The Comparison Game

There is a quote I've seen on Tumblr a lot (goodbye, credibilty), and it makes a lot of sense: "Don't compare your chapter one to somebody else's chapter 20."

Now, I'm not sure who said it or if I'm even saying it right, or if it was even said by anybody at all and maybe I'm just a genius who coined it in my sleep. But it's right: comparison is the thief of joy.

I'm done writing like Yoda now, don't worry. But I will say that looking at the accomplishments of others and comparing them to your own or lack thereof is the fastest way to send you into the darkest depths of your inner monologue. There is nothing that will make a victory feel worse than when you use that victory as a way to measure your worth against somebody else — especially when you don't know what that somebody else has gone through or what they're ultimately aiming for.

We tend to assume our peers want the same things we do because, well, we're all selfish. And that's fine! You have to be selfish sometimes, provided you balance it out by being a decent human being 85-90% of the time. But when you get into those insecure lows (that none of us are strangers to), your levels of selfishness ironically blow up. (You feel like crap, yet it's all about you, but you feel shitty, but it's because other people are out to get you — weird how that works.) Then, you not only begin comparing your successes and failures to other people's, you begin taking their successes as a direct assault. "She's doing my thing!" you think, jealously. Or "Ugh, well now he has this achievement which means I'll never have it," you tell yourself with bitterness.

HUH? First of all, that doesn't make sense. Maybe if your thing is riding a unicycle while juggling and playing Kanye West on a harmonica, that's actually "your" thing. But fashion? Comedy? Fiction? Non fiction? Movies? Those broad (b-r-o-a-d) things belong to millions of people — they belong to you as much as they belong to my neighbour across the street, currently uprooting all his plants.

The same goes for "stolen achievement." Louis CK recently wrote about how nobody "steals" victories/gigs/bookings anything from anyone — those are the products of hard work and years and years and years of dedication, and anybody who wastes energy resenting their peers for their achievements usually don't rise far above where they are now. That's because you're expending freakish amounts of energy looking at the work of somebody else and not doing your own. It's exhausting, it's emotionally draining, and it will ultimately kill you. You'll be Pete Campbell from Mad Men who runs into elevators exclaiming, "NOT GREAT, BOB!" while Bob stands there smiling. And nobody in the world wants to be Pete Campbell. (Except maybe the actor who plays him because it's a great role.)

Most of the time, there's also a backstory: somebody may have spent years and years working in their industry. Somebody else may have gone through professional war to make it to the other side. Someone else may have eaten boxed macaroni for weeks at a time trying to make their dream take off. Generally speaking: we don't know jack shit about other people's lives. Their first 20 chapters may have been filled with heartbreak and horror, and ours may seem like a cakewalk compared to their's.

It's easy to get caught up in defining who you are and what you've done by what people around you have or haven't. But if you think that way, there will always be somebody better. Unless you are Meryl Streep, there will always be a Meryl Streep. Work victories are great, personal victories equally so, but those are not a tally of who we are, what we deserve, or how "successful" we are. This doesn't need to be Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. Or specifically: it does, but only the end where only the bitter judgemental posse get served a dose of "what are you even doing" reality. Nobody wants to be Christy Masters-Christensen.


Tags: careers, comparison, friendship, Louis CK, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

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