“Do not compare yourself to others, for you will become vain and bitter. For always there will be those greater and lesser than yourself.”
Comparison robs us of our joys. At a time when people are posting their end of year successes and New Year goals, or posting pictures of wonderful holidays or romantic NYEs, it can be very easy to compare what we have to what others appear to have. This generally isn’t helpful. We know it isn’t helpful but we still do it….
Why do we compare? At a basic level it can be a tool to help us evaluate or gauge where we are. Schools do it right from when children are small. As a society we rank movies, compare them to each other, we do the same with sports teams and players. So it’s no surprise that we compare ourselves to the people around us. It can be an effective way to figure out how far along the way to our goals we are.
Unfortunately it doesn’t often turn out that way. Usually comparison leads to us feeling dissatisfied with ourselves. On the rare occasion that comparison shows us to be ahead of someone else that also doesn’t really help – we like to feel that we’re better than someone else, but in the end that doesn’t really do anything to improve our own set of skills, or our approach to life.
I’ve learned a couple of things about comparison through two communities – the writing community and the teaching community.
The writing community is probably the most supportive and nice community I’ve been in. Even more than teachers! And teachers are pretty amazing (shout out to my teaching buddies ❤). But even though everyone is super supportive, welcoming, and encouraging, as a newbie writer it’s so easy to fall into comparison mode. People share their work and what stage they are at (writing, revising, querying, publishing) and it all seems so unattainable and as if they’ve done it so easily (even though we know that isn’t the case).
In contrast (hah!), I don’t compare myself as a teacher. Why not? Probably because I’ve been doing it for long enough to realise that every teacher has their own style so you simply can’t compare. Some of the best teachers I know have styles very different from me. Their style wouldn’t work for me either. I’ve also come to realise and accept that not every student will respond to your style or your approach to teaching. You won’t be everyone’s favourite teacher, but I’ve also known students whose favourite teacher has been someone who has completely surprised me. There’s always the chance to be that important teacher for someone. It’s okay if not every student likes your subject – I didn’t love all my subjects when I was at school. Being a teacher has taught me, more than anything else in life, that it isn’t you, it’s them. People have their own likes, baggage, perspectives, experiences, and all of those determine their perspective on life and on you.
So how do I relate this to the rest of my life? It’s okay to not be invited to everything. It’s okay to not be the best at everything, even the thing you really love. It’s okay to not be someone’s favourite author or to have someone really not like your style of writing. The most important advice I ever heard about putting out your work is that those who don’t like it? they aren’t your audience.
When you’re like me and you really just want praise and adoration and worship from every single person (should I have admitted that? Too late…) and when you’re used to being pretty good at something and to be liked, it is hard not to compare yourself to those who seem to be far along the track from where you are.
But that’s okay.
It’s alright to want to be better, and it’s alright that others are where you want to be.
What is toxic is the comparison.
Everyone has their own battles. You don’t see the iceberg under the water for what someone has done to get to the shiny tip that you see. You don’t know how many early morning writing sessions or practices they went to while you slept in. And there’s really no point in then using that for self-flagellation either. So yeah, maybe you could have done more earlier. Turns out you didn’t, so there’s nothing to be gained from wallowing in the ‘could have, should have’ and much to be gained from learning from others success.
You need to learn to love yourself and what you’ve done. It comes back to being your own cheerleader. What would you say to a friend in the same situation? You’d praise their efforts so far and then encourage them to do better. You wouldn’t compare them to everyone who’s far ahead of them and say ‘yeah, you really do suck’. Let’s not do it to ourselves.
Support other people and support yourself. Comparisons aren’t helpful unless you can learn from what someone else does that you don’t do. Find the encouragers around you. Be an encourager for someone else. If we all do that, maybe we can all flourish in our own time.