- How often do you compare yourself to other writers?
- How do you compare yourself to other writers?
- Afterwards, how do you feel? Inspired or deflated? Encouraged or shut down?
This is how I feel when I start sliding down the comparison chute:
It’s almost impossible to avoid these days, right? (The comparison chute, not the luge.)
Even without the luge-like experience of scrolling through social media which can leave me cold and potentially broken on my worst days or winded and manic on my best days…even when I disconnect entirely, my day-to-day conversations are primed to invite ranking and stacking myself against others. “How’s so-and-so doing?” “Oh, I heard that so-and-so is blah blah blah.” “Whatever happened to so-and-so?” “Did you hear about so-and-so?” “What did you do today?”
That reflexive action bubbles up to measure myself against other people’s circumstances. “I don’t want to be that.” “I wish I could do that.” “I will never.…”
Friends, raise your hands if you know this is toxic. (Ok, raise your hand right now because I am telling you This. Is. Toxic.) Raise your hands if you do this sometimes.
Right. Well, that way madness lies. That way is a massive writing roadblock. That way squelches our unique voices.
To be plain, if we want to do some primo writing and lessen the suffering that accompanies it (there’s always pain, but perhaps we don’t have suffer so much?), then in my opinion, we have two options:
- Never compare.
- Use others as inspiration and encouragement.
Option number 2 works best for me. Which one works for you?
There’s a fun article in the New York Times Opinion section written by Lindsay Crouse titled My Ex-Boyfriend’s New Girlfriend Is Lady Gaga. The story is pretty self-explanatory, but the twist is that Lindsay Crouse uses this discovery as an opportunity to lift herself up. Yes!
Lady Gaga is amazing. Comparing yourself with her is incredibly motivational, and I recommend you try it, regardless of how you relate to who’s dating her.
At least, that’s what I did.
I like Lady Gaga just fine, but I actually find my comparison-turned-inspiration closer to home. I’m inspired by the artists and friends who surround me and with whom I have long and deep relationships or short and meaningful ones. Reading Crouse’s positively framed opinion piece brought to mind a conversation that turned into a blog post written in 2017. You’ll see it below. I was excited to dust it off and remind myself that time is best spent in high-frequency mode.
How about you? (And, let me know if this is useful.)
Over churros at Cocoa Cinnamon
, Mara and I spent some time talking about what she termed “low-frequency comparison.” Low-frequency comparison is the kind of comparison you use to make yourself feel bad – a self-flagellating tool. “High-frequency comparison” on the other hand is the kind of comparison you use to encourage yourself – an inspirational tool. Low-frequency’s easy to slide into. It’s familiar, simple and doesn’t require us to make any changes in behavior or thought patterns. Low-frequency comparison allows more of the same…and more of the same is easier, the path of least resistance.
So, if comparison sling-shots you directly into low-frequency territory, then I totally agree with Mara, just don’t go there. Don’t do that to yourself. Stop comparing immediately. If you consistently race towards low-frequency, that’s a signal to investigate your own awesomeness for awhile and learn to embrace your self-worth. That’s a signal that you need to fill up your self-love bucket. Do that, please. Focus on reframing your vision of yourself because that internal re-tooling will pay you dividends over and over. You have worth. You deserve to believe that.
If however, you’re feeling pretty solid about your value as a human and artist, and if you’d like to make positive changes, then open yourself to some high-frequency comparison. Look around at people you admire (you don’t need to start with the superstars, there are likely fabulous peeps right in your local orbit) and see what those you admire are doing. Is anyone living a life closer to the one you want to live? Is anyone making art that’s closer to the art you want to make? Is there anyone you can use as an example or model for whatever changes you want to make?
Re-orientating to high-frequency comparison has helped me enormously and in significant ways. It’s my go-to fixit. I think, “What would this person do right now? How would that person solve this problem/approach this mess/respond/decide/etc? What would the person-I-admire say right now?” And the ideas start flowing because people are doing MANY THINGS better than I am — good for them! — and their examples teach me, inspire me, encourage me to try.
Ultimately, I’m still me being me, and I’ll do it my way, but I feel like I have more fuel in the tank. Because to be honest, in several areas of my life, I’ve run out of ideas. Over the last few decades, I solved problems ‘my own way’ and that didn’t work or the outcome was subpar. I have blindspots and tangles that I can’t work out. I’m ready for new ways of doing and being and I’m surrounded by inspirational people who are doing and being those things. It’s thrilling to see others thriving, living with integrity and purpose, aligning their inner compass and their outward actions, eating vegetables, and quitting nasty habits like biting their nails. I want to do that too.
Although low-frequency comparison flickers on the edge of my perception more frequently than I’d like, I have many wonderful high-frequency days when I compare myself to the Patti Smiths of the world and think, “Wow, I’m gonna infuse my life with a little of her creative bad-assery…..so…WWPD (what would Patti do)?”
What do you think? What would you do?
Nathalie Tondeur said:
Love this idea of low vs. high frequency. I’d never heard that before, but it immediately clicked with me! I enjoy high frequency comparison and often use it as a motivational tool, but sometimes when I recommend it to friends they just spiral. Now I feel like I can understand where they’re coming from. Thanks for the little slice of inspiration!
Thanks for the comment, Nathalie! This comparison stuff is tricky for sure — my ability to stay high-frequency depends so much on where I am mentally and emotionally, but it’s definitely what I strive for. Thanks!