The Comparing Game
We learned about compare and contrast in school, as a technique to describe the similarities and differences between objects, subjects, people, animal, plants, etc... But did we have to learn how to compare the value of ourselves to others? When did we start to care about our differences compared to our family members and peers? Everyone had it differently, there could be an event or an incident that switched on that self criticize button in each of us, at some age. Even more fascinating, an article written by Jhoanna Robledo, medically reviewed by Paul Young, M.D., pediatrician, stated that "Your baby's sense of individuality will take years to develop. At around 6 or 7 months, your baby begins to realize that he's separate from you and that you can leave him alone."(Robledo, 2018).
For me, after digging through my drawers of memories, I think the first time I noticed that I started to comparing my value's to others was around 1st or 2nd grade. But those thoughts didn't have the impact that make me care or think more about it; just a realization of a kid that age. Like I could tell the differences in the way someone was treating someone or myself, but didn't have the words to put together. According to Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Mussweiler in their article The Culture of Social Comparison ,"Comparative thinking can be observed in humans even as early as infanthood (31⇓–33). This evidence suggests that comparison is one of the most basic building blocks of human cognition." When I reached the age of 11 years old, dealing with bullying, at the age of more curiosity and the need to understand some deep dark questions raised within myself. It was when the comparisons went from the most innocent" he's taller than me, she's faster than me,...." to more and more self criticizing like "he's better than me, she has more compliments than me, I'm the worst in the world,...." Those are just some of the negative thoughts(along with some sprinkled positive thoughts and neutral thoughts) , and the "truths" I told myself and made myself believe for a long long time. We as human can't help the need to compare, well because originally it helps our brains to function properly and effectively, "Compare & Contrast acts as a practical and easy-to-use introduction to higher-order thinking. Compare & Contrast improves comprehension by highlighting important details, making abstract ideas more concrete, and reducing the confusion between related concepts."(Davis, 2019) Also, I believe that the education system and our societies are one of the big factors that contributed to why we compared ourselves so much to other people. The rankings in school environment that place students in order and categorized them based on their GPA since 1st grade, already put children in the mindset of seeing and comparing who's better and who's worse and what come out of it. The impact it lasted on the children could increase to a greater extent if the home environment doesn't provide a safe space for them to gain self confidence and seeing their value either.
Carry on to adult life in the present, as an actor started out from 2015 in college, now a career I love and chose to pursue. I have been realizing that the habit of comparing, in any industry, but especially in this industry, is just going to kill the fire in me sooner or later. Even though it's extremely hard and sometimes feel impossible not to compare your journey/where you are to someone else's that you know, or on social medias whenever you see them achieved something. With the power of internet and how fast you can received the information that's put out online, if we are not careful, the anxiety and insecurities we have tend to worked up easier and more quickly then it should be . As of right now writing this blog, I'm being distracted by Instagram posts, a story post just popped up from an actor I know celebrating his series regular role on an upcoming show, my first thought was" wow, how f*king cool is this, so happy for him!", and then a negative thought tried to sneak in " when will it be my turn", but then quickly went away, accompanying with some positive ones like" it may not be my turn yet but it doesn't mean I will never achieve something that I want", and " everyone's journey and the pace of it is different and it's unnecessary to compare mine to other's, because it's not realistic". It takes a lot of pressure of me that was put there by myself by practicing positive thinking and having realistic expectation, even though we all know it gets very crucial with rejection in this industry.
3 years ago, whenever I saw a friend, an actor on social media posts about booking a show or got a callback or an audition; my first thought would be:" how cooooool, but, ugh, again, another winning and I'm still not where I want to be, I'm a loser", and then I would easily be stuck in that loop cycle of negative thoughts. That, was when I'm about to graduate from college, also when I started to understand more about my anxiety and depression, but that will be for another blog. I used to and still catch myself do it sometimes, play the comparing game internally, sometimes...externally. It took a couple of years for me to created the mindset of acknowledging and understanding my insecurities that often lead to how I perceive my own value which results in comparing myself worth to others' success. By accepting that everyone's journey is different and there is no rush to get to an end goal point. But instead embracing the process, find a way to support myself, and trust the work I put in, by keep learning and getting better at what I enjoy to do. Setting realistic goals and having realistic expectations have helped me so much in dealing with the rejection that usually destroys the self esteem when left untaken care of for too long. From there I'm able to produce more positive thoughts and feel more grounded whenever insecurities sneak in and comparing thoughts rise up. I found that it's more effective when I faced my thoughts and understand why they appear rather than ignoring them and try to erase them from my head.
My thoughts are not me and they don't define who I am, I don't have to believe, act on, or give them too much power that could take over me.
Realistic comparing also help to bring you back to reality even though it's not accurate all the time. Instead of comparing myself to a successful working actor who's been doing theatre since 12 years old and has been 10 years ahead in the business already when I was still in college figuring things out(still do); I could compare myself to my peers from college, that would make it easier to think about and more realistic. But once again, I don't know every steps of my peers' processes, most of them started very young, I don't know how much work they've been putting in since we graduated or before we even met or what chances they had that got them to where they are, and it would not be ideal either to focus on the others' achievements and their end goals and compare that to yours. So to say, to be really realistic I have to compare my journey to a confused Vietnamese immigrant who came to the US when they were 18 year old, who has been through all I have been through, who has the same thought process and same way to feel things like I do...well, there's none. There's only one me, and only one you. From there, should we only compare ourselves to the ourselves in the past, so we can see how far we've come and how much we've grown? Even when we do that, comparing without criticizing judgement is also very important. Because the versions of ourselves in the past didn't have the knowledge and the experiences that we have now, therefore beating yourself up for not realizing things sooner is not necessary. There's nothing wrong with a little comparison to stay in touch with our process and reality, but let's do it safely and as realistic as possible so we don't feel discouraging when someone's ahead on their own journey.
Robledo, J., 2018. Developmental milestone: Separation and independence | BabyCenter. [online] BabyCenter. Available at: <https://www.babycenter.com/baby/baby-development/developmental-milestone-separation-and-independence_6577> [Accessed 16 November 2021].
Davis, B., 2019. What is the importance of comparison?. [online] Mvoraganizing.org. Available at: <https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-is-the-importance-of-comparison/> [Accessed 16 November 2021].
The Culture of Social Comparison
by Matthew Baldwin and Thomas Mussweiler
PNAS September 25, 2018 115 (39) E9067-E9074; first published September 10, 2018; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721555115
Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved August 15, 2018 (received for review December 11, 2017)