On Comparison

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
—Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve always been jealous of creative people who claim they don’t struggle with comparison. “I just do my own thing and don’t worry about anyone else.” My initial reaction when I hear someone say something like this is to shout, “Liar!!!” Only after calming down do I admit that I’m actually just jealous of them for being able to “do their own thing.”

There are a few creative people who don’t struggle with comparing themselves to others. But like unicorns or people who genuinely enjoy writing, they are rare. For many, I’d say most, creative people, comparison is one of the biggest obstacles to fulfillment and success. Competition can be a great catalyst for progress, but too often our own personal tendency to “measure up” goes too far. When our only measure of success becomes how we compare to someone else, we are bound to be crippled by comparison.

I don’t think anyone enjoys obsessively comparing themselves with those around them. Most of us would agree that the fixation on comparison and the jealousy it often fosters is unhealthy and a waste of valuable time. The problem is that we can’t seem to help it. You check your email or Twitter feed and the first thing you notice is someone else in your industry achieving something awesome while you nurse your latte and stare at a blank word processor.

Many people have written on their tricks and tips for avoiding comparison. Yes, you should do your best to unplug while writing or creating. Yes, you should try to limit your time on Twitter and Facebook. These are good tactics for temporarily avoiding comparison, but they aren’t addressing the real problem. To really deal with the deeper issue of jealousy, I believe the way we think and talk about comparison needs to change. We need to learn not how to avoid comparison, but where it comes from.

At the very heart of jealousy and comparison is insecurity. We all struggle with insecurity about who we are and what we are doing. The problem is that we let that insecurity manifest itself in some really cruel and self-defeating forms. We’ve allowed our insecurity to get the better of us and hijack our perception of ourselves and others.

I don’t always get it right, but I’m starting to catch myself when I start comparing. As soon as I see someone else doing something remarkable, and those feelings of jealousy start to well up inside me, I try to identify them. By identifying the underlying emotion, jealousy, I’m able to curb it before it totally overwhelms me and ruins my day. I’m still in the middle of my battle with comparison; some days go better than others. But I’m trying, and I know that if I can begin being honest about jealousy, now it will save me from a lot of pain down the road.