Compare and Despair: No Kind of Fun

Compare and Despair Syndrome: kinda like having these girls as your inner council.

Compare and Despair Syndrome: kinda like having these girls as your inner council.

Okay, let’s be honest. Have you ever compared yourself to someone else and felt that you ended up on the short end of the stick? You know, you look at someone else’s career or resume and think, “Oh, man…I’ll never get there,” or, “I feel like a failure.” Especially in the arts, where success is often measured in different ways, it can be difficult not to look at what everyone else is doing to see where you stand. This is particularly true when you feel like you’re in a bit of slump and it seems like everyone is working but you. Unfortunately, this seemingly innocent inquiry often leads to what is commonly called “Compare and Despair Syndrome.”

Compare and Despair Syndrome is like a bucket of cold water to the face — every time you see your peers or friends having some form of success, it stands in stark contrast to whatever it is that you are or aren’t doing. It’s a constant reminder that you’ve made the wrong choices in your career, or that you’re going too slow, or that you just don’t have what it takes. If others are succeeding and you’re not, then something must be wrong with you.

And let’s be honest, Facebook doesn’t make things any easier. It’s always there, right in your mug: Heather’s posting pictures of her opening night; John’s sharing the video for his new web series; and look at that, your ex’s band just updated their status to, “Signed with an indie label!” You can’t win. So, you might as well just cancel your internet service and stay locked up in your room, right?

Ummm…no. The truth is that in this day and age it’s impossible not to hear what’s going on with other people. In fact, the social networking era is likely just getting its foot off the ground. So, the solution to Compare and Despair Syndrome isn’t to hide year head in the sand; it’s to understand that everyone lives and works at a different pace. That is one of the glorious (and frustrating) facets of life. It’s what makes Dakota Fanning and Jon Hamm equally successful, regardless of the fact that the former found success as a child, and the latter as an adult. If we were all going to compare our careers to Dakota Fanning’s (from a timeline perspective), we’d be a depressed lot, to say the least. But we don’t, and the reason we don’t should be the exact same reason that you don’t compare yourself to your friends and peers: we’re all on our own unique path.

This is, of course, easier said than done. We all fall into this trap at some point or another (and, yes, I’m guilty of it, too). The trick here is to realize what you’re doing before it becomes an issue. The more conscious you become of comparing and despairing, the more naturally you’ll be able to keep it in check when you’re presented with the success of others. After all, this is a tough industry; shouldn’t we be celebrating the successes of our fellow artists rather than feeling awful about them? Wouldn’t it be great to hear of a friend’s achievement and feel inspired by it, rather than jealous?

Ultimately, it comes down to staying in YOUR business, rather than getting caught up in other people’s business. If you find yourself obsessively poring over someone’s Facebook wall and feeling bad about yourself, then step away and take some time to think about the things that ARE going right for you. Get reacquainted with your goals and connect with what it is that excites you about your art. This is about shifting focus over to you and your career — getting back into your lane after you’ve inadvertently swerved into the one next to you. And more than anything else, it’s about knowing that your time will come…when it comes. It’s not a race or a competition. It’s a personal journey that is unique to you and you alone. So, stay the course and enjoy the ride.