“Comparison is the thief of joy.” –Theodore Roosevelt.
The above is my favorite quotation.
The reason it is my favorite is because the subject it speaks to is one I have to think about a lot.
As a writer, or student of life, it is terribly easy to compare one’s successes and failures to another’s. More often than not I find myself comparing my failures to another person’s successes. I think that is the only thing I do, actually.
Being part of a writing community through this blog, tumblr, and twitter has provided a great amount of support. This community has also provided a great amount of teaching. I’ve picked up some writing habits from others I have found extremely helpful. I have been encouraged by others. I have even discovered some people that I have been able to help as well. This community is a great thing.
Unfortunately, for every person that this community has provided me with, this community has also provided me with a chance to compare myself to another. Each new writer, published author, or blogger I ‘meet’ (via internet) I find myself instantly whipping out my measuring tape. I always find the other person measuring at ‘success’ and myself measuring at ‘failure’.
I have discovered a great deal of flaws with this measuring system of mine.
1. As my mom told me once, people can be anyone they like on the internet. On twitter, tumblr, or a blog, a person can simply choose to flaunt only success. Someone could even completely invent success! It would be easy for someone to say ‘wrote 10k words today’ or ‘publishers are considering my book’ without any real prospect on the horizon. (Not to say there is anyone I suspect. It could be true, though.)
2. I’m comparing apples to oranges. Of course I am always going to fall short when I’m comparing my failures to someone else’s successes! Most times I find myself looking at someone’s hard work and stamping my foot on the ground screaming in my five year old voice, “Why can’t I be at that point?!” Because, Lauren, you have only been working on this project for about a month and that person has been working for six months. Stop it. Just stop. Crumbling up a poem I wrote while someone else has just declared they finished up a novella does not mean they are any better or more successful than you; they are just at a different point than you are.
3. If whining could build a ship I would have already sailed around the seven seas. People work hard. Not all people work hard, but people work hard. Writers write for long periods of time or for short periods of time for an extended amount of days. Published authors, those authors who have ‘made it big’, all of those rags to riches stories, they worked hard to get there! It took T-I-M-E. So I might as well quit my complaining and get to work.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Writing makes me happy. Sharing a story close to my heart makes me happy. Expressing myself through writing is a feeling much larger and more intimate than happy could describe, but when I begin to compare that experience to another’s that happiness is stolen. That happiness is belittled. It becomes deformed and shallow. It is not even a shell of what it once was because suddenly I want what the other has.
Let me tell you a story. It is one of the few memories I have of my Great Grandfather Peacock.
One day, I was sitting in the back of a car with him. I don’t remember where we were going and that isn’t important. But as we sat there I was content. I loved my Great Grandpa. I remember he smiled a lot.
As we rode along I noticed he kept touching his mouth a lot. His hand would come up and he would slip a finger or two into his mouth and then he pulled his fingers out. Then he would move his lips and jaws around in a kind of chewing motion. This was most curious to me.
I watched him repeat the action several times before he finally took something out of his mouth. He closed his hand and dropped his hand into his lap.
After a while I came to a conclusion. Great Grandpa was eating candy! Well, that’s not fair! I want candy! He didn’t even offer me some! I was greatly offended.
Pouting a little, I looked toward him. He noticed and tilted his head a little.
Taking the inclination as an invitation I held my hand out as I pleaded, “I want some!”
He frowned. It wasn’t an angry frown. It was most confused. “Some?”
“Candy, I want some candy!” I opened and closed my hand then pointed toward the hand in his lap.
He laughed. He laughed at me! Hurt, I sulked. Great Grandpa continued to laugh until he looked at me and spoke very carefully, “You want these?”
He opened his hand.
I must have turned four shades of red.
In his hand he held his lower teeth. Great Grandpa was readjusting his dentures.
I shook my head so hard my own hair whipped me in the face. I did not want dentures.
The point is this: we stare over our neighbor’s fence and we think we know what we’re looking at. We think we see success, happiness, and that it all came so easy to them. But we haven’t seen what’s really in their hand yet. We could desire something that we don’t want any part of. We think we see a handful of candy and we end up lusting after a handful of dentures.
I may not be successful yet, but I will be. I have to go through the process, work hard, and take my bumps like everyone else. I should be happy with that. I should see the joy in it. I should enjoy my time in the trenches of writing, dreaming, and scheming. In the meantime, I can rejoice with friends who complete their goals and take comfort in knowing that when I get there, they will rejoice with me.
Hope this helps you. I had to write this all down as a sort of lesson to myself. Just know that, wherever you are in your process or whatever you are doing, it’s good. You’re doing, and that’s what matters.