Friday, 22 July 2016

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

This is a well known quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt which I imagine you will have heard before. My most recent endeavour, in both life and work, is to stop the comparison merry-go-round, for the following reasons.

Comparison hinders progress

I have a friend who has a section of her bookishelf housing nearly twenty books with her name on, and every time I see them I think, ‘what has she got that I haven’t got? How did she get opportunities while I’m sat slogging away and getting nowhere?’ I get so caught up in what other people are achieving that I end up grinding to a halt in my own writing because I’m so preoccupied with the progress and achievement of others.

Comparison hinders learning

If I’m too busy comparing myself with someone, I lose sight of the things I could be learning from them. If I envy the way other writers work, I’m far less likely to ask them how they do it, and therefore lose a chance to learn. When considering my twenty book friend, I have two options: I can either grumble and grouse that she’s so successful, or I can talk to her and ask her how she’s done it. But I can’t do both - the choice is compare or learn.

Comparison is inaccurate

I love social media for all sorts of things, but it makes unhelpful comparison very easy. But here’s the thing with other people’s finished work - I’ll never see the spelling mistakes in their first draft, or their fruitless first pitches to the agents and publishers who rejected them. I somehow end up kidding myself into thinking that a Facebook feed is an accurate portrayal of someone’s success, but the truth is that I’m taking what someone has spent months, if not years, perfecting, and comparing it with the dross I see on my screen each and every day.

Comparison makes me boring

I’m quite a stickler for grammar. I can spot a misplaced apostrophe at twenty paces, which, I admit, makes me feel a bit better when comparing myself to other writers. But you know what? Other than making me a not particularly nice person, picking out little errors like that makes me exceedingly dull. I mean really, who wants to talk about semi-colons when what we really want to know is what hair-brained scheme Bridget Jones is going to get herself into next?

Comparison stops me listening

When I’m too busy thinking about what other people are doing, I stop listening to what God is telling me to write. I get so concerned with writing like other people that I stop writing like myself, with the gift God has given to me. God is so generous, all his gifts are good, and if I’m always concerned with other people using their gifts rather than using my own, I’ll always be missing out on what he has for me.

Please do use the comments to let me know what happens when you get caught in a cycle of comparison. I’d be interested to hear any positive comparison outcomes too.

Post Script - if anyone else now has an Italian baritone voice singing “Go Compare” stuck in their head, I apologise. If you didn’t, I apologise that it probably now is…..

Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. She wrote a memoir, Secret Scars, (Authentic, 2007), and later, Insight Into Self-Harm (CWR, 2014). She founded and directs Adullam Ministries, an information and resource website and forum about self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweet as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John and two children.


  1. Old Theo knew what he was talking about, for sure!

  2. I admit this is something I struggle with at times, although I think I'm getting more accepting of myself as I get older. I find it helps to remind myself that supporting and encouraging others is also an important ministry...and that I don't need to be taken on by a publisher before I can do that!

  3. Thanks, Abbie, plenty to think about. I've also been trying to root out the comparison-with-other-writers game because there will always be those more and less successful than we are. Comparing ourselves with them will lead either to ego and pride, or else to bitter jealousy, none of which is helpful or healthy. I keep resolving to focus only on what I'm producing under God, and hope that I can grow to celebrate sincerely in the success of others.

  4. Thank you for the reminder that comparison ultimately kills creativity. Sue

  5. Very timely. I went on an Enneagram course (the personality test) recently and was evenly split between two types (4 and 9, I think). But when the tutor went through the 'shadow side' or besetting sin of each type, I found the dark side of Type Four, The Romantic, was envy, and I knew at once that was my main type! I suspect the only antidote is gratitude for what we have.

    1. A powerful post with so much truth in it. Thank you.

  6. How very true, and so easy to slip into. Let's be thankful and ready to learn.