That Devil, Comparison

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly of the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.

The above words were spoken to filmmaker Agnes de Mille in 1943, by Martha Graham, after the opening of her third film Oklahoma. Agnes was frustrated with the success of her third film, oddly enough, because she believed it to be not as good, according to her, than her previous films which enjoyed less success.

It sounds silly but I have no doubt any blogger, any writer, any artist can relate. I certainly can. That devil Comparison can raise its ugly head at our best moments as well as our worst ones.

When a post or an article or something I’ve created attracts more positive attention than I expect, it’s tempting to think “but this post isn’t nearly as good as that one I spent so much time on that no one paid any attention to. Why aren’t people noticing that one instead?!”

But if I focus too much on who I think other people want me to be, what I think they should think of me, I will lose sight of who I actually am.

And when I’m frustrated with the lack of success of my own work and I see someone else’s shining, it’s tempting to think “maybe I should be more like them.”

But if I try to be more like them, I will never be as good as them because I’ll never be them. And then no one will be left being me. 

one of you

I encountered Martha Graham’s words for the first time earlier this week, in church on the first of November. It was a great way to start off a month of blogging and I simply couldn’t keep them to myself. I hope you enjoy them.

Are there any special quotes you look to for creative inspiration/motivation?

13 thoughts on “That Devil, Comparison

  1. Comparison has nearly done me in on any number of occasions throughout my life. I am consciously working hard on not comparing myself to anyone, but it is hard work. I love the last paragraph of your first passage, especially the phrase “queer, divine dissatisfaction”.

  2. Especially now, this post hits home. It’s so overwhelmingly tempting to compare. It’s too easy with all the images readily available to taunt. But comparison is futile because we could be using that time to connect with and nurture our beautiful selves.

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