One night in college, I stayed up till about 3 AM watching an old documentary on YouTube about a psychotic six-year-old who calmly told her therapist she wanted to kill her parents.
It had all started innocently enough. I’ll just watch a couple YouTube videos before bed, I thought. Suddenly, I was down a rabbit hole of old Oprah interviews with parents who neglected their children, to children who did drugs, to children who have been convicted of murdering people. Holy yikes.
I do not have some sick fascination with child murderers (although I do have a weird habit of reading Wikipedia articles on famous serial killers). But the Internet is a black hole, people, and I more often than not find myself sucked into the endless (truly, endless) madness of creepy documentaries, cat videos, and Bronies.
One of the biggest black holes I fall into is Instagram.
Instagram is this infinite maze of beautifully curated accounts. If you click on one person’s photo and they have tagged another account in the description, you can instantly view a brand new account. Within minutes, you have skipped from account to account, coming across more beautiful people and pictures of LA than you actually wanted to see.
The other day I had fallen into my usual black hole when I came across the account of a girl living in Nashville.
All of her photos were perfectly crafted; simple, quaint, good white lighting. Younger than me, she had just gotten married to a semi-famous Instagram photographer and already had over 11,000 followers. Then I looked at her bio, and saw she was a writer.
I took the bait. I clicked on her listed website link and found myself looking at a home page of this girl laughing, the word “WRITER” stamped near her in perfect graphic design.
She was a writer. She was a writer with beautiful photos and a much-loved, semi-famous husband. Her website was stunning. She was stunning. She already had thousands of followers. She lived in trendy Nashville with other famous writers. She was the epitome of sunshine, smarts, and grace.
And she was clearly my arch nemesis.
Her website, apparently brand new, didn’t even have any writing yet. But I knew, without reading a single word, that this girl was a way more successful writer (and by extension, person) than me.
How could she not be? She was perfect! She was normal but also, you know, remarkable, clearly capable of making friends with everyone she met.
Everything she was probably going to write was surely going to be full of grace and loveliness and humility. Her bio said she would treat you to a donut, for crissakes. My bio says I drink a lot of cocktails.
I wanted to hate her, this stranger, because I suddenly felt so small and insignificant next to her. She didn’t even have any writing displayed, and yet I already felt she was vastly more successful than me.
I found myself laying in bed, staring at my phone, suddenly seized with a rage-filled urge to be better than her, more successful than her, more popular and loved than her.
This is the worst thing I’ve done as a writer.
And yet, I do this all the time.
I see other women writers, people my own age, and I obsessively compare myself to them. I compare my writing style, how my website looks, the amount of followers I have on social media, etc.
Instead of cheering for them, celebrating their voices and craft, I am threatened by them.
This is the worst thing I’ve done as a writer because it has completely stolen the awareness of my own awesomeness. My jealousy and comparison has cheated me away from the uniqueness of my own voice and story. It’s made me an enemy of comrades rather than an advocate.
When I compare myself to other writers, every ounce of enjoyment I had in simply writing vanishes in a sweep of jealousy and fear. This has robbed me of confidence, happiness, and excitement about my own writing.
It’s made me believe that my stories are only worth telling if people are clamoring to read them.
In a world where we rank worthiness by the number in the “Followers” column, this can drive a person crazy, making us think our art (and personal value) is amazing only if many are going to see, hear, and respond well.
Maybe my “Nashville Girl” has her own “Nashville Girl,” someone she compares herself to when she’s alone and scrolling through Instagram. Maybe she is suddenly struck with the deep fear and insecurity that she is not remarkable, and will never measure up to so-and-so, the one who is clearly more talented, more together.
And it’s funny, because what I would say to Nashville Girl is, Stop.
Stop comparing. You’re going to strip yourself of you if you do.
Everything you have already achieved, everything you are already good at, everything you love about writing, your writing, will become merely a fragile shell you live in to get to the next blog post.
Stop, because comparison is not worth it.
Are you a writer? How do you combat comparison?