the Comparison Cancer
I planted my first of around half a million trees in the summer of 1998. I was eighteen years old.
I had been informed that treeplanting would be hell on earth, but that I should do it anyways because I could make a lot of money. I did eventually make money (not show-up-and-cash-checks-Kardashian money, but good money for a college kid).
First, though, I made a decision.
I decided that no matter what anyone else said or what signals my environment happened to be screaming at me (eg. You are freezing and plagued by mosquitoes and exhausted to the verge of collapse), I was not going to accept that it had to be hell. I was using planting to pay my way through college, after all, which meant that I'd be spending an entire year of my life (four summers) in hell.
I ask you: would you trade a college degree for a year in hell?
H... eck no!
So essentially I just bit my thumb at the reality I'd been handed, and chose to create my own. If it was hailing and snowing but there were still clouds of biting insects all over my body and my land was uphill both ways, then I decided that it was sunny and balmy and flat as a farmer's field. I put my head down, focused on my immediate surroundings, and looked anywhere I could for the joy to be had in my work.
I found that joy in a sense of a job well done.
I found that joy in two hectares of land, fresh-planted.
I found that joy in crisp, mountain air and snowcapped mountains.
I found that joy in a fawn lying so still I almost planted a tree on it.
I found that joy in good friends, bonfires, waterfalls, and starlight.
Make no mistake: treeplanting was still hellish. All that self-lying only occasionally worked. But it was also one of the best times of my life.
All of this came to mind today as I was thinking about how bitter and depressed I'd been feeling over a colleague's recent success in an industry I was working SO hard to impress. Am I really that bad a writer, I wondered? Am I really so out-of-touch with what "excellence" really is? Will I ever finally "make it"?
But just as I was getting into some really ugly personal terrain, I found this lovely little article called "Martha Graham on the Hidden Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others."
It was just exactly what I needed to hear, and so very good that I'm going to give you a minute to go read it for yourself.
Wasn't that great?
It reminded me to put my head down and look right at my immediate moment. Focus on what I'm actually doing. Find the joy in it and stop comparing myself with what others might be doing. Heck, I didn't even need to be comparing myself to what I might be doing.
As the article quoted Graham as saying:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
I don't have to worry about something so inane as "success." I just have to focus on what I am doing in this moment.
The struggles are real.
The successes of others (deserved or not) are real.
The pain of being overlooked is real.
They are real, but they are not important, because this is what I am doing, now. I am making. I am writing and creating and just because I'm not getting paid for it, that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. In fact, I defy and deny the worldview that allows the markets to determine worth.
What are the markets, anyway?
They're are an impersonal idea, driven as often by destructiveness and selfishness as not.
I am not a commodity or a cog. I am a person, and I was made for more than utility or productivity or some stupid points-rating system.
I was made for making.
I was made for beauty, and joy, and love.