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Lessons in Comparison - in life and art

Updated: Apr 11



Sometimes, at the end of a workout, our coaches ask us for our ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’ — a scale of 1-10 that reflects how tired we feel. One morning, after a particularly challenging workout where I pushed myself, I rated my RPE as 9.5.


Many others mentioned 7 or 8.


Huh.


In a matter of seconds, I went from feeling proud of pressing my highest weight so far, and also getting a personal best on my swings, to feeling like I wasn’t fit enough because, hey everyone else wasn’t as tired.


It was fascinating to watch how my mind jumped to making comparisons even though, my body had really pushed hard and performed at its best just a few minutes ago. So I decided to look for ways to reframe this. Maybe the reason I was at 9.5 and the others weren’t as exhausted could be -

  1. I pushed myself much harder than the others in that session

  2. Maybe the others were well-rested and in their peak form that day

  3. Maybe the others had been working out for several years now

And many more possible explanations, but the gist is this: I don’t know the journey of the others. I don’t know what weights they lifted, how much they slept, how long they’ve been working out. How easy is it to judge myself simply based on a number someone shares?


It made me realize that this is true of so many things — art, healing, and in fact, pretty much everything we do in life.


Let’s talk about art. If you’re starting to make art, how often have you found yourself comparing your work with someone more experienced and then feeling bad about yourself? (ME: all the time! ) Let's take a moment to remind ourselves that our journeys are different. Even if someone just started making art yesterday and they’re already brilliant, maybe they’re just very talented. People can be born with a lot of talent, but we can also cultivate skill by working on it. It takes time, we need to be patient, and just keep at it.


This reminds me of the famous quote by American radio producer Ira Glass, on the Taste Gap. Do read the full quote — it's a beautiful reminder worth revisiting every once in a while. To summarize, Glass says that there is often a gap between what we aspire to do, and our ability, and the only way to close that gap, he offers, is to show up and do the work. To that, I'd like to add, show up and do the work with some grace and compassion to ourselves.


Dear reader, this is as much a reminder to myself, as it is a gentle appeal to you when you find comparison rearing its little head: I am where I am. You are where you are. I don’t know your journey to this point, but I know 100% of mine. Let me not make myself feel small or less than someone else just because on a given day, someone else is seemingly ahead of me. Above all else, let me allow myself the grace to appreciate where I am today, and feel proud of how far I've come.


 

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