Comparison: The Ever-Present Thief

It is a Friday night. My screen is the only source of light in a room that is growing darker by the second. The damage to my eyes is already fully underway. But they’ve been damaged from gazing into screens for quite some time.

I’ve had a good day. I only worked for half of it (I did some writing after the ‘formal’ work). When I came away from the desk I did my daily 120 push-ups and changed my clothes. I spent the rest of the afternoon driving and eating burritos and chatting and drinking coffee. It rained and then it got sunny and then it rained and so on. It was a warm and humid sort of afternoon, the type of one which is difficult to dress appropriately for.

I got home around 7:30PM and made a black pudding sandwich. Then I watched an hour of TV as I ate it.

This is all to say that I had quite a good day up until I went on Twitter and saw that a writer I know and admire who is further along the road than I won a writing competition I never entered. I wasn’t resentful of them. I didn’t harbour ill will towards them. But I did feel inadequate. I did feel like I wasn’t good enough. And suddenly my quite a lovely day turned ugly. Suddenly I didn’t feel good. I felt bad, and stressed and anxious, because in my mind I wasn’t doing enough to deserve value, to deserve anything.

I became less than because I’d compared myself to someone else.

Comparison is one of the more cruel aspects of life, and it’s never been easier to do. Before the internet you could only ever really compare yourself to people you knew in your life, or celebrities and famous people who’d become world renowned. Now you can compare yourself to the entire world once you have a stable wi-fi connection.

And so access to comparison on such a scale requires an incredible amount of discipline. It requires an ability to not peek over fences, even for a little bit. Because once you focus on what someone else is doing, your mind will automatically tally up some arbitrary score and tell you whether you feel good or bad about this comparison.

The worst part about comparison, I find, is that is that it unseats our locus of motivation. Rather than doing things for the pure love and enjoyment of it, we do things to get ahead, to gain acclaim, to shift the scales in our favour. Our endeavours become less passionate and more ego-driven.

This sort of shift can be subtle. It’s a tricky one to become aware of because our minds tell us it isn’t happening. We don’t want to believe we’re operating from a place of pride and ego. But when we are motivated by comparison, this is the only place that we could be operating from.

And the real threat of this, of course, is that it becomes far too easy to slip into resentment.

It could have been very easy for me to silently become resentful of that writer. I am very aware of having let this happen in the past. It’s not a very nice thing to admit but it is imperative to acknowledge if we ever wish to work our way out of it.

Comparing ourselves to others is entirely natural. It happens to us all at some point. But acting from a place of comparison is a habit. It is a choice we make over time.

The only way I know to combat it that I know of is to catch yourself in the moment. Rather than defaulting to comparison – frustration – resentment. Ask yourself why you’re comparing yourself in the first place..

More often than not, there is something within your own life that you aren’t satisfied with. Something you have control over. It never has anything to do with the people you’re drawing comparisons with.

I can guarantee that.

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