The Comparison Trap

Shooting sports was where I was always comparing what I got to other photographers at the same event.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I would like to modify it a little and say “Comparison can be the thief of joy”.

I have never met any photographer who at some time or another is not looking at the competition and comparing themselves.

Comparisons can be Beneficial

If you compare yourself to others as a way of measuring your personal development or to motivate yourself to improve and, in the process, develop a more positive self-image then this is a good thing.

David Sutton posted his survey responses to the question, “How many photographers does it take to change a lightbulb?”

  • What is it’s colour temperature? What operating system is it running on?
  • This whole question is just another ego trip.
  • The real problem is that the lightbulb reacts badly to criticism.
  • It’s the tone of the lightbulb I don’t like.
  • Nothing personal, but what do you know about lightbulbs?
  • My mother’s aunt had a lightbulb just like it, and it didn’t need changing.
  • It’s NOT the bulb you utter and complete idiot, it’s the person switching it on.
  • None, anyone can fix it in Photoshop.

I am sure you have your own list to add to this. If you need to procrastinate then just Google this for your own amusement.

The problem with comparison is when it is no longer used to improve oneself, but rather tear down another person.

If you really want to get better and have a good healthy attitude about your own work, then you can look at others work and not just learn from them, but admire them.

Looking to others for inspiration (without comparison) is admiration. When we admire someone, we respect, appreciate and feel inspired by what they’ve accomplished. We are filled with encouragement and hope.

Prioritizing approval over feedback, learning and growth will keep you stuck. You have to understand that each person has their own path. What I have learned about this is that everyone has unique opportunities afforded them by things outside of their control. Face it how you look had more to do with your parents genes than something you did. You do have control over how you take care of that body.

Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4) breaks up an interception attempt by Duke cornerback Josh Blackwell (31) in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday August 31, 2019. [NIKON D5, 120.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 22800, 1/4000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 380)]

It took a while before I started to learn to celebrate other photographers work. Unless the person was right next to me we were not really able to honestly compare our work.

One of the first places I started to understand why comparison wasn’t really possible was when another photographer was on the opposite side of the field and the play was in front of them with no obstruction. I didn’t have a chance to get that same photo. However, just a moment later I may get something they couldn’t get for the same reason.

Over time I started to learn how to look at others work and not just learn from it, but admire it.

During the pandemic I thought it would be great to use Zoom for FOCUS [Fellowship Of Communicators Uniting Socially]. Above is a compilation of all but the first few meetings.

I don’t think this would have been as successful if I had done this early in my career. I had to learn through the years that EVERYONE had something to share that I should listen to and learn from.

This has been a great year for me because of this group. I made it a point that ANYONE who was participating would be asked to be a presenter.

After the meetings I often get emails and phone calls from people who were on the ZOOM call and what is most interesting is them talking about people’s work that didn’t have a reputation before the call. We have been blown away by people no one knew that well at all before.

We have had many share who have been guest speakers at national photography conferences and even they surprised us.

Joanna Pinneo & Robin Rayne both shared about the struggles they encountered in doing stories. WOW! Usually people with this type of experience just show how successful they are with their work. Both of them shared how hard it was and how often they felt they were over their heads with the assignments.

Here are three stories from the Bible to remind us how comparing to others only leads to real problems if we don’t exercise some humility.

  • Jacob and Esau
  • Joseph and His Brothers
  • Cain and Abel

As Esau said to Jacob, “Let us start on our journey [together],” (Genesis 33:12), and may it lead us to trust, hope and peace.

Joseph, most beloved of Jacob’s sons, is hated by his envious brothers. Angry and jealous of Jacob’s gift to Joseph, a resplendent “coat of many colors,” the brothers seize him and sell him into slavery. Joseph had also learned about forgiveness. At the death of their father, his brothers feared that Joseph had been treating them kindly out of respect for Jacob. They sent a message to Joseph saying that Jacob wanted him to forgive his brothers. Joseph wept, and the brothers fell before him offering to be his slaves.

Friendly competition is a highly effective in pushing people. Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Here are some questions that I ask myself when looking at another colleagues work.

  • Why is their work so effective?
  • What did they do to make this happen?
  • What circumstances allowed them to do this that I don’t have?
  • What should I take away from their work that could improve my work?

If someone’s work moved me and made me take notice, did I tell them? Take the time to encourage others. We all need it.

While asking if a person has advantages that I do not, I am really using this question to setup one for myself. What can I do that others don’t have the same opportunity?

If you are a professional communicator or want to become one all this self improvement can be awesome, but there is one last thing that must be central for you to grow.

Everything you are doing is actually so that you disappear. To be the very best communicator is when people are so moved by the work emotions take over them. They are connecting with the story of the subject.

The best question to be asking yourself is, “How can I do a better job of telling the subjects story more effectively.”

Many people fall into the trap of positional bias, comparing “up” more often than “down” relative to their own standing.

My goal with the FOCUS group has been to lift up others and not to lift up myself. “Paying it forward” requires us to realize how blessed we are with all the gifts that God has given to us, but to also celebrate those gifts in others.

… “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

John 3: 27 – 30