Nyah, nyah. I’m Smarter, Prettier, Faster, Thinner, Richer, Happier . . .

by Lisa Rosen on May 18, 2011

[This is a two-parter.  More tomorrow.]

Lee said something interesting the other day.  He’d been reading Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and came across a quote that he thought was especially powerful.  He told me about it in passing, and I mulled it over for a few days, a blog post coalescing in my head.

When I asked him for the quote, he said he’d already taken the book to Goodwill.  *sigh*

In a nutshell, it was something about how the quickest way to unhappiness is comparing ourselves to other people.

What a powerful statement.  Think about it.  How many times have you left the house, pleased with the outfit you put together, or the bounce in your hair, only to crumple a little when you see your neighbor’s better outfit, or bouncier hair?  Have you ever watched your kid puff up with pride over a science project, only to deflate when he walks into the classroom and sees everyone else’s?

Have you ever finished a race, having given it your all, satisfied with your effort, only to look at the results and be filled with disappointment?  Have you ever worked extra-hard on a paper, mastering the material and learning a tremendous amount, and patted yourself on the back, only to discover that the girl who sits behind you got a higher grade?

Have you ever written a book, a whole book–wow!  Who knew I could do that?–and felt that surge of competence that comes from hard work, and then felt the crushing disappointment in yourself that comes from reading a book that is better, smarter, more lyrical and beautiful and brilliant?

Blah.

It’s a fine line, it seems.  I need to read books that are better, smarter, more lyrical than mine, because I learn so much from them about the craft of writing.  I need to go to races and try a little harder, push myself a little further, because that’s how I improve.  Competition can be a powerful motivator.

But comparison is the pointless, destructive, discouraging underbelly of competition.  It’s one thing to focus on your own goals, to work toward improving your own performance or lot in life.  It’s another thing entirely to get your self-worth from being “better” than others.

Because ultimately, there’s always someone who’s richer, or thinner, or stronger, or cuter.  Someone else’s house is neater, bank account is bigger, car is cooler.

By the same token, the fact that I have a faster car or a bigger house than that guy next door doesn’t make me any better or important than him.  Have you ever known anyone like that?  Someone who viewed the world as a hierarchy?  Some people define themselves, and their place in the world, in relation to everyone they meet.  For some it’s a matter of education, for others it’s economic or class status.  For me, it’s (sometimes) who’s a better writer.

The energy I expend being frustrated that all those other novels are better than mine?  Or the energy I expend patting myself on the back because so-and-so’s (published!) novel is garbage?   I’d be a lot better off using that energy to do my own work.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine May 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Love this. Very real–which you are. The whole comparison thing is why I avoid facebook, as I might have already mentioned to you. Just look at my perfect, wonderful, kids, family, house, dog, fish, life….. etc. (LOVED DCR’s poem too! Sorry TMR)

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Amelia May 19, 2011 at 7:08 am

You speak to my heart…and my insecurities, Dear Friend. I love your perspective and the reminder of what’s important…or not important.

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