The Comparison Game
Let me tell you a story: When I was in 7th grade, I joined the track team to hang out with my friends. The kids who were slow ended up running the mile race—in other words, I was in the mile race.
The thing was, though, I never practiced. In fact, I spent every day just chatting away and walking the track at a leisurely stroll. Running long distance is a part of my genetics (my mom is a marathoner), and I kinda figured I would have inherited the skill...
Come on, 13-year-old-Sooz thought, if Mom can run 26 miles, how hard can a single mile be?
Um, turns out it can be brutal, and it should come as no surprise that at my first track meet, I got last place. DEAD LAST. I cried, and worse than that, I quit the track team out of shame and absolute self-loathing.
Another story: When I was 15 (or was it 16?), I agreed to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a regional swim meet I had performed in front of people many times, and I was taking voice lessons. I thought it’d be an easy-peezy song ‘cos, you know, people are always singing it. And so I didn’t practice at all...
Come on, I thought, it’s the national anthem. Everyone knows it. We sing it a baseball games—how hard can it be for me to sing it alone?
Well, half-way through the performance (everyone in the audience was standing with their hats off and hands over their hearts), I froze up. I had forgotten the words.
So I just stopped singing while my eyes bulged white and mouth bobbed like a fish. Fortunately, the audience kept singing, and I managed to pick back up. But as soon as the song was over, I ran to the nearest bathroom stall, cried, and vowed never to show my face in public again.
Yada-yada-yada, you get the point: absolute self-loathing.
Notice something? I got what I deserved. I looked at someone else’s success and figured I could do the same. But then, when I failed, I thought it was because I sucked, because I wasn’t good enough, because everyone else was better...I didn’t realize it was my choice to be lazy and not practice.
Writing is kind of the same.
When I fail, it hurts. When my crit partners say, “No, that’s not a great idea” or my editor says, “I think you need to fix that” or (the worst) a reader says, "Susan Dennard is teh wrst writer ever", it doesn’t matter how thick my writing skin is—the criticism never feels good. And inevitably, I think of all those other writers out there who don’t have to revise/rewrite/start-over/read hate mail, and I wonder if I’m just a shoddy author...
But then I eat a few cookies, and things start to look up. In fact, I start to feel downright good about my failures.
Why? Because I’m in charge and I’m not going to give up. Defeat won’t win. I will win, and I won't do it by comparing myself to that writer with four hundred million fans or to that opera singer who can easily hit a high C or to my mom who can run ten miles no sweat.
I will win by working hard and by remembering the power is in my hands.
I will keep practicing; I will keep trying; I will compare my path to no one else’s; and one day—be it sooner or later—I will get to where I’m trying to go.