Monday, May 6, 2013

On Comparing Yourself to Others

Part of the reason why I don't enjoy reality talent shows is because I don't think it's funny to watch people embarrass themselves. All through the audition stage, all I can see is the pain, and often genuine confusion in their eyes when the judges tell them things that might be true if they weren't so mocking. Worst of all is when the same people audition year after year, never becoming any more aware of themselves. After all, "You shouldn't compare yourself to others," the sages say. I see these people, and as bad as I feel, I breathe a sigh of relief, because I narrowly dodged that same bullet.

Had I not compared myself to my peers, a lot more time would have passed before I realized I wasn't born to be a professional dancer. A large part of it is because my body simply can't do what the pros do, but my lack of success isn't just because of inherent genetics. See, that was where the comparisons ended for me for the longest time, and it sent me into a downward spiral of self-pity and resentment. The truth is, although I gave 110% in class, my work ethic never extended outside the studio. I could blame it on a lack of open space at home with the right kind of flooring, but I knew dancers who made it happen without those things.

My approach to academics was similar. I never studied for tests because I never needed to, and one year I actually got in trouble for not turning in homework, even though I was acing all of my subjects. Floating through school on raw genius (hur hur) ended up biting me in the butt my senior year, when I got a C on my first psychology exam. I was shocked, shocked I tell you, as was the rest of the class, who were apparently used to doing the same thing. One student was spared this harsh lesson in reality. She got an A. She actually studied.

I didn't want to experience the same hurt with writing, so I started making comparisons early. At first it was hard to look deeper than, "This author writes more in a day than I manage in a month!" That way madness lies. I know myself. I'm never going to be one of those writers that can, say, put out multiple books a year while juggling a family and a full-time job. That's okay. I don't have to do all that to be considered successful in my field.

The trick was in comparing our processes, not our results. What do all accomplished dancers, test-takers and writers have in common? Hard work, sure, but it goes beyond even that. They're all pro-active about their own improvement. 

I have a passive personality, and it shows in every aspect of my life. I'm a fast learner, but when I hit a wall, I "react" by doing the same thing over and over until someone finally taps me on the shoulder and points out what isn't working. (Or until I fall hard enough for it to hurt.) All my momentum is lost because I don't lay the proper groundwork to keep moving forward.

So I'm keeping a writing journal of sorts. I'm figuring out what methods will keep me the most focused and result in the highest quality words. I'm being gentle with myself if I cut more than I keep in a day. At this stage, the amount of words in the document isn't necessarily proportional to what I've learned about the craft.

I think it's the gentleness that's key for me. Instead of treating each writing session like a battle in the protracted war against my own laziness, I see it for what it is: a chance to make something and understand the world, others, and myself better through that creation process. Sure, some days the words feel like they're bled rather than typed out, but either way, I'm putting a part of myself into it.

I don't compare myself to others to measure my shortcomings. I do it so I can learn what makes me do my best.

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