“Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you.” ~Unknown
Years ago, my almost Father-in-Law came to visit from England. Unlike his son, he was a mostly kind, quiet and unassuming man. Over a beer he told me how the family was involved in ‘the hunt’ and how proud he was to host them at their farm. It is a rather prestigious honour, apparently, to invite an elite posse of prissy dressed horsemen and women to chase a fox over log, creek and hedgerow. An honour absolutely lost on hick Aussie me. He told me how Prince Charles had hunted on their property and what a very nice fellow he was. Then he leaned in, with an almost conspiratorial tone to his voice and said, “Truth be known, we actually socialise several rungs further up the social ladder than we should because of the hunt.”
What struck me most, and why I probably still remember the conversation, was his very conscious sense of his social standing. And I got a very keen sense of how this was somewhat precarious. How it was somehow very important. (I should add, this type of rigid social structure doesn’t exist in Australia as it does in England).
When I considered my weaknesses and strengths for this month’s article, the first thought was this encounter, and how I now understand how he felt, because it is how I feel as a writer.
I compare myself to others and come up wanting. Holding what I feel is a precarious rung, far above where I should be and at some point someone will realise and boot me off.
Why do I feel like an interloper? It’s not because I dare to publicly acknowledge myself as a writer or to put my words out there. It has more to do with who I circulate with. The last 12 months has seen a huge hop, skip and jump from where I was to where I am now, and even typing that makes me cringe. I long for my days labouring under a mushroom oblivious to anything but my own efforts.
While I could acknowledge this movement has to do with hard work and a sprinkling of talent, and be grateful for all kinds of doors opening—not just for me but the writers I work with—I feel like it has thrust me into a space I’m not ready for. Not worthy of. In short, I feel like I don’t belong.
To justify this feeling of not belonging I compare myself to others: what they do, where they are published, what they write, how often they write. In doing so I confirm, by my own set of warped principles, that I’m not worthy of keeping their company, much less have my work appear alongside theirs (even if some other impartial third-party thinks this—whether these third parties be editors or panels dispensing awards).
Why the need to compare myself to other writers when all I get from it is a sinking sense of failure?
Yes, it’s part jealousy (now that smites!). Yes, it’s part confirmation of the voices in the back of my head that whisper You suck. Yes, it’s part to do with feelings of inadequacy. Mostly it’s because I’ve never coveted this place. I don’t expect other people to know me or my work.
What bothers me about this particular form of stupidity/self-flagellation is I don’t abide this type of thinking in any other area of my life.
If I feel the pressing need to compare myself with anyone it needs to be in terms of their generosity of spirit, energy and time and endeavouring to be more like them in these aspects of belonging to a creative community, and worrying less about where anyone is (or isn’t) on the pecking order. When writers get together, they just get together and enjoy each others company. Go to any Con in Australia and you’ll see it in action.
These wonderful writing colleagues of mine are an on-call cheer squad and a beta reading force to be reckoned with. They share new publishing markets, competitions and wisdom with bottomless generosity. They more often than not give the nod to crazy ideas I have and help where they can to spread the word. They don’t bitch and snark about each other, or work to drag anyone down. They always have an encouraging word. They share beers, conversation, cake, coffee, brain storming sessions, early mornings and late nights, here and on the other side of the world. And when my idea of myself falls out of step with where it should be, they give me a much needed kick up the bum, dig up my self esteem, dust it off and hand it back.
If I accept who I am, what I do, what I write, where I submit my work and how often I am able to turn up to the page, then I have the ability to enjoy who I am, where I am and where I am going. In the greater scheme of things, I only have to meet myself on my own terms, live up to my own set of expectations and be happy in my own skin. Whether Prince Charles shows or not, is really beside the point… and if I’m honest, he really can just stay home.
As writers we all bleed in one way shape or form for the stories we birth. In that way, all writers are equal.