When Do You Suffer from Comparison-itis?

I was at a writing workshop last week. It was a fiction workshop, where I am still learning my craft. I still learn my non-fiction craft. However, my learning curve has flattened—I understand my writing voice and I find non-fiction easier to write for now. I am not as good at writing fiction yet. I am working on it, which is why I take fiction workshops.

I was in a room with 50 other writers. Some people have been writing fiction for 20+ years. Some, like me, are at the 2-5 year experience level. I can see (read) the differences.

know these writers understand and have mastered parts of their craft that I am barely aware of. I know this. And yet, what do I do? I compare myself to them.

Now, there’s a comparison for “it’s possible to do this.” And, there’s a comparison for “I’m not as good as they are.”

When I think about “It’s possible to do this,” I think of people who’ve written hundreds of short stories and novels. For my non-fiction, I think of people who’ve written more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, etc. I can see their accomplishments. I know it’s possible.

Then, there’s the “I’m not as good as they are,” that comparison-itis. That’s the one that hit me between the eyes last week. I had a little crisis (okay, a big one) about my abilities as a writer.

When I suffer from comparison-itis, I ignore my readers. Here’s why.

  • Everyone has genre preferences. I like romance and mystery, so I try to write romantic suspense or mystery with some romance in it. Not everyone likes that. If an editor doesn’t like what I wrote, it might a genre that doesn’t match their preferences.
  • Everyone has different tastes. Even if someone likes the genre I wrote, they might not like the story because it’s not to their taste. I’m not big on elves (a form of fantasy), even though I like urban fantasy. Elves are just not my taste.
  • Writing is practice. I might not have made mistakes with this story-as-practice. The editors might not like that practice. And, my readers might like my practice.

I learned a ton last week, seeing what the editors liked and didn’t like and compared that to my reactions. I learned things about the craft of writing (some of which I can take into my non-fiction, too) that I didn’t know before.

When I think about comparisons, the first, where I realize “it’s possible” helps me. I can see how these people accomplished what I want to do.

The second kind of comparison, where I think I’m not good enough—that’s not useful. That kind of thinking diminishes me (especially my emotional resilience in the form of self-esteem) and ignores my customers. Not very helpful for anyone.

I suspect that we all suffer from the second kind of comparison-itis, often at the most inopportune times. And, that is the question this week: When do you suffer from comparison-itis?

4 thoughts on “When Do You Suffer from Comparison-itis?”

  1. I just went through this. The CTO (my boss) where I work moved on. I made a bid for his job but lost to an external candidate. My new boss is extremely qualified and very well known in the market, the kind of person a company can issue a press release about (and we did).

    My predecessor in my job (Dir. Engineering) just got named to a VP role at another company in town. He’s a great guy but I consider myself to be his equal.

    So what made him a VP candidate and not me? It took me a couple weeks to process through that. And what I concluded is that, like you need to find an editor for whom your kind of fiction is his or her jam, if I want to move up to VP (and it’s not actually clear to me whether I want that or not) perhaps I need to find an environment where they would see a guy like me as being VP material.

    1. Jim, Yup. I have data from these editors for what I can improve—in my own way. I don’t know if you have data, and if you don’t, I would ask for it. When managers say, “You’re not ready,” or whatever they told you, they owe you specific data about what might make you ready.

  2. I suffer from this *every morning* at the gym.

    Although I am much stronger, fitter, and faster than I was when I started last June, everyone else at the gym seems to be stronger, fitter, and faster than I will ever be. And in my perception, it is indeed EVERYONE, although I know that can’t be the case.

    I remind myself that those people probably started before June of last year, did not start from the same place I did, and are not me. I can still get stronger, fitter, and faster, but I may never be able to run 7 minute mile, if only due to genetics. When I look to them more as role models, instead of competition, I have a much better day.

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