“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” ~ Iyanla Vanzant
I would say that this “act of violence” extends to those around us and to society as a whole, also.
When we depend on comparing ourselves to something or someone else, we deprive ourselves and the world of our creativity and uniqueness, and also the creation that would come from many unique souls collaborating.
During my career as a professional violinist and the training that led to it, I was immersed in comparison. Some was necessary to becoming a good violinist. Perfect intonation and rhythm are important things to strive for, not only for one’s own sake, but for the sake of one’s audience! But, when it comes to a real, live performance, there’s really no such thing as perfect.
And yet, as a young musician, I was constantly beating myself up, comparing myself to recordings of performances that seemed to be perfect. And then, I learned that most of the recordings I listened to were spliced together to eliminate imperfections. I once even heard of a recording with multiple splices within one measure of music (a couple seconds, at most)! If some of the best players in the world couldn’t play perfectly, why should I be expected to? And yet, when I went to professional symphony orchestra auditions, perfection was the expectation.
Then, there was the audition tour stop I heard about at a major conservatory. All of the violinists played the same two pieces. I was told that they all sounded so identical that you could have chopped a measure out of one player’s concerto and dropped it into another player’s performance without detection. This is where you start to see how comparison kills creativity and uniqueness. Comparison often breeds conformity of the worst kind.
I’m sure you can think of other examples. We do this all over the place. With how our bodies look and work. With how we perform in school or at work. With our accomplishments or possessions. We may be comparing ourselves to others, to the way it “should” be, to what we think is perfection, to something we see in the media, or something that we have carried forth from early in life.
No matter what or whom we compare ourselves against, the need to compare has a common source. It’s the feeling that there is something wrong with us being just the way we are.
We absorb this feeling early in life from moments when those around us don’t feel good, and this negative feeling called Learned Distress becomes embedded in our sense of self. This stored feeling becomes the basis for all of our negative moments throughout life.
Comparison is one of the ways we experience our Learned Distress. “I’m not as good as _______.” And, we can also use comparison as a way to survive with this awful feeling: “If only I can be ‘that’ way, I will be okay.” Or, “Well, at least I’m better than ______, so I am okay.”
But, in addition to Learned Distress, our sense of self stores our unique well-being. At some point in life, that uniqueness really demands to be expressed, and the survival mechanism of comparing ourselves to others or some ideal starts to fall apart.
Expressing our uniqueness is why we’re on the planet, and it is ultimately the focus of the transformational work I do on myself and with others.
It’s really fun to watch uniqueness emerge. It is often the thing that we’ve felt is really weird about us or even wrong with us. One of my clients recently experienced this. She’s a musician and had worked on a piece that seemed like a frivolous use of her time, because it doesn’t fit the genre she performs in. Several weeks later, she was invited to perform in a concert with several others. At the last minute, the organizer was looking for a big finale piece for the concert, and it turned out that this piece fit perfectly. Instead of being quirky and a waste of time, this piece my client worked on “just for fun” turned out to be the perfect professional move for her to perform.
Where do you find yourself comparing yourself to others or to some ideal or standard? Does it serve you and the world to do that? If you could express something different, would you? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta