Back when Thor first drew a bison on the wall of his cave with torch soot, he was pretty impressed with himself. He pointed to it so Troshe, his woman, would notice and be proud or … maybe turned on. He didn’t then go to Instagram to upload a snapshot of the sketch (#bison) and while scrolling, notice that across the savannah, Vilk had already drawn a bison and in fact, had rendered it larger and better than Thor’s, causing him to feel discouraged, envious, and maybe even so despondent he didn’t notice the saber tooth tiger ready to devour him. He just remained encouraged and then maybe added a horse. “Good Thor, I like!” say Troshe.
The visibility of what people are creating, accomplishing, and happily experiencing is in our face more than it ever has been in any other time in history. And like many developments of modern society it has a wickedly double-edged sword. We get to see myriads of art, music, writing, and discover strangers we want to follow because we are inspired, entertained, or sense a kindred connection. Sometimes they even end-up our friends in real life.
The dark side is more common. Comparison can slime us with envy, a feeling of not being good enough, and sometimes depression, all of which can definitely ruin our day not to mention derail our passion. It has derailed me on several occasions as well as many of the people I work with in my practice. Out of creative survival I designed five comparison antidotes fueled by mindfulness, common sense, and a little bit of play. One may work for you, or in more serious cases you may need all of them. See what you think:
- Consider that you’re human and comparison comes with the species. We are a species that compares ourselves to others; it’s just in our nature. Trying to stop it will just make it fester. Sometimes normalizing the elements of our humanity calms our concern because when discomfort comes with who we are as a tribe, it doesn’t feel so personal. Granted, comparing ourselves to others is not something we like, but one of the most liberating attitudes I have adopted is that I don’t have to like everything about being human – there will always be things I don’t like, why fight it? I try to be okay with not being okay with the feeling of comparison and move on.
- Say, “So what?” It’s sounds a little bratty and it is, but bratty can actually be an agent of transcendence. Saying “So what?” when I see someone I perceive as surpassing me, reframes the reaction to, “Yeah, they’ve done something I probably can’t do (yet), but I’m not getting my knickers in a twist about it. I’m on my own path. Then I might add, “There are many things I’ve done that I CAN celebrate,” because we often go into amnesia when we see the work of others, forgetting we have done some remarkable things ourselves.
- Use it to inspire small steps. As The Artist’s Way author, Julia Cameron says, if you notice you’re envious of what someone else is doing, that feeling may be a signpost that it’s time you need to venture a bit in that direction. In this line of thinking, my next action is to ask myself, “What’s a teeny, tiny, low pressure step I can take to explore, for five minutes, what they’re doing, but in my own way?” Small steps remove that paralyzed feeling that can ensue when comparison flares up.
- Go Low. Max Ehrmann’s in Desiderata says, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” The ego is the part of us that gets vain and bitter when it sees something it interprets as greater than ourselves. The ego marinates in irrational, lower consciousness thinking. So sometimes to satisfy its bottom feeding, I secretly experiment with comparing myself to someone who seems “lesser” than me only in that they just started out or seem to be on the wrong track. I do this simply to mollify my ego’s arrogance. This works in a slightly off-handed, tongue-in-cheek way, but can be enough to get me out of the evil vortex and quiet the ego long enough for me to contribute something productive to the world. I’m not proud of this, I keep this to myself, don’t tell anyone.
- Go High. This is my favorite antidote because it mingles with my higher consciousness, which is much more satisfying. Instead of separating myself from others by listening to the ego say, “Look what she did and you didn’t,” I say, “Look what WE did.” The thought, “Look what we did as women, creative people, artists, writers, or humans,” unifies us instead of keeps us separate, competitive beings. Funny thing is, the subconscious doesn’t know I’m not talking about me and fills with a satisfaction of accomplishment that motivates me to keep moving in my own process.
Comparison is the alienation of one’s self. It taints our desire to continue the expression of who we are in our own way. The next time you feel comparison’s disenchantment, give one or five of these antidotes a try and see if you can return to the adventure of who YOU are.