There’s a popular quote floating around on the interwebs, stating that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ve never found a rock-solid origin for that quote, although it is most frequently attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. Frankly, I think it sounds a little too touchy-feely to have come from the uber-manly 26th US president, who likely would have said something more along the lines of “Comparison is the enemy, and I have whipped its sorry butt with a really big stick.”
Regardless of its source, the quote has become a bit of a mantra for those of us in the arts. Conventional wisdom is that comparing ourselves to others – particularly our levels of success (or lack thereof) – is inherently a bad thing.
That way madness lies, we are admonished (while we’re sourcing quotes, that one is from Shakespeare’s oh-so-cheerful King Lear). It’s not a competition, and there’s room for all of us, we are advised, so we should just focus on our own stuff, rather than comparing ourselves to people who are probably in completely different situations than we are. Seems like sensible advice.
Sooooo, how are YOU doing with the whole not-comparing-yourself-to-others thing?
Me? Not so good.
Seems like recently I keep seeing people who do what I do, but who are doing it more successfully, and I find myself thinking: I just don’t get it. Why are these people so successful? Is what they’re doing really considered good these days?
This in turn leads me to question whether my own sense of what is (and isn’t) good has fallen out of step with the times. Or maybe it was never in step to begin with.
I mean, what if I’m completely wrong about what constitutes good art? What if I’ve been fooling myself all these years?
From there, the spiral accelerates and I soon find myself diving headfirst into the dreaded Cronin Crisis of Confidence®. Fun stuff. Right up there with a long, luxurious root canal.
Let’s look at a few examples…
Case #1: The not-so-good writing colleague
About a decade ago I became casually acquainted with a writer who was working on her first manuscript. As we were both members of a writing group, I got a chance to look at her work-in-progress.
It was not good. Seriously not good.
But it was a very different genre than I write, and she never directly asked me for my feedback, so I wisely kept my opinion to myself.
Over the years we’ve lost touch, but I still encounter her online from time to time, and I have to give her props for diligence: She kept pounding away, producing numerous manuscripts, and eventually succeeding in selling a novel. I checked out a sample online, to see if her writing had improved. The verdict? [Read more…]