool this summer, is demonstrating an extra large pout at the thought of getting back to routine.

Completely unrelated:  we just got back from a road trip to New Jersey and after twelve hours on the road our car was understandably seriously messy.  So the kids and I took it to the car wash—one of our favorite excursions, one that absolutely fills the kids with joy and delight.  While waiting, a man in a jaguar pulled up in the lane right next to us and I watched the car wash attendant give him a hearty “welcome back” and questions about anything special he might need or want, and as the guy pulled ahead of us the attendant murmured something into his headpiece that included the word “jaguar”---  I now imagine there is a whole secret car wash setting for cars like that, the type of wash we run-of-the-mill mini vans never even see.   As I watched the whole interaction, I am not proud to say that I found myself moving to a dark and pouty place.  A “have-not” place.   One where I imagined all the “truths” about this man in the jaguar and the life he leads, and held them in judgement against my own.

Teddy Roosevelt was right:  comparison really is the thief of joy.

When I compare my messy mini-van life to that of the shiny jaguar guy life, I literally watch the joy being sucked out of me.   When Marlowe compares all the fun she’s had this summer with the unknown serious business of first grade, she rebels against the thought of going.    When we compare what we have and what we know with what we don’t have and what we don’t know, we are entering a losing battle--one that does nothing but diminish our opportunity for joy and gratitude, clouding us in a sheath of wanting.

Because here’s the thing.  I’ve talked before about my love of my mini-van and all the hours of joy contained within it.  That car is FUN.   For all I know, shiny jaguar guy has no fun at all in his car.  Maybe he’s so worried about it getting dirty or dinged that he gets all stressed out every time he drives it.  What do I know?   And more importantly-- what business is it of mine to care?  Maybe shiny jaguar guy has an amazingly shiny life-- what right do I have to say anything but "good on you, dude"?    And summer might be more fun than first grade, but kindergarten just happened to be about the best thing that ever happened to Marlowe, so for all we know 1st grade is going to totally ROCK her world with new friends and adventures and learning.    Or maybe it  won't be "as cool" as summer.. maybe it will just be something different.   What do we know?

If we stop comparing this to that, me to you, your way to my way, this place to that place…. if we just put down the comparing already… well then we can be open to receive what we actually have, what’s right in front of us, what’s possible, what’s ahead—whatever it may be.    And, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend my time in my own little pocket of joy-full than spend my time accounting for the rest of the world.

What joy can you snatch back from that nasty old comparison thief?   


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.