Everything is relative. Right?
It’s so easy to look at the body of work being produced by, oh, let’s just say anybody who has a body of work to speak of, and be intimidated. It’s so easy, as a writer, to think, “my writing is horrible. I’m horrible. Who would read this? Why should I bother? Why does it even matter?” And, from there, it’s a small hop, skip, and jump (maybe more like a trip, lurch, and fall) to quitting altogether.
And it’s not just writing, right? It could be exercising: “It’s too hard. Look at how much weight that guy is lifting / how far that girl is running / how much more flexible she is. I’ll never get there. I might as well give up.” Or knitting: “I’m awful. Look at this awful tea cozy / dog sweater / who-the-hell-knows-I’ll-just-call-it-a-scarf that I made. Who would ever want this? I’ll just buy one at the store and be less embarrassed.” Giving up is easy. Practicing, getting better, learning how to do the thing you wanted to do back on January 1st or whenever you decided to do the thing… it’s HARD. And those people who are doing it — and being successful — are just so DonDraper’ed visible, and so successful, and GOD they make it look so easy. They make it look so easy, that as hard as it is for me, I might as well quit. Right?
No. Fargo that. That’s the Howler Monkey of Doubt screeching in your ear and throwing its feces at your eyes. The monkey wants you to quit, because if you quit, then he gets to watch reruns of The Bachelor through your eyes and eat a tub of chocolate chips through your mouth and sleep the day away through your backside on your bed.
But that way madness lies. The Howler Monkey doesn’t know sharknado about hard work because it’s only concerned with taking the easy way out. The truth is, it’s pointless to compare yourself to the people writing bestselling novels, or bench-pressing small imported cars, or running marathons, or knitting afghans for the Queen. Because the person doing that incredible thing has been practicing his or her craft for countless hours to make it look that easy. You don’t see the failures. You don’t see the miles and miles of smoldering wreckage of his crashed and awful manuscripts leading up to the good ones, you don’t see the painful mornings and hours and hours of training she put in to work up to running that marathon, you don’t see the hundreds of horrible golf-club covers she made to practice up for Queen afghan-making.
The point is, we are all points on a continuum. Yes, you may suck now. I may suck now. I probably do. But if I go back and compare myself to the poor schlub who started this journey almost a year ago, I’m pretty confident that I’m at least a little better off. A little more comfortable with the virtual pen in my virtual hands. So a bestselling novel is maybe not in my immediate future; doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s closer now than it was a year ago. So you’re not going to run a marathon next month — but last month, you couldn’t even run a mile, and now look at you. Last month you nearly put the dog’s eye out with your knitting needles, and now you almost know which end makes the scarf.
The only person worth comparing yourself to is other versions of yourself. Compare your current self to a past version of yourself and make sure you’re moving in the right direction, and if not, FIX IT. Compare your current self to a potential self and see if you like where you’re headed. If not? FIX IT.
Even the slowest marathoner is miles ahead of the guy who never gets off the couch. Even the worst writer in the world is pages and pages ahead of the girl who dreams of writing a novel but never quite gets around to it. Even the most unfortunate knitter… you get the idea.
Somehow we got the idea that if we’re going to do something, that it has to be perfect. That there’s some absolute standard out there for any given endeavor, and if we can’t reach that standard, we might as well not bother. Bollocks. The standard for personal success should be relative success. Am I writing as much, or better, or more creatively, or more comfortably, than I was a year ago? Then I’m doing all right. Am I running farther, or faster, or with less injury, than I was when I started? Then it’s all good. Am I… okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about knitting, let’s just assume I had something clever to say about the relative improvement and progression of a career in knitting, and call it a day, yeah?
Focus not on that faraway, nigh-unreachable goal that feels so intimidating. Focus on small victories, tiny relative leaps, and just keep pushing the needle.
Now it’s time to get some sleep so that I can go back to work on my slightly-less-than-awful novel.
This post is part of SoCS.