Comparing ourselves to others
I WAS complaining to someone the other day that I wasn’t happy with my creative achievements. Despite a lifetime of being a journalist with a body of work accumulated over 30 years that could sink a ship, I have always lamented the novels I never wrote and, more recently, the films I didn’t make.
It’s the yearning of the creative soul. Which is why I’m attempting to make amends by going back to university to learn skills that will allow me to make the films and documentaries I wish I’d written and made long ago. Having said that, the same longing keeps coming back. It’s hard watching young people, with their lives ahead and all the potential in the world, having the opportunity to embark on the journey I’m making later in life. It’s also hard to be taught about one’s peers around the world who are the leading lights in the creative spheres you want to enter.
But I realised something during one of my self- reflective moments. We only ever compare ourselves upwards to the people who are completely drenched in talent and have reached pinnacles in their craft. We don’t stop to ponder that perhaps these people had different circumstances that led to their output. Maybe they were just born in the right place or the right time in history and were surrounded by a world that valued their craft, or they had mentors and patrons who helped them along. Instead, we admire them jealously and compare ourselves to them, then get depressed. Interestingly, most of us tend not to compare ourselves downwards to the people who have not yet reached our level of achievement. Doing so would allow us to feel lucky for the gifts we have and advances we’ve made. Rather, as a species we tend to envy and lament.
It’s hard for many people to feel blessed and grateful for their achievements, no matter how large or small they are in the eyes of the world. We diminish ourselves and say we’re not good enough. We do this in all areas — not just creativity, work and life passions, but with our parenting, our relationships and our marriages. Someone else seems to be luckier or have it better.
Who’s to say what’s the mark of success? Maybe true success is being able to be contented that we’re still ticking along and life has allowed us to survive another day. Maybe it’s being able to enjoy our small but wonderful achievements unimpeded by lamentation or craving to be something or someone we are not.
I know this. It’s impossible to be happy if we keep aspiring to do not the best we can but the best someone else can.