The Comparison Trap

A conversation came up recently among my burlesque friends that kind of reminded me of conversations I’ve had with other runners, conversations at work, and conversations with friends.

The conversation at hand was basically … at what point are we no longer “students” and can we consider ourselves legit performers? When are we “qualified”? What if someone less qualified than me start getting accolades? What does that say about me? 

It reminded me of new runners who start off with “I’m not a real runner” or some qualifier, only to hear the response of “Do you run? Then you’re a runner.” Which is easy to say in a community where anyone can sign up for a race and even if you walk every step and finish, you’re a finisher.

But in the burlesque community, you need an audience to be a performer. And you generally need someone to cast you in a show (or produce your own) to perform. So there is a degree of external validation that feels necessary to consider yourself a legitimate burlesque performer and not just a student.

Likewise, I experience this a lot in my professional day-job life. I think I’m qualified and have a lot of great experience and know what I’m doing.  But when I see someone younger than me achieve more, or someone who I work just as hard as (or so I thought) get more recognition, it makes me stop and question myself. Am I not working hard enough? Am I not smart enough? Not good enough at what I do? Am I kidding myself to think I know what I’m doing? Does everyone else see it and think I’m delusional?

One other thing that stuck out to me in two conversations – one with burlesque friends, and one with a friend talking about her office job – is the difference between men and women. Women will wait until they are 100% qualified for something to go after it. Men will see that they are maybe 50% qualified and go after it – and often get it. Leaving the woman who had the same qualifications (or more), but held herself back, scratching her head in frustration and resenting the man who had the guts to put himself out there.

Why do we so often hold ourselves back? I have reviewed job descriptions for my team that to me were laughable – they included so many “nice to haves” that the person in that position will never even be doing. So in some cases, if you’re waiting until you’re 100% qualified, you’re really waiting until you’re over-qualified (and then no one can afford to pay you what you’re worth), whereas if you go after something when you’re 50% there, you might actually be 90% there. We’re our own worst critic anyway, you might think you’re not qualified at something when by comparison, you’re more qualified than a lot of people doing whatever it is.

I know that ultimately, the only person I should be measuring myself against is me, and it’s up to me to put myself out there and go after what I want, whether it’s professionally with my day job, or in the burlesque community, or elsewhere. It’s up to me to measure how far I’ve come, how hard I work and what I want to achieve.

Of course it’s so much easier to say that than do that. We’re so quick to measure ourselves against others and fixate on where we think we fall short. But only I can control myself, so if I see things in myself that I don’t like, it is on me to improve them, and if I see something I want, it is on me to go after it, and if I see things that I do that are great, it is on me to share them. As my mom always said, you gotta toot your own horn. So, keep tooting. Even if you don’t have the best horn out there, it can still make great music.



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