Just when you think you are kicking ass, really doing well or doing it “Like A Boss” someone comes along and does something similar and, in your mind, does it better. Takes the fun right out of it.
You can bet your entire collection of vintage Les Pauls that there is, without a doubt, someone who’s a better guitar player than you are. You can also wager your vast array of bitchin’ outboard recording gear collected over the years of studios going out of business that there is a kid somewhere, probably in his parents basement in Canada, that is a better music producer than you are. There are people with more Instagram followers, Twitter re-Tweeters and Facebook likers than you. And it doesn’t matter how much money you are making, how much credit you are getting or even how many awards you are receiving, you can always compare yourself to others. Doesn’t matter what you are measuring there will always be someone with more –and someone with less for that matter. Or how about this little mind-freak; sometimes you have more and other times you have less. So it depends on WHEN you are comparing that makes the difference.
Just because something can be correlated, observed or calculated doesn’t necessarily mean its valuable or even important. It might be more necessary to figure out what you need to change to accomplish where you are headed. Provided, of course, that you even know where you are headed. Therein lies the major point; the only comparison that really matters is comparing your work with what you are really capable of. And you might not know what you are really capable of. The only way to know what you are capable is to fail. The person who fails the most will absolutely win. But, you have to be good enough to keep playing.
So, who cares what anyone else is doing? Well for one, me. I have always compared what I was doing to what was, I believed, the standard. Until I realized that my weaknesses were actually my strengths. In the spirit of competitiveness, I am not revealing what my weaknesses are. I know what they are and it only matters to me. But, that’s how I realized that the fun went right out of it as soon as I tried to compare what I was doing to what anyone else was doing. There was some value in being inspired by stuff that you recognize as being great. The difference now is that when I hear something I think is great I can dig it for what it is without being intimidated by how fabulous it is. Maturity is a marvelous thing. It took me a long time to realize that inspiration was a great commodity and comparison took the fucking fun right out of it.
While it really shouldn’t matter what anyone else is doing – we just had the Latin Grammy awards in Las Vegas. A lot of my great friends were nominated and some of them even won. Congrats everyone who won especially Dr. Ed and Seb. Comparison is inherent in the Grammy nomination process. I am on the yearly Grammy Nominating Committee for a particular American Grammy award category. We meet in Nashville and go through the nominating procedure. I am sworn to secrecy so I can’t reveal the actual operation but it does involve an extensive vetting mechanism. I believe the Grammy Awards are a vital and productive component of our greatest American export – The Fantastic American Entertainment Complex. While it is the fastest way to sell yourself short, comparing your work to the work of those who have been “successful” in any given year is an interesting and sometimes valuable thing. The objective shouldn’t be to compare yourself to the best your peers or the competition has managed to get through a committee or the A&R representative, but to an unattainable, enchanted “Pegasus”. You know that special, magical breakthrough creativity that occurs when you are firing on all cylinders and in the “Zone”. How do you compare with that?
It’s certainly not necessary to be in the music biz to appreciate this idea of comparison. Deciding what’s important, what you need to change or what’s worth achieving and then discounting anything that doesn’t pertain because anything else is just crap.
Is it better to be the best? People usually try to pick the best when it comes to everything. They want the best car, the best music, and the best restaurants. You can already see where this is a ridiculous idea. Being the best is a relative thing. Maybe it’s the best for you right now based on what you believe in your world, or the one you have access to. Or maybe the best for you is not what’s best for me. What a wonderfully freeing idea. Your best is actually your version of “best”. This really means that it’s pretty ridiculous to compare your own unique version of “best” to someone else’s version of “best”.
Why do have this insane need to compare. It’s not just us. In their book, “Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.” Galinsky and Schweitzer argue that comparison is an innate human tendency, and, whether it’s the wisest move or not, it’s a big part of the way we determine our own level of happiness.
Even monkeys judge what they’ve got by taking a peek at what the monkey next door is getting, according to a classic study by Emory University scientist Frans de Waal. De Waal trained capuchin monkeys to essentially use stones as a kind of currency, exchanging one for a nice cucumber slice. The monkeys were perfectly happy with this arrangement, until de Waal started giving some, but not all, of the monkeys a sweet, juicy grape instead of the cucumber. (Like humans, monkeys would much rather have something sweet than a boring vegetable.)
“Upon seeing this inequity, the monkey who was offered the regular cucumber went, well, apeshit,” Galinsky and Schweitzer write. The monkeys who perceived themselves as receiving a lesser deal became visibly upset, refusing to pay for the cucumber or sometimes throwing the slice back in the experimenter’s face. “What this experiment demonstrates,” the authors write, “is that our evolutionary ancestors did not evaluate their outcomes in isolation; rather, they evaluated outcomes in a comparative process.”
Great! So, it’s hard-wired into us. More Dino Brain stuff. So, like the capuchin’s we want to see how everyone else is doing to determine how well WE are doing. It’s natural. That doesn’t mean that you can’t grab it by the cojones and show it who’s boss. What really matters is you are kicking as much “culo” as possible, by your standards. It’s the only thing that matters. Otherwise you are constantly looking around at what everyone else is doing to validate what you are doing. I was never able to sing like Paul McCartney or Robin Zander but that doesn’t mean I can’t sing. If I had realized that little tweak in my thinking I would have had a lot more fun and probably gone further faster in my chosen profession. Jen Sincero makes the fabulous example of what if Led Zeppelin compared themselves to Mozart? “ Dude, that guy’s huge. Way huger than we’ll ever be and he doesn’t even have a drummer. Robert, we should ditch Bonzo and maybe add some cellos.”
Is it easy to not compare? Nope, at least not for me. Worrying about what the “monkey next door is doing” is a guarantee that you are going to second guess your decisions. Just a suggestion and if nothing else, it does take the fun right out of it. And who needs that.
So, sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you’re on. The rest is nonsense.