Most people fall into the comparison trap from time to time but I’d wager that multipotentialites are more prone to doing so than most. And while we know that comparing ourselves to other people is bad for us, sometimes we need to remind ourselves exactly why comparison is toxic.
First things first, it’s impossible to fairly compare ourselves to anyone else. This is because we only fully know what’s happening in our own heads, and we can only imagine what’s happening internally for others. This means we’re usually unfair on ourselves. It is impossible to make an accurate comparison… so why do it?!
Secondly, comparing ourselves to someone who’s better than us at something usually makes us feel bad; comparing ourselves with someone who’s worse than us usually makes us feel guilty.
Comparison makes us feel as if life is a race. Do you ever think anything like, “if I haven’t achieved this by the time I’m [whatever age], I’m a failure?” That’s a needless comparison! (Seriously, these thoughts are just fictional rules you made up. You can un-make them up if you want!)
The only conceivable benefit to comparison would be “inspiration.” But if our inspiration depends on being better than others, it is fragile; someone else will always come along and beat us in some other way.
In short, comparison almost always acts as a painful stick to beat ourselves with, and even the theoretical positive benefits are better obtained from elsewhere. We can obtain the benefits of comparison without the drawbacks by being inspired to become better for our own sake.
Multipotentialites and Comparison
Now that we’re agreed that comparison is bad for us, let’s consider how this might apply to multipotentialites in particular.
We multipotentialites have our fingers in a number of different pies. (Or perhaps our fishing rods in a number of lakes? Or our teeth in a number of sandwiches?! Use whichever metaphor you prefer…)
Spreading ourselves out across so many disciplines leads to a few tricky consequences when it comes to comparison.
Firstly, we are multiplying the number of people we’re “competing” with. Every field we work in has its own community, and we jostle for position in each one. Having so many extra people tempting us into envy can be overwhelming!
Secondly, each field has its leaders and stars. So we multipotentialites can compare ourselves with an endless litany of superstars that we’re nominally competing with: “I’m a worse author than Stephen King, a worse artist than Picasso, a worse athlete than Usain Bolt…”
Usually, of course, we don’t quite fall into the obvious trap of comparing ourselves to celebrities, but into the more tempting trap of looking at people on the next higher rung on the ladder – someone making that bit more than us from their similar business, or getting that bit more acclaim for their creations. And this can be draining to our motivation.
Each time we start a new interest, hobby or business, it’s easy to see all those who are already successful and think “I can never be as good as them.” But remember, we only have to be better at it than we were yesterday!
Finally, due to the very nature of multipotentiality, it’s usually true that we’re not quite as skilled at each of our many activities as we could theoretically be. There is a danger of comparison to an imaginary version of ourselves that chose to be a specialist: “If only I’d cut out all my other interests, I could be the best in the world right now.”
There’s no way of knowing whether or not that is true, of course, but that might not stop the critical voice in our brain!
How to Avoid Falling into the Comparison Trap
If you fall into the trap of wishing away your multipotentiality, then it might help to remember that we never had any other option but to be generalists. Perhaps specialising might have made us better pianists/writers/scientists/footballers, but it would have cost us our soul too.
(Or at least our happiness… Maybe in another universe I am the best in the world at something, but every day I unhappily wish I’d spent more time on my other interests!)
So, there are some comparisons that are particularly tempting for multipotentialites to make. And – as we’ve seen – all such comparisons are harmful to our happiness, and hence to our productivity.
If we catch ourselves falling into any of these traps, it’s a good time to celebrate where we’re at. We can remind ourselves that we made the choice to develop on as many fronts as possible and to be as rounded as we can possibly be.
We can look back at where we were six months, six years, or even six hours ago, and ask ourselves, “how have we grown in that time?” That’s a comparison worth making.
And we can always celebrate ourselves in the intersection of our interests; we might just be the best basket-weaving, French-speaking, computer programming, dancing horticulturalist that the world has ever seen.
If we can celebrate ourselves in our glorious variety, without needing to feel superior to others, then we have escaped these toxic comparison traps.
Do you ever find yourself tempted by comparisons to others? How do you deal with it?
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.