Inspiring Tidbits

Crippling Comparison

"Comparison is the thief of joy" print by HowJoyful Design Studio

One of the biggest creative lessons of my life is something I rarely talk about because a) I am still learning it, and b) I find the extent to which I am still learning it positively embarrassing. This lesson is quite simple on the surface: never compare yourself to others. But, man oh man, putting this little puppy into practice can be a herculean task. When I’m working on big writing projects or mapping out my career plan, without fail I slip into comparing myself with other writers my age or random heroes of the week whom I proceed to stalk online. I know I do this because I want to create amazing works of art/literature and make the most of my precious time, but – while there are plenty of insights to be gleaned from others’ works and career paths – these comparisons become categorically crippling and useless the second I slip into negative thinking (a.k.a, the “I’m a failure because I wasn’t published in The New Yorker at age 20″ mindset). This is to say: looking to other people for inspiration is great, but comparing ourselves with them is futile at best and toxic at worst.

As gloriously unique human beings and/or creative artists, what is going to make our lives and work spectacular is the one-of-a-kind voice, passion, and drive we bring into the world. And, when I think about it this way, I realize what a moot point comparison really is. We all have our own timelines and trajectories, and the most any of us can ever do is work hard, take innovative risks, and boldly celebrate our smallest of victories while resisting comparison. I know I will struggle to truly put this lesson into practice over the days and years to come, but when I slip up I will try to remind myself  that the uniqueness of each of our journeys should be marveled at instead of compared…Are the temptations of comparison something you also struggle with in your work or passion projects? Do you have any tricks for shoving comparisons out of your mind? Leave a comment.

Print by HowJoyfulDesign Studio via Pinterest.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Tony December 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Yes, easy to caught up in.
    I always heard the saying as: “Don’t judge your height by your grandfather’s shadow.”
    Or, don’t beat up on yourself because you didn’t publish Frankenstein at age 18.
    Lots of people do insane things in their lifetimes while the rest of us are still trying to figure out what the hell we’re supposed to be doing.

    At any rate, you can’t write Crime and Punishment with the hands of a 25 year old, can you?

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté December 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      What you say about writing Crime and Punishment with the hands of a 25 year old is so true, Tony. (Although I must admit I have no idea how old Dostoevsky was when he wrote that tome.) We really do all have our own timelines, though, and the tall task is just plugging away at our work and not getting caught up in comparisons. Such a damn tall task it is. 😉

  • Reply Laine December 21, 2011 at 3:39 am

    Of course! All the time! I think you hit it right on when you said we have to appreciate ourselves for our own uniqueness. Although sometimes I get some satisfaction/inspiration from wallowing in some sort of I’m not good enough-ness sometimes!

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté December 21, 2011 at 10:32 am

      That’s a very interesting point, Laine. I’ve never thought about the fact that perhaps I sometimes draw inspiration from my bouts if “I’m not good enough” thinking, but it’s very likely that it sometimes happens. Thanks for the food for thought. 😉

  • Reply Tony December 21, 2011 at 9:56 am

    After some googlin’ I found Fyodor wrote C&P at around 45, only after he sort of failed as a writer in his 20s, went to prison, served in the army, fell in love, and so forth.

    I think the important thing is to balance writing with going out and experiencing new things and then writing it all down. I guess this is why at 20 so many of my friends loved Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski and the Beats…stoner/drunk/acid freaks who were looking for new ways of looking at the world, new worldly experiences to catalog and stories to tell.

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté December 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Perhaps this means the lesson is to go to jail and do lots of drugs, Tony. 😉 I jest…But, in all seriousness, I think our most valuable life experiences often come in the line of fire while going balls out to pursue our passions. We’ve both got many miles and milestones to go before 45.

  • Reply kristina December 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    cote, this is such a great post. i also tend to struggle w. this one from time to time. it’s so easy to do. and yes, inspiration is definitely a great thing in the creative field especially, but when it turns into comparisons to others, it can get ugly. not a good thing… i think that you’re on the right track though with trying to deal w. it. and i believe that we all do this whether we admit it or not… i so respect you for your honesty, everyone should do this…
    xoxo, kristina

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté December 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

      Thank you so much for letting me know you struggle with this, too, Kristina. Sometimes it feels so much better just knowing we aren’t alone dealing with the crazy issues that the creative process presents. 😉

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