My husband and I love working on our own original songs (He plays guitar and composes the music, and I sing and write the lyrics). Now that he’s retired, he’s become a lot more serious about working on his guitar playing. All those hours of practice are paying off. In our rehearsals, he sounds great!
And yet, like all of us, he’s not immune to the comparison trap. The other day, he went into his favorite music store to try out one of their guitars. He was finishing up a rendition of one of our songs when another guitarist walked in and began playing. “He was fabulous,” my husband told me later. “All I could think was, why am I even bothering? I’ll never be able to play like that. It was so… disheartening.”
I reassured my husband in every way I could think of that he had something very special to offer, not only as a musician but as a composer. And yet, the reality for all of us is that there will always be someone who is hands down better at doing what we love to do than we are. This has certainly been true for me. As a dancer, I was known for my musicality and expressiveness, but there were piles of dancers with longer legs, higher extensions, and the ability to grasp passages of movement much more quickly than I. And now that I’m a novelist, I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are writers whose work is so good that I find myself wondering why I even bothered picking up a pencil.
Years ago, I remember reading Dan Greenburg’s hilarious How to Make Yourself Miserable, in which he advised making “a list of everyone you know who is better looking, more successful, and more talented than you are.”
Well, my list would be very long! I’m convinced it must be part of our competitive, achievement-driven culture to do the comparison thing, but it’s not especially helpful.
Truth be told, my husband plays music because he loves it. And I write because I love to. Both of us are getting better at doing our creative work. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that there will always be folks who are better at doing what we love to do. But that doesn’t mean we should give up, or that we can’t continue to grow into the best versions of ourselves.
So, my new mantra to myself is: Down with the comparison trap!