The Thief of Joy: What Teddy Roosevelt Taught Me About My Worth

Long long ago, in 2012, I directed a play that celebrated and critiqued the lives and legacies of the all of the Presidents of the USA.  44 Plays for 44 Presidents, written by Chicago’s beloved Neo-Futurists, was always intended to educate and entertain me but I’m not sure it ever intended to alter the course of my spiritual life and provoke a deep lasting change within my heart…I’ll explain how. And it has absolutely nothing to do with Warren G Harding’s gambling problems…

During the Teddy Roosevelt piece, the actors wore great bushy mustaches, round eye glasses and quoted TR directly shouting sure-of-foot things like,  “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness…” , “Walk softly and carry a big stick…” and one of my favorites, “…I do not know if you fully understand that I have just been shot! But it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”  President Roosevelt was FULL of Teachings, the way I, as a student of yoga, recognize a Teaching.  And while, I also recognized that he had his flaws, I was so taken with so much of what he said, I set a course for myself on the sea of Teddy-isms. It is fathoms deep. The most impactful has become a mantra I practice almost daily and a place from which I often teach. “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I had to read it again. And again…”Comparison is the thief of joy.”  Damn… Or to quote another US president, William Howard Taft, “I am afraid I am a constant disappointment to my party…” That party is me. I’m so good at comparing myself to other people. I mean, I have sharpened the blade of that skill with stone.  In many difficult moments in my life, when I’ve felt most lost at sea, I was not as smart, successful, attractive, healthy, worthy, spiritual, organized, relevant, woke or talented as some other human. Someone was a better wife, girlfriend, ally, actor, friend or teacher than I was. And it is historical. I have done this all my life. When I was 4, my family survived an upsetting armed robbery.  A man broke into our hotel room and held us up at gun point. I remember my sister, who was an infant, not shedding a single tear while I was inconsolable. Unable to see that my sister was just too little to understand what was going on, at the ripe old age of 4, I silently felt like a coward while my sister was brave. As an actor, I’d watch other women get cast in roles constantly comparing myself to both the quality and quantity of their work. Tempest-tossed by my unworthiness, I could not see the great body of  work that was my own, created over the 13+ years I spent working hard in the ATL theatre scene. (Including the President’s show…twice!) And even now, everyday, in the world of yoga-lebrities, exotic yoga retreats led by energized teachers and, God, yoga teachers who just don’t seem to be hustling this hustle, I’ll compare. It doesn’t sound very yoga-like. I know. But, this is the truth. If you are a yoga teacher in Atlanta, I have probably at some point, compared myself to you. My dad once told me, “I love writing. I don’t always love being a writer.” My dad ranks up there with TR in the realm of Teachings with a capital “T”. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in my 44 years of living that brings me more joy than sharing yoga with people. It is fulfilling in so many ways and yet still…I compare. I give my joy away.

What defines a successful yoga instructor? Full classes? Lots of classes? Being in magazines? Having 10K instagram followers? Being an outspoken advocate and ally 100% of the time? Making a positive impact on our students lives? Not accidentally triggering or injuring our students?  Teaching enough to take care of ourselves and actually taking care of ourselves? Making enough money to pay for the next teacher training or Immersion? All of this? Some of this?

Back to Teddy…I read his words and there was no going back. And while I was, for a long time, incapable of not comparing myself to other people, his message was as clear and robust as his mustache. I was forced to be a witness to my habit of comparison. I couldn’t get the awareness of it off of me. I also couldn’t put it into practice. Yet. How do I stop doing something I’d always done?!? It seemed impossible. Like putting down alcohol…how could I ever deal with the chaos and pain within me and all around me without…hey wait. I’d already quit drinking. (Climbing toward 11 years sober!). Maybe more like smoking…there’s like no way I could…o…I let that go of that as well.  Okay fine! Desperate to solve this mystery…this spiritual X-File, I dug deep for a Teaching. This time, another from my dad. He once told me, “Write what you know.” Like a yogi, I modified. “Teach what you know.” And that is what I did. For weeks and weeks, months and months, in all of my classes, I used comparison as a theme. I got vulnerable and shared my experience. I quoted Teddy.  “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I pitched many questions and considerations to my students. What if you didn’t compare your pose to your neighbors pose, What if you didn’t compare your practice today to yesterdays, your 40 year old body’s practice to your 30 year old body’s practice, your practice post pregnancy to pre pregnancy, your Warrior 2 with your right leg forward to your Warrior 2 with your left leg forward, your unique and well crafted single life to your brothers recent engagement, your summer to your bff from middle school’s summer, who you’ve only seen through FB over the last 20 years and who just took a family vacation to Greece while you barely got your kids to the YMCA camp on time every morning…I swear we did yoga poses. We did. But more than that, we became explorers. We stumbled through the hidden spirit of our own wilderness and discovered our worth. We recovered our joy. We forgave ourselves, knowing we’d slip and compare ourselves to others again.  We knew we’d just scratched the surface and we’d have to walk our walk best we could. Did it fix everything? Hell no. Did it help. Hell yes. And recognizing that was the moment I began to untangle this knot.

I allowed my place in this world as a child, woman, artist and yoga teacher to be very limited and confined…I made myself small and it was teaching about it that began to heal my heart. I like my Universe to be a place where I’m whole. Not perfect. Whole.  I stumble and when I do, I teach about it. I’ll keep teaching about until the work is done, and from what I know about this path, the work is never done. I’ll leave you with one more Teaching from Teddy-Ji. “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  May we all find our inner bull moose in times of self-doubt and do the work.