Meeting the Comparison Monster Face-to-Face

Lobby Card from 1945 Film Jealousy. Public Domain.

Not to brag, but I have some pretty cool friends. They sing like there is a dream coming out of their lungs. They create really incredible art that hangs in galleries. Publishers want to publish their books. People follow what they do. It's neat.

When I watch them do their thing, in whatever form, I feel a lot of things:

Lucky to know them.

I also feel jealous. Sometimes very jealous.

So jealous, sometimes, that the feeling almost completely covers up all those nice feelings like a big, ugly, dusty rug. I have to muster up a lot of will to lift up the (surprisingly heavy) corner and see that those good feelings do exist under there, now covered in a layer of gross under-rug dirt.

I believe that jealousy can be a useful emotion. It's a big arrow that points to an underlying dissatisfaction in your own life, and if you take it seriously instead of just indulging in or trying to ignore the bad feeling, you could actually do something about it. Make your life better in a way that clearly matters to you.

So why am I jealous?

Sometimes I am jealous of the talent or skill they are demonstrating, but that's pretty minor. Becoming good at most things takes practice, and if it's not important enough for me to practice it, than a little twinge of "I wish I were also good at that thing" is okay with me.

My main jealousy is this: they had an amazing thing bursting in their heart, and then they made it happen. After they made it happen, people liked it and wanted to watch it/read it/publish it/look at it/follow them.

This is a jealousy in two parts: one is about doing the things that are bursting in your heart, and the other is about other people.

The first is actionable, the second is deadly. It is a comparison of other people's reactions and that can never be satisfied and will never be within my control.

This is actually quite embarrassing.

I am realizing, as I write, that it all boils down to a need for attention and approval from others.

This need is the worst, for many reasons. Here are three of them:

1) It is super cliché.

2) It steals focus and undermines my ability to get work done.

3) It devalues the people who are already here with me, because in the eyes of this particular insecurity, they are never enough.

Well, footy. (Isn't it fun when you suddenly realize that an insecurity you thought you had largely dealt with is actually still hanging out in your heart at full strength?)

I can think of a few options to deal with this particular issue:

Pretend no one else is around and you are the only one even making things. Other creators don't even exist. (Danger! Other art is fuel and inspiration and comfort and fun.)

Pretend/convince yourself that you don't care about the audience at all and nobody else's reactions even matter because your work is about what you want to do. (A lot of artists say they do this, but I see a danger! Art that doesn't consider its audience at all is often very self-indulgent. The boringest of all arts.)

Lean way into the comparison and spend all your energy making complicated charts and graphs of who is getting what response and how, in an attempt to game the system and copy their moves to get the same response. (Danger! When are you even going to make things and will everything be a stressed out copy of something else and would it even work? This sounds so anti-fun.)

Focus mainly on the work, continually trying to do a better job at making clear versions of the things bursting in your heart, whatever they may be. Develop a saintlike ability to watch and be inspired by others without ever comparing and listening to your audience without trying to please them. (Danger! This is obviously the right answer. Is it actually possible?)

Keep so busy making your work happen that there isn't time to compare. (Danger! I used to be that busy, it was bad for other parts of life.)

Hmmmm... How do you keep the Comparison Monster and its sidekick Jealousy at bay?

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