Courtesy of Anthony Cerullo...
It's all too tempting to make musical comparisons. But if you're constantly comparing yourself to other musicians (and bands) it can become unhealthy. In the long term, all it does is breed resentment and create unwanted stress...
Today is the day. No more touring around in your mom's Subaru Outback. The band has finally made enough money to by a real van. It may be a few years old, but it'll certainly get you to the next gig and then some.
One day, as you're cruising down the highway onward to said gig, you realize how awesome this van is. That is, until someone pulls up beside you. It's another band from across town... but they're in a shiny, newer version of your van. They even have a trailer.
Suddenly, your 2008 Econoline doesn't seem so cool anymore, and you begin to kick yourself for not having the dough for an upgrade. The more you think about it, the more you think that you might be an inferior musician because you couldn't get the nicer van.
After all, if you were better, more people would see you, thus generating more income to have a fancy, new van and trailer. Surely, that other band on the highway must be better, right?
The dangers of comparisons
We often fall back on comparisons to judge our own worth and value. A lot of this has to do with our culture of idolization. We love our idols dearly and strive to replicate their every move.
Through childhood up to adulthood, we're always looking at high achievers and thinking, "Why can't I be more like that?" As you probably can imagine, this is unhealthy. For one, it can sometimes (not always) lead to some nasty resentment towards that "idol" for no good reason because he or she is more talented, and you can't come to terms with it.
Did Jimmy Page do anything to hurt you? Did he steal your cat and crash your car? Well, if he did, then you have a reason to hate him, but don't hate him just because he's a much better guitarist than you.
The fact is, we're all different, and you don't know enough about everyone to make resentful statements like that. We all have different trajectories when it comes to growth. Perhaps one of your band-mates grew up wealthy and had all the resources to help him or her become a great musician. You, on the other hand, did not, and as a result, you may not be as polished. That's no reason to hate your band-mate or yourself for that matter.
In the end, comparisons like these don't get you anywhere. They just harvest stress out of thin air. Ultimately, you'll just end up worrying and missing out on a whole lot. There is a way to compare yourself in a healthy demeanor though. It just takes a different perspective.
Focus on what you can control
Constantly comparing yourself is no way to live. Some musicians use this strategy to base their entire identity, but it's guaranteed to damage your confidence. There will always be someone out there who's more "talented" than you are. That's something that's just out of your control. Worrying about it will only distract you from the important aspects of your career.
Athletes deal with the same comparison issues. The good ones, however, focus on the controllable factors of comparison, like how hard they practice or how effectively they learn a new skill.
The guitarist from the other band may be amazing, but don't punish yourself for it. He's going to get better or worse, and there's nothing you can do about it. By focusing on your own goals and habits, you can save a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be wasted on comparing.
Going your own way
Everyone has a natural curiosity, and it tempts them to follow their interests. Some fail to do this because it may not fit in with their perceived "plan." Others give up because it might look like a big risk.
However, it's long been said that if you want to break the ranks and rise to the top, an intelligent risk needs to be taken. Most people actually know this, but there's something big holding them back.
Fear is the Greatest Enemy
Fear is probably the number-one reason why many musicians don't take that leap of faith. Fear is also what makes those negative comparisons so detrimental. Furthermore, you're also afraid of taking the risk to get better yourself. Getting serious about music requires a clear path and the courage to follow it.
Of course, it's safer to follow in the footsteps of all the other mediocre musicians, because there's an end in sight. Maybe you've even convinced yourself that you're happy with that ending. All the while, you continue to harbor resentment for those at the top.
Develop at Your Own Pace
Ultimately, it's healthy to pursue your own goals at your own pace. Focus on what you can control, and take calculated risks to do so. While success is never guaranteed, you'll at least have a better chance at it with this strategy.
Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.
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