“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Every artist shares a demon. When will you slay the beast?
An actor’s journey can be a self-imposed hell if the actor eyes with envy the successes of peers surpassing the envious actor’s achievements. Sound familiar? You look over your shoulder and suddenly there’s a colleague who breezes by effortlessly on to their goal while you ask yourself, “What about me? Where’s my happiness and success?” Despair fogs your muse. Daily life becomes gray. Enter the demon: Comparison.
I occasionally live with this career hobbling devil. Comparison haunts me.
On an autumn day my partner and I were leaf-peeping the mountains of northwest New Jersey. I should have been enjoying the rust and umber of oaks and elms. No. I was bemoaning my perception for lack of momentum in my career. The darkness spurred by news of a high school friend, a writer for TV and film, having his second hit musical opening in New York. I overlooked my own achievements. I’d my first book soon-to-be published; several directing opportunities coming my way; and casting projects looming in the near future. I also overlooked my history in the arts (my thought being that unless you’re hot now no one cares that you were hot then). But there I was bitching. I felt as if my work wasn’t growing. Worse, I refused to validate my own achievements. That’s when my partner said to me, “I’ve never known you to be happy with any of your jobs.”
I may have vented occasionally but I always thought myself happy. Then I wondered, why did what he say hurt me? My work had been my life-long love since being reluctantly pulled on to a stage at fourteen. But did I appreciate and enjoy my accomplishments? Yes and no. I always want more.
Comparison stalks me.
Eventually Comparison withers away. I return to my work. And that’s what is important for all creatives: the work. Not the amount of recognition achieved. To joyously flourish creative souls must continually birth new imaginings. Far too often, actors, living with Comparison, lose focus on the creating. They tangle themselves in emotion.
How do you reach beyond the demon Comparison whispering in your inner ear, “I can’t dance as well as her”; “I can’t sing as strong as him”; or “I’ll never be as great as that.” Understand firstly that you’re not alone. Recognize what you see in yourself exists in others. It’s human nature to believe an experience or thought is something we own alone. To move beyond fears, doubts, overcompensation and restraint, you’ve got to stop doing the owning of the singular experience myth. Let go. Share your doubts and you’ll discover others experience as you do. You may discover from your fellow artists that they have ways of striking dead Comparison.
If I’d let my demons rule me, thousands of actors—friends and strangers—would never have moved beyond their own demons via my efforts to help each artist, and ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor would have been abandoned—forgotten on a long-ago abandoned laptop.
Enjoy the journey. Toss Comparison off of your train. Lighten the load and you’ll arrive at your desired success swift and sane.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at over two-dozen universities including Yale, Elon, Wright State University and Rutgers. He writes is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.