You’ve probably heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I know I have heard it several times, but it wasn’t until recently that I have really started unwrapping it.
Let me preface by saying, I don’t “think” I compare my work, income or popularity to others. I like to “think” of myself as pretty grounded and down to earth. But as I fight the temptations for comparison, and look at others deal with the same struggle, I felt it was time to take a deeper look.
In the simplest way, comparison is not necessarily evil. We can look at our work compared to others and use it as a measuring stick, if you will, to see how we stack up. Comparison can be a means of motivation, as in comparing your team to the top team in a league. Comparison can also be a way to deciding between two opportunities or products. In the end, comparison does not always steal joy.
So, how can comparison become the thief of joy?
I believe comparison begins to steal our joy when comparison becomes a type of obsession. In the beginning of our desired works, we are as Stephen Pressfield calls us, Amateurs. We love what we do, but it does not necessarily define who we are. We can compare ourselves to the professionals and draw insight, motivation and knowledge from stacking their work up to ours. But once we “Turn Pro,” we inherently begin to compare not to learn, but to see how we might beat the other industry professionals.
At some point, if we are not careful, comparing our work to others’ becomes an obsessive act that can lead to pride, anger or jealousy.
Instead of asking, “how can I get better,” the question becomes, “Why won’t people buy my work as much as they buy his or hers?” Instead of working hard to get better, we can begin to dwell in anger.
I know, I know, this seems like a worse case scenario, but why does it seem like we see cases of this so often? Without even knowing it, the thing we once loved to do can become an object that disgusts us or makes us hate our work. Just by the act of comparison.
If we do not work to use comparison in a healthy way, it can become something that takes away our joy. Comparison can steal the things we love to do, unless we allow ourselves the freedom to create as we are.
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