I feel like I’ve heard somewhere that comparison is the death of the artist. If I haven’t heard it somewhere, then apparently I’m more creative than I thought. Comparing oneself to others is detrimental to one’s wellbeing – whether that comparison stems from artistic ability or simply from physical appearance. It’s never good to compare what you do what others do, just like it is never good to compare how many friends you have to how many others have. Comparisons like these just make way for doubt and fear to creep in, and no one who hangs on to either of those emotions is successful in the grand scheme of things.
I’m sure we’ve all heard this before. I may sound like a broken record right now (in fact, that simile may be just as annoying as a broken record at this point in history), but it’s true. Nevertheless, it’s always much easier to say than to actually put into practice. Even now, I know that the first paragraph of this post – that I wrote, nonetheless – is on the verge of being hypocritical. I know all of these things. I know that comparing myself to others in any way, shape, or form is a bad habit to have – but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy habit to break. It seems like the tendency to compare is in our nature. Take a look at comparisons related to other areas of life, for example. At the grocery store, we compare prices. In the car on the way to work, we compare the songs that come on over the radio, picking which one is our favorite. We compare cars, we compare schools, we compare jobs, we compare books. It’s part of living day to day life. Some of these types of comparisons are not bad at all – far from it, really. But sometimes comparison can take over and it becomes all to easy to live your life comparing it to the lives of others.
This is certainly true for me, and I have been feeling my habit to compare coming on strong the past couple of days. I have been struggling with the future (what’s new?) and trying to talk myself out of applying to grad school. I want to go to grad school. I really want to go to grad school. But then I look at the writers who actually get into MFA programs and compare my writing to theirs, and I have doubts. Then I look at the caliber of the students who are awarded graduate teaching assistantships and I feel uncertain. Then I look at how hard it is to get funding at my top choice schools compared to other schools and I’m scared. It can be very hard at times trying to get into a creative field. There’s really no way to compare writers to each other. There’s no strict standard I can compare my writing to in order to tell if it’s great. The world of writing is a varying one, and there’s often no way to tell what will be a huge success and what will flop. Sometimes the exact opposite of what is expected happens, and there’s simply not a way to predict that.
While it’s definitely hard to stop comparing my writing to others, it’s not impossible. Actually, it’s not altogether bad (though I would say it’s mostly bad). In order to learn how to write well, I must emulate authors who I admire and who are considered great writers. Is this a form of comparison? Yes. Is it a bad form of comparison? Not necessarily. Ultimately, comparison is not beneficial when taken too far. When comparison denotes value, then there’s something wrong. I’m learning not to let comparison bar me from living life. I’m not going to let my doubts and fears get in the way of applying to grad school. There’s no harm in trying, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, or me, when it comes to our creative endeavors. We are all unique and have different talents, and that means that there is no comparison when it comes to any one of us. We must reign in the habitual comparing in order to become successful.