One of my most favorite quotes is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” From the first time I ever read it, I thought, wow….this is so true. We start comparing ourselves at a young age to others. We want the same shoes, the same haircut, the same everything. We learn at a young age that we so desperately want to fit in and we compared ourselves to each other to ensure we are doing just that….fitting “in.” Fitting into what, I still don’t know, but I wanted it.
When we were kids, my brother and I always had matching outfits. It’s a southern thing, I know. Something about southern mama’s wanting all their kids to match and look like they belong together. And right there you see it for the first time….you fit in here, with this family. Then you go off to grade school and everyone wants the next latest fad. In elementary school, you had to have everything Snoopy, then you needed a Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt that matched the swan color on your Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. Not like today’s GV’s, but in the early 80’s, the GV jeans were one color and the swan was another. If you could get your shirt to match your swan and your jeans to match your pony you probably got some prize from the creators of the Preppy Handbook. Middle school was a train wreck and this is all I will say about it: Esprit de Corps and bubble gum pink, hightop Reeboks.
High school was no different. I remember making my mom walk to the Gap in Greenwich Village so I could get the exact same jean jacket my best friend, Mary Powell, had. I don’t know if you know this, but in the 80’s there was a Gap on every corner in New York City. I couldn’t stop at any of the ten Gap stores we passed on the way, it had to be the SAME Gap MP got her jacket so we would match. Seriously, my mother should have back-handed me. I digress. Everyone had navy blue, suede clogs, Guess jeans, and Tretorns with the blue gull wing. At least at first. Then we all had to have the white gull wing. God forbid, someone branch out and get a green or even a red gull wing. And don’t forget the spiral perm! We wanted wavy hair that was big and fancy and you needed a special hair dryer. Oh my word. All in the name of fitting in because we constantly compared ourselves to others. Thank you, Rebecca, for the picture that shows ALL of this in one shot (above)
I spent the majority of my early adulthood comparing myself to others and wanting to fit in…wanting to find those lifelong, couple friends that we’d vacation with and spend our weekends together grilling and drinking vodka tonics. Joining the country club and living a life that I am certain today was not meant for me. It’s not that I didn’t have fun. I love nothing more than being with friends and family, laughing and eating and having fun. This fun was costly. Like way outside my budget costly. But who cares? I didn’t….I just needed that half gallon of vodka every Friday to get me through the weekend and maybe even an little recreational something. I thought that was what grown-ups did to pass the time until there were kids and your social life dried up until you found the perfect babysitter. Boy, was I wrong.
Nothing changed when I started painting. I was constantly comparing myself to other artists. I would paint something and think, oh, this artist is going to think I am copying them. Now that statement doesn’t say “comparing” but the fact that I painted a house and I knew other artists who had also painted a house (not even the same house), had me thinking there would be comparison. Their house is better than mine. Mine has more color. Whatever it is…it was probably the dumbest thing I have ever done. But you know what? I found other artists who also compare their work to others. They won’t share information….like what kind of paper they use or paint brand. These “artist secrets” that are not really secrets. This is insane. It made me uncomfortable to think that someone I was looking to for help, someone I admired, was more afraid that I would “take their business.” It’s one thing to divulge trade secrets (like 11 herbs and spices) but another to be a mentor.
Right then and there I made a decision to stop comparing myself, my art, my anything to anyone. Do what I like and stop letting this constant comparison steal the joy of creating and the joy of living. Help other artists by being a good listener and offer advice when asked.
I moved to another area of town and still to this day think it was the greatest thing I ever did. I made new friends, but kept the old tried and true friends. I found a life that makes me happy. A life that isn’t filled with weekend parties but with weekend cheeseburgers and trips to Costco and adventures to Ikea to buy nothing but a salad bowl. I have found my joy in being present in my life and I will stop at nothing to keep it that way. And I am grateful….every. single. day.