I want to talk about a trap I sometimes fall into – comparing myself or my accomplishments to someone else. There are times when I am feeling down or frustrated that if I step back I can see that I am upset because I don’t feel adequate in comparison to someone else. It may seem silly for your happiness to be determined by how you perceive yourself compared to another person but it happens all the time. The theory is called the Social Comparison Theory and it states that that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (for example, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success). Most of us have the social skills and impulse control to keep our envy and social comparisons quiet but our true feelings may come out in subtle ways. There are many reasons that using social comparisons to determine your self worth are wrong but here are three that I think are most important:
- Others’ so-called "perfection" is an illusion. The glorious vacations, the enviable professional accomplishments, the perfect children and spouses we see are just one sliver of people’s real lives. It’s the truth, but not the “whole truth”. A quilter may win the best prize at a quilt show but you may never know about the 12 other quilts that had previously been rejected. If we knew others’ whole truths, we might not feel so inadequate when comparing ourselves to their carefully crafted public images of "perfection.
- Life isn’t fair. Some people are born with more advantages than others: wealthy parents, artistic talents or an eye for colour. Yet when we compare ourselves (unfavourably) to others, we often beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough as if working yourself to death will guarantee the same results as the person to whom you're comparing yourself. It’s much more likely that the differences we see reflect an uneven playing field. Sometimes hard work just isn’t enough.
- Comparisons turn friends and allies into rivals. In a perfect world, we would celebrate and genuinely enjoy the joys and accomplishments of others. Yet if we use others as a benchmark to evaluate ourselves, that creeping twinge of jealousy may undermine our ability to truly cherish the good things that come to others.
The thing about comparison is that there is never a win. How often do we compare ourselves with someone less fortunate than us and consider ourselves blessed? More often, we compare ourselves with someone who we perceive as being, having, or doing more.
Although I sometimes struggle with social comparison in my everyday life I make a conscious effort to avoid it in my quilting because of its effect on my enthusiasm and creativity for quilting. Here are few of the things I think about if I feel the slightest twinge of comparison creeping up on me (often when I am at a quilt show):
- Quilting is a process that you should enjoy, not a competition.
- Celebrate what you create without comparing it to others.
- Celebrate other’s success without denigrating your efforts.
- Use the work of more proficient quilters as an inspiration or, even better, a source of ideas and techniques.
- Watch out for art quilts. They can be especially discouraging – some people are just naturally more creative than you might be. That doesn't mean that the rest of us can't still enjoy the craft and (if we work hard) produce quilts that WE can be proud of, while still admiring other's work.
So, if you find yourself feeling upset of frustrated just remember: you don’t have to be a quilting rock star to enjoy the craft of quilting.
Chatterquote: “Quilts are not sports cars; yours doesn’t have to be ‘bigger’”.