The first time I remember comparing myself to someone else, I was in third grade. Our class was wrapping up a big project on the solar system, complete with visual aids and an oral presentation.
We were assigned different things to study: planets, moons, etc. My best friend was tasked with researching the sun, and he drew up a poster with a glowing orange ball and all its details.
On the surface of his sun was a dark spot with a line pointing to it and the word “sunspot” at the end of the line.
At the end of his presentation I raised my hand and said, “What’s a sunspot?”
He looked at me funny and said, “You don’t know what a sunspot is?”
As if every third grader knew. I shrugged.
He rolled his eyes and said, “It’s just a spot on the sun.”
Huh. In spite of the non-answer, I wondered if maybe I should have known what a sunspot was.
That started a long-term bad habit of comparing myself to other people. Later I realized there would always be someone smarter, more athletic, better looking, bound for a better college, or otherwise more gifted than me. I looked at them all and wondered what they had that I didn’t.
Then I became an actor, the worst possible thing for a serial comparer to be. In this industry, you don’t have to look far for opportunities to compare yourself to others: in auditions, on set, at the theatre or on the improv stage. Heck, you don’t need to compare yourself to other actors, plenty of people will do it for you. Agents, casting directors, clients, coaches… their job is to compare you to everyone else.
And of course, by any metric there’s just no way to come out on top. Someone will always be doing “better” than you in some way.
This is pretty rough on an actor’s mental health.
If I was spending all my energy trying to live up to a set of meaningless benchmarks, what was I missing out on?
I decided to shift my focus from other people to me, and making my life the best I could. I started taking care of myself before self-care was a thing. Here’s what worked for me:
- I set career goals and went after them with blinders on, paying zero attention to what anyone else was doing.
- When I met new people, I tried to learn from them instead of compete with them.
- I started teaching. This helped me feel like I knew what I was doing even though I wasn’t sure. I also wrote a book.
- I thought about what was important to me, and I went about improving those things. This worked. I became happier.
- I started ignoring a lot of noise in the world. I still do this. When someone starts gushing about their fancy toys or amazing experiences, I just think of what they had to give up to get them, because everything comes with a cost.
- I realized how lucky I am. Just as there’s always someone who has it better than you, there’s always someone who is much worse off. The importance of keeping this in mind can’t be overstated. When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, think about all the people in your life you DON’T want to be like.
If You Must Compare…
None of this was easy because I had to completly shift my mindset. If I had to compare, I would compare this “new” me to the old one. Instead of feeling like I didn’t measure up to someone else’s accomplishments, I tried to see what they did to get temselves there.
That process revealed a lot of things I could have been learning, if I just put in the effort. I did so, which resulted in feeling much more in control of my career and my life, which, let’s face it, is something actors are not neccessarily good at feeling.
I still battle the urge to compare myself to others. Social media has made it far easier to do so…it’s literally in your face every day. But I know that if I get sucked back in, I’ll just declline into self-pity. Which is a place I don’t want to be.
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