The Comparison Game Never Ends. Why? Oh Why?

Last week I had coffee with a friend of mine. A fellow artiste. (Well actually, I had hot chocolate and a coffee cake.) He knew I had been out of town for a gig a few weeks earlier and asked what I was up to. I proceeded to tell him how I had flown out to Oregon to do some consulting for a well-known photography studio, then flew down to the SF Bay Area to shoot a promo for a really cool film forum (sort of a mini-Sundance). Then drove up to Mill Valley to shoot a promo for a seminary. I have to admit. I felt proud. I felt cool. I felt successful. “Yeah. I’m doing really cool and successful things. I’m making it baby! Hoo-hah!”

I then asked what’s up with him. He proceeded to tell me how he was prepping for a trip the following week to Hollywood because he had meetings with every major studio and three of the top agencies in the biz. (Queue background laugh track as my card is trumped!)

Me: (Pregnant pause. Big smile): Wow! That’s great dude. (gulp)

I don’t know if I actually said “dude.” And I sincerely did think it was great. But…

I instantly felt I was transported into an old episode of “I Love Lucy.” You know, that one where Lucy tells her friend Caroline Appleby about the mink stole Ricky got her, then Caroline tells Lucy about the full length mink coat she just got. Yeah. I was Lucy that day.

The Salieri Effect

One of my favorite films of all time is Milos Forman’s 1984 Best Picture winner, “Amadeus.” (You know what’s coming, don’t you?) In that movie, F. Murray Abraham, in an Oscar-winning performance, plays Antonio Salieri, an Italian composer and contemporary to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri is a very capable court composer. He gets his fair share of ovations for his operas every now and then. But his talent cannot come close to the innate genius of Mozart. His envy and jealousy leads him on a mission to destroy Mozart. But his real beef isn’t against Mozart. It’s against God. He asks why would God give him this amazing desire to create music, to be loved for his craft, then put on the earth this crude, immature boy who can compose circles around him. He curses God and vows to destroy his creation.

Now, just to be clear, I’m no where NEAR the obsessive self-pitier Salieri was. But if I’m honest, I do feel like him sometimes. I mean, all around me are these freaking Mozarts doing amazing things with their cameras. And while I love the work I do, sometimes I feel like I’m Salieri. But, hey. I’m sure I’m the only one who ever feels like this. It’s a Ron thing I guess.

Comparison Is Never Satisfied

I read an interesting passage this morning. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ (Prov. 30:15-16). Solomon could have added a fifth element that is never satisfied: comparison. It seems no matter how successful we become, we’re always comparing. The funny thing is, I could have had that same conversation with another person who may have looked at me and said, “Wow! That’s great dude.” Then go back home and sulk over how they’re not jetsetting around the country and meeting interesting people, and creating films that help change the world. See. It’s a vicious cycle. What’s worse, it makes us belittle the blessings in our own lives. We all have them, and our lives would be much happier if we recognized and embraced them. But we often can’t see them because of envy.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to cure comparison. I’ve written about this subject a number of times. I think that’s the best way to deal with it. To recognize it when you see it, bring the ugliness into the light, and say to it “Back, back you evil demon. Back to the blazing pit of hell from which thou camest!” (Okay, that was a tad melo-dramatic. But, sometimes, melodrama is required!) In recognizing our faults. Laughing at them. Exposing them. We can learn to not take them too seriously. It’s not a perfect formula. But it works for me.

For the record, I really am excited for my friend. He has worked his butt off over a decade to get to where he is and his work is phenomenal. On top of that, he recognizes how incredibly blessed he’s been and because of that recognition, he’s one of the most giving people in this industry that I know. He deserves it. Hollywood needs more people like him. (I would mention his name but as of now he wants to keep it relatively hush-hush.) And if nothing else, I get to live vicariously through him. 🙂

9 thoughts on “The Comparison Game Never Ends. Why? Oh Why?

  1. My “the” fav movie is Amadeus, too. I guess it depends on how you use that “envy”: for you or against you. I always do my best to use those envy to motivate myself, but I gotta admit, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself, yelling at myself inside, “why aren’t you good enough to achieve this?” or “why aren’t you making this much $ this month?” , etc. Then again, I look at what I have, and hoe much support I receive from our friends in industry, it keeps me going. And of course, reading great articles, like ones that you write, keeps me going as well.
    Keep it up, Ron!!!

    1. Thanks for the comment JJ. I have no doubt you have a legion of fans all loving you and cursing your success at the same time. 🙂 Your point about how you use that envy is good. To be inspired. Definitely hard sometimes to manage that balance.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Great article, Ron. I am very guilty of beating myself up *hard* over the great work I see my contemporaries doing. Another movie I’ll bet you’re familiar with (which reminded me of your conversation you wrote about) is “The Big Picture” with Kevin Bacon. That movie has a great message, ultimately – that when you stop trying to keep up with the Jones’s and stop trying to be a big shot and follow your heart, success will ultimately find you.

    Thanks for your morning inspiration, Ron!

    1. So funny Bill. I LOVE “The Big Picture.” A must-see movie for any filmmaker. 🙂 I actually told my friend about and implored him to watch it (he hadn’t seen it). The fervor of these agents and studios interested in him is totally like what happens in that movie. Martin Short in freaking hilarious in that movie. Love this scene: adult language in this scene).

      And you’re right, the message is a great one. Hmmm. May need to write a blog post about it. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing.

  3. Motivation comes from anywhere…mine comes mainly in a effort to pay the mortgage, that should be enough for us all. We all envy some of our friends and what they have achieved, but I know they envy people also. It is all pretty silly isn’t it, but a human nature thing. I had a conversation with a fellow filmmaker at a convention a few years ago, he was bemoaning the fact that he was intimated by some of the presenters & was using that Salieri analogy…I told him maybe you are as good as you are going to ever get, he looked at me and smiles and said “Thank you so much, you just said what I have been needing to hear” I told him to run with what he’s has got and forget about impossible wishes that are actually holding you back. You know the end of this story, he is a success now & at peace with himself. Great post Salieri, er I mean Ron 😉

    1. Always appreciate your sage advice Mr. Mayor. We all need to learn to appreciate what we have, embrace it, and see what happens. 🙂

  4. Ron, I think we all feel like this. I think Facebook and social media in general perpetuates and elevates our “friends” as more than they actually are. We see them on vacation, in their pools, kicking it with celebs, and living it up. And most of the time (not all)- it’s just people who are a part of the “Frontin’-class” (patent pending)
    I like the way you incorporated a Bible verse– permit me to include one as well… Ecclesiastes 1:2 …”Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

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