You’ve probably heard this quote from Theodore Roosevelt at some point in your life: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s one of those beautifully simple adages that someone might cross-stitch onto a pillow or pin onto an inspirational Pinterest board. But more than just being a handy saying from a former president, when you really think about it, it’s also a powerfully accurate illustration for why comparison is so toxic.
Comparison is not just some harmless mindset that we fall into every now and again. It’s much more dangerous than that. It is a thief. A rotten, little thief. To allow it into your worldview is to allow it to take something from you. In fact, for the purposes of this illustration, try to imagine Comparison as a real person with a sinister mask and a cape (I’m picturing the Hamburglar if that helps), someone hell-bent on snatching up all of your joy. I mean, that’s terrifying, right?
And while obsessive comparison can be problematic for anyone, I would argue that it can be particularly destructive when it comes to developing a career or pursuing creative ambitions. Weighing your own success next to the success of your peers can have some devastating effects on your productivity, and honestly, we all know that. Still, it’s such an easy trap to fall into. With every social media update, blog post, or conversation about how great things are going for someone else, it becomes harder and harder to stifle the temptation to compare. It happens to the best of us.
That being said, the best way to fight this thieving little jerk called Comparison is to understand exactly how it works. Here are some other ways in which this creep will try to mess with you:
Comparison is dramatic.
When you compare your circumstances to those of someone else, you typically come to one of two conclusions: 1) that you are awesome and on top of the world, or 2) that you are not doing enough and that you are the absolute worst. Usually, it’s the latter of the two.
Comparison doesn’t allow for a nuanced interpretation of how your life is going. It’s either better than someone else’s or worse than someone else’s – there is no in between. But by removing these kinds of thoughts from your mindset and focusing on what’s in front of you, you might find that not everything fits into neat boxes of “good” or “awful.” Instead, your experiences fall somewhere on a spectrum, one built from your own expectations for yourself.
Comparison is a terrible measuring stick.
Let’s consider social media for a moment. It’s basically Comparison’s home base, after all. With filtered images of cups of coffee, creative workstations, beach vacations, it can often look like everyone else in your feed has got it all figured out. But really, think about this: how often do you capture your failures on Instagram? How often do you tweet your insecurities? For better or for worse, we are all putting our best faces out there, sometimes to the point of presenting a false reality of how things really are. Measuring your bad day with someone else’s curated image of their life just isn’t fair.
Comparison is the worst map ever.
You are on a unique road when it comes to your ambitions. While you can’t always be certain of what’s coming next, at a certain point you hopefully settle into a rhythm and a plan of action that works for you. But in walks Comparison and suddenly everything gets rerouted. You look at someone else’s career, their following or influence, and you assume that perhaps you should be doing what they are doing. Without considering the fact that everyone works at different speeds and has a different path to success, you throw out your vision for yourself and replace it with one that is totally inauthentic to who you are. Comparison shakes your confidence, leads you to question your own choices, and convinces you to take turns in your life when you really ought to be staying the course.
Comparison is a straight up liar.
It says to you, “Her success is your failure.” And that’s just not true. In actuality, her success is…her success, and that in and of itself is something to celebrate. (Tweet that!)
As individuals navigating this crazy world of pursuing creative careers, we should be wholly triumphant when someone else has a victory. We should be inspired by the success of others and seek to learn from them, but we shouldn’t assume that all of our timelines have to look exactly the same. Some people have the biggest moment of their career on Day 2, others on Day 2,002, and still others might simply have a series of small wins all along the way. You will have your time, but in the meantime, don’t be afraid to revel in someone else’s good fortune. In the end, we creatives should be for each other, not against.