Comparing Yourself To Others (Or, It’s Funny You Think That I Know What To Say.)
Recent Question: “Katie, as someone who writes as a profession…do you ever sit down some days and feel like you don’t have anything to say?”
Recent Answer: “LOL. Try almost EVERY WEEK.”
The comparison trap – ie comparing yourself to others – is one I know well. When I’m feeling good, I can look at comparison and self-doubt and see how pointless and counter-productive it is.
But when I’m in it? On my best days, it takes a lot of work to talk myself out of that place of “what do I even have to say.”
On all the other days, I completely check out.
There’s not really a middle ground: I’m either aggressively talking myself out of self-doubt or I’m voting myself off the island by not doing ANYTHING whatsoever. I think maybe it’s because I know how exhausting the pep-talk can be.
Doubt-induced inaction is a frightening place to be. You stop creating, stop participating, stop BE-ing who you are because you look out and don’t know if you really add value to what you see. And that fear isn’t fun, so a lot of times we’ll just decide we don’t want to deal.
The thing with checking out, however, is that our feelings of doubt, envy, and fear are still lighting up a big ol neon NO VACANCY sign in our minds. We might be dissociating mentally…but those doubts and fears are growing like weeds in the meantime. No wonder we feel anxious when we’re triggered and lash out at other or push the blame on something else – those overflowing feelings have to go SOMEWHERE.
For me, this happens when I sit down and think of the MASSIVE PROBLEMS I care about and how the hell I’m going to help fix them…and then for some reason I think it’s a really good idea to just go down a big long rabbit hole and see what everyone else is doing.
I’ll save you some frustration and let you know that comparing yourself to others and looking to them to inform what you “should” be doing pretty much never works. You either end up feeling like everything has already been done OR start comparing what you do/who you are to everyone else OR maybe on the off-chance you actually get inspired you make like me and tell yourself you’re not allowed to be inspired by someone else’s work because that’s being something that’s way too close to a copycat. Yeah. You read that right. I look at others for inspiration and then talk myself out of it when I actually get inspired.
The thing is, I KNOW I’m not a brain-box of empty thoughts. I KNOW I have something to say…it’s just that my intentions don’t always line up so nicely in sentences. Sometimes I have just the right words…and sometimes, the above box of vintage Scrabble letters is my spirit animal. Somewhere between my brain and my lips (or fingers, if we’re going the writing route), the lines get all crossed and I end up with a bunch of gibberish. Worse than gibberish. What’s worse than gibberish, you ask? Fake wisdom. Fake fake fake. I can feel it in my bones. Nothing sounds right; nothing is what I really mean.
And that…that can SCARE THE F outta me if I let it. Because then I start to doubt I have anything new or interesting to say, and then I start looking at what everyone else is doing, and then I wonder if what we REALLY need is just another essay, just another tip or trick, just another podcast episode.
And that’s when I check out. Except you can’t check out when it’s your job, your calling, your through line to stay in it. So all that happens is that my anxiety mounts and my points of comparison multiply.
What helps me is to identify when I am most likely to get into this shithole of a headspace.
It’s usually when I’m home sick, when I need to take it easy, when I’m bored with the status-quo I’m stuck in…basically, whenever I am NOT acting on my desire, either by choice (laziness) or necessity (circumstance), to do one of three things: move, learn, or create. And when I am not acting on my desire to move, explore, or create, I get out of integrity* with what I say I value or what I know I care about.
(*Integrity, for the record, is different than character or values. Character or values are your ethical/moral code. Integrity is adhering to that code. So if I’m out of integrity with my values, I’m thinking a lot about things like gender equality, reprogramming self talk – i know, ironic – race relations, teaching empathy, etc etc etc, but not DOING anything about them. Doing things like exercising, reading, or journaling help me get back in alignment with who I am and what I stand for.)
That’s not to say a run or watching a documentary or painting a picture (or a table, as I did last weekend) can or will fix everything. But little by little, it can be the start. One walk around the block might not seem like much, but after a few days of walks you might find your mind drifting off into places it hasn’t been in a while. Reading one night a week instead of scrolling through Instagram might not stop the comparison (and oh, does that Insta-comparison sting), but once you get in the groove, it just seems way more interesting to feed your mind than it does to feed your fears.
But also…and here’s where it gets really real…it’s not just when I’m home sick or I’m stuck in a loop of sameness that I doubt my value.
It’s when I find myself trying so hard to explain myself over…and over…and over to those I love most.
That’s when I really want to check out.
And that’s a harder one to admit. Because it can’t be solved by the habit a run every morning or a doodle-in-your-notebook break. Because it doesn’t just make you feel like you have nothing important to say, it makes you feel like the things you DO have to say are wildly inefficient. If I can’t get through to them, then who CAN I reach?
But here’s the thing.
And I want you to read this a few times over and let it sit.
Those are not the people who need to learn the lessons you have to give.
They are here to learn those lessons on their OWN time, from someone ELSE and some OTHER experience. And just because your words aren’t the ones they need DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT IMPORTANT.
Just because your words aren't the ones someone else needs doesn't mean they're not important. Click To Tweet
Someone once told me that public speaking is 10% what you say and 90% how you say it. Just because it’s been said doesn’t mean it’s been said by YOU. That’s how people actually hear things – when they’re being said by someone who makes it “click” for them. You can’t get mad at it, because it was never your lesson to teach those people to begin with. That’s why comparing yourself to others never works – they’re here to teach and learn in ways that are entirely different than your own. We’re all here to learn the exact same lessons, just not at the exact same times. So wouldn’t it make sense that we all have a different way of giving and receiving these universal truths?
Of course you have something to offer. Of course you have something to say. We ALL do. That’s what we’re here for, right? To teach each other and help each other grow. Just the fact that your ideas exist means they’re just as valid as what that best-selling author has to say – just the FACT that your loved ones learn from others MEANS that YOU are here to teach someone ELSE. The comparison traps and the deaf ears – they’re all just distractions that, when flipped on their head, can help you see how strong your voice really is.
So do I ever sit down and feel like I have nothing to say? The answer is: all of the time.
But my logical brain knows I DO have something to say – a lot of somethings, in fact. And if I can just *be* with myself long enough to listen, I’ll eventually start to find the words.
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