In a dim, stuffy studio in a villa in Abu Dhabi, UAE, women of all ages, sizes, and nationalities plop their yoga mats and their sitting bones onto the wooden floors, stretching in the morning light with the hopes of achieving “yogi” status. About a week ago, I too, had decided to join the ranks and take my zen out of the den and into the hands of a qualified instructor.
Class was intense and required total focus, and by the third class and one-too-many dizzy spells, I started to reevaluate my commitment to attaining enlightenment, or at least the headstand.
This week’s class of Hatha flow was particularly daunting. As usual, there were a handful of women twice my age with double my range of motion achieving poses that made my neck hurt just to watch. After trying a rather challenging balancing act unsuccessfully, I watched my morale sink as I looked around the room and saw that more than half of my classmates could do the one that I couldn’t. I cursed in my head and even made a few angry faces (sorry teacher). And in between fighting the tears and my body, I realized in that moment my mistake—I was comparing myself to others, something I do far too often as an artist as well.
Here are 3 reasons why comparing doesn’t work:
- You’re probably doing it wrong. To truly compare something you should control for external contributing factors, a.k.a. “assume all things equal.” Assume you guys started learning the same skills, at the same time, with the same level of instruction, the same set of injuries, life experiences, and stresses, the same amount of risk. Chances are, when you do it that way, the 40-year-old Egyptian business lady to your right who’s been practicing yoga for 10 years doesn’t really matter. Neither does anyone else to whom you bother comparing. They’re not your competition. You are.
- You play down your own successes. Sure you may not be able to balance on your bad knee yet, but you can do a damn good sun salutation. And your core strength is impeccable. I remember when I first started experimenting with abstract art. It was hard. I felt lost, and often still do. But when I look at some of my work from my college years, a nude, for instance, with skin so realistic it looks like a photo, I can ease up a little bit. Maybe some abstract artists wished they could draw as well as I do. Maybe they don’t. The point is, I’m good at the stuff I’m good at and not being good at everything doesn’t make you a bad artist, it just makes you human.
- You’re gonna wanna give up. Practicing yoga is a lot like being a practicing artist. You have more ideas than you have time. Your ambitions are high, partly because you believe in yourself, on some deep level, or else you wouldn’t show up. And then, you hit a few bumps on the road, see your “peers” doing fabulous work, and you feel like giving up. But, ultimately, it’s the stretching, it’s the pushing, it’s the moving that gets us to the end of the mark. That perfect wheel pose. That painting that makes you proud. You may not see it, but by showing up, you’re halfway there.
I keep making art because, most of the time, it feels good and it’s good for the soul. Like yoga, it’s about showing up and paying attention to where you are to help you move forward.