Chinese Finger Traps and the Danger of Comparison

Chinese Finger Traps and the Danger of Comparison

Today we welcome Erin Feldman as our guest author! You’ve seen Erin around Life, for instance before. Visit her site and check out the writing, coaching and consulting services she offers,and her cool drawings!

I tend to think that comparing myself to others is akin to a Chinese finger trap. The more I compare myself to others, the harder it is to escape. The less I compare myself to others, the easier it is to be me. I’m free, and I’m free to create.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into the comparison trap, especially when I work or spend time with people who share the same passion for art, writing, or other creative pursuits. I find myself wishing I could draw or paint like the person standing at the easel next to me can. I want to be able to craft a poem or other piece of writing in the same way a classmate has.

It’s dangerous to dwell on those wishes and desires; they can cause me to become discouraged or arrogant. In the first case, I become disheartened because I begin to believe that my work can’t begin to compare with other people’s work. I lose the desire to create the more I dwell on that idea. I might decide that it’s better to not create than to create something that may or may not be as good as the work of another person.

In the second case, I become unteachable. I believe that my work is so good that I don’t need anybody else. I decide to create my work in a vacuum. Doing so is isolating, but it is safe. A vacuum ensures that I only fill the space with a few people who are going to say what I want them to say; that is, that my work is the end-all, be-all and that I’m the most amazing person to grace the planet.

The secret to not becoming trapped in the comparison trap? I think it lies in a delicate balance. I need to spend time with people who share my passions; they help me to grow as an artist and as a person. At the same time, I can’t become so enraptured with their work that I start to neglect my own. I have to do my own work. As my acquaintance, Brett Henley, says, “You have something to share, [including] expertise. People are waiting for YOU specifically.” If I’m constantly comparing myself to others, I can’t share that something. I’m trapped in a trap of my own making.

Have you ever been caught in the comparison trap? How did you escape?

photo credit: Casey Fleser

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