This quarter, I have been taking an oil painting class at my local community college. Being a dietitian, I like to paint food, like a dino kale leaf or a French macaron. I have, however, had to catch myself from falling into a comparison trap.
What’s funny is that even though we’re all adults taking this class and we’re free to take any available spot, we have all pretty much chosen the same station that we picked back at our first class. Because of this, I ended up next to a woman who I found myself comparing my canvas and my progress. Instead of enjoying the potentially meditative three hours mixing colors and letting my artistic inclinations debut , I found myself frustrated that I was having trouble mimicking the picture I brought for inspiration or impatient that my canvas wasn’t advancing as fast as I wanted…and as the woman next to me.
To my right was a woman with a canvas about six times larger than mine with a painting that I considered much more difficult and advanced. She did a great job and did it quickly. I was ticked and discouraged.
Isn’t it silly how I chose to become upset with myself and with my fellow painter? I could have just as easily chosen to be inspired by her or even ask for her input on my work or watch and learn how she applied that special technique.
I’m not really sure if there is such a thing as healthy competition. I do know (from plenty of experience!) that comparing can be a dangerous, alluring, and deceptive act. I have met few people who can compare themselves with others in a healthy way that promotes their own development and improvement. Most get jealous, bitter, negative, or worse.
Sure, you may work out harder when you’re in a small group and can be motivated by those sweating and being challenged around you. It’s that team spirit that helps you do more than you would have on your own. Some people may benefit from that. Others may be better off with a solitary walk alone with the birds and their thoughts.
I’m wondering how we can get to a place where comparison can be a curious observance without judgment and where the information gleaned can be used for maturation and growth. How can we look at another person and not have to rate ourselves as better or worse than them in some respect (outward appearance, weight, affluence, fitness, whatever)? Comparing or competing means someone has to lose. Sometimes it’s the person you pass on the street, your old high school classmate, your coworker. But just as often it’s you.
What is your experience with comparison? Is healthy competition possible?