Is Comparison Helpful?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy.” Do you agree? Often, when we compare ourselves to others, we end up thinking that our work is inferior, or worse, that we ourselves are inferior, simply because we are not like somebody else.

We all do this to some extent, don’t we? I think you’d agree with me that this kind of comparison isn’t healthy. But is there a time when comparison may be good?

I would say that there is. My kids have been homeschooled most of their lives, and I can acknowledge that they are missing out on that “competitive” element you get from attending school, where you look around  you at the other kids doing their work, creating great projects, and you feel motivated to work a little bit harder because of it. 

It’s also healthy to have good role models and examples in our lives, people that inspire us to be better by their character or their proof of excellence in their field. It’s hard to grow in something unless you have a goal, and if you surround yourself with people who don’t challenge you or inspire you, chances are you’ll stay on their level. Good comparison inspires us, teaches us, and lifts us up.

However, the ugly side of comparison rears its head when we feel oppressed by our comparison. When the condemnation and guilt come crushing in (often self imposed). When we can’t enjoy a beautiful  person or a beautiful photograph, or the success of a friend, because we twist it and make it about ourselves somehow. THIS is what steals our joy.

Both unhealthy and healthy comparison can motivate us, but only one elevates us. To me, the element that sets helpful comparison apart from unhealthy comparison is the perspective that we choose. Will we let the comparison bring us inspiration, or will we let it bring depression and despair? The object of our comparison could be the same, but depending on our perspective we can have two different responses to it. Honestly, the choice is ours.

We must:

  1. Recognize the object of our comparison. Is it something that we should emulate or not?
  2. Determine whether this comparison is bearing positive or negative fruit in our lives
  3. Change our perspective. Replace self-crushing lies with life-giving truth.
  4. If we’re not doing too well on #3, choose to remove this comparison from our lives (as in, unfollowing an Instagram account, etc.)

There’s another nuance to perspective. As a photographer, I love seeing other people’s work because people all see things differently! It doesn’t mean their work is better than my work, or my work is better than their work, rather we each have a different perspective. It’s good to remind ourselves of this.

Do you remember the story about the elephant and the blind men? Four blind men walk up to an elephant and touch one part of it. They then describe the elephant to their friends. The man who touches the ear describes the elephant as a fan. The one who touches the tail think it’s a rope. The guy who runs into the side of the elephant feels something like a wall. And the one who touches the tusk warns the others of this formidable weapon.  Which one was right? They all were, they just had their own perspective. They could either argue with each other about who was correct, put themselves down for being “wrong,” or they could decide to listen to each other’s perspectives. If they could bring their stories together, they could have a much better view of what an elephant really is.

In the same way, let’s learn to appreciate the unique perspectives and  differences between us. Let’s use comparison in a healthy way, to inform us, inspire us, and lift us up, rather than crushing ourselves down with condemnation. Get rid of the stuff in your life that tempts you to do otherwise. Is it lifting you up, or pulling you down?

The beauty of photography is that you can release 100 photographers  into a field and they will come back with 100 different photographs. There is no "correct" way to photograph that field. Someone may focus on the ladybug on the grass, someone on the clouds, and someone on the trees. It’s the story that we want to tell that should drive us, not the desire to be like the others. The moment that the person photographing the bug feels guilt for not photographing the sky, a little bit of their unique story is squelched.

There is no one else like you, and that is something to celebrate. So today, focus on reflecting your own unique story and perspective to the world. Commit to yourself that when the condemning side of comparison comes creeping in, you’ll squash it in its tracks. Take the good and leave the rest behind. No one else sees the world like you, and no one else can tell your story. Let’s lift each other up, applaud each other’s successes, and appreciate each other’s unique perspectives. That is where we find the joy.

~ Laura

My "Looking for the Light: Photography & Life" online course will launch in 2021. Are you interested in learning more about photography? Click below to view more about the course.

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