Ignatian spirituality has a saying: "Compare and despair." When we compare ourselves to someone else, we will inevitably end up depressed. Because the thing is, we're not comparing ourselves to the other person. We're comparing ourselves to our idealized image of that other person. And that's something that no one can live up to.
I've seen this in my violin studio over the last few months. I've seen students terrified to play out because they hear other students who they think are better than them. I've seen parents who are discouraged because another child is playing better than theirs.
And it breaks my heart.
I adore all my students, for exactly who they are. Whenever someone says to me, "So-and-So plays SO AMAZINGLY IN TUNE, it seems so easy for them!" I realize that yes, they saw So-and-So play at the recital, and yes, So-and-So had wonderful intonation. What they didn't see was the previous two years of lessons with me, where I changed everything about their violin technique, made them play hours and hours of scales, and insisted that they do it over and over again. "Tall violin. Do it again. Check your Magic X. Do it again. No, that's a 4th finger. Do it again." Two years of that resulted in So-and-So being able to play their advanced piece really well in tune. Believe me, no one is born with perfect intonation. We ALL work on it. For those for whom intonation is a little more intuitive, they have their own share of challenges (AHEM, bow hold, anyone?)
I've had beginning students look at other students their own age and feel despondent because they didn't start younger. It's unfair to compare a violinist who has been playing six months to a violinist who has been playing for four years. As someone who started at the age of 9 in my public school orchestra, I think I spent at least the first 10 years of life as a violinist upset because I didn't start as a 4-year-old prodigy. As a teacher, I see that beginners of every age have their own advantages and challenges. Violin isn't easy, for anyone.
I am not immune to comparison, as much as I might wish to be. Two months ago, a friend of mine and I took the same orchestra audition. She got in. I didn't. I spiraled into a pretty dark place in my mind. I cried for two straight days. I lamented the fact that she had a better tone, seemed like a nicer person who I was sure everyone liked more than me, and was even better-dressed. I wallowed in imagined inferiority for longer than I wanted to, and have slowly been pulling myself out of it.
One of the things I realized is this: I cannot be anyone but myself. I cannot play like anyone but myself. And any time I spend saying "Why is this person so much better than me?" rather than saying, "How can I make this sound the way I want it to?" is wasted. So I chose a new recital program. I went to my violin teacher and asked her how I could improve the weaknesses in my playing. And I went to the practice room, every day, and I worked on those weaknesses. I did not blindly play through repertoire and hope that it would magically get better. I worked slowly, and carefully, and with great awareness of how I was doing everything I was doing. I have the hope that when I am completely immersed in my own sound and am able to make my playing an authentic representation of who I am, I won't fall into the pit of comparing and despairing, because I will be so in love with music that I don't care what else is going on.
I've had people say to me that it seems like I have it all together. I have a beautiful website (Weebly has AMAZING templates, you guys. I can't code to save my life.), a thriving studio, and lots of creative ideas. This is true. I've worked hard to get to where I am. And most of the time, I don't post on Facebook or on my blog when I have a bad day. The truth is yes, I'm at a place right now where I am the most put-together that I have been in about a decade. You didn't see the years I spent in therapy trying to cope with my crippling perfectionism, the tendonitis that left me unable to play my violin for the first year of music school, or the year I spent in graduate school rebuilding my technique from the ground up. You don't see the moments where I am so overwhelmed by everything everyone expects of me that I have to sit and cry before I can move forward. You may not know that despite everything I have going for me in my professional life, I miss my father (who died five and a half years ago) every single day and would give just about anything to see him again, even for five minutes. These are just some of the things I have been through. I work hard to focus on what I am grateful for in my life (which is a lot!), and on feeling confident in who I have become. But it's hard. And I have a feeling that the people who say "Claire has it all together, I want to be her!" might not feel that way if they knew the full price of being me.
You don't know the full story of whoever it is you are comparing yourself to. And chances are that if you did, you would choose your own, rather than being them. It's hard enough to be yourself. Don't waste time lamenting that you're not someone else.
For my students reading this: I am here for you. I am here to walk with you on your violin journey. I want to help you learn to love your sound and to have true confidence in your playing. I love you, and I promise that I NEVER spend your lessons thinking, "I wish I was teaching Other Student" right now. When I teach, I am totally focused on you and how I can help you in the moment.
To everyone: Be kind to yourself. Seek to be authentic, rather than unique. Focus on what YOU can do, and love yourself as yourself. Because you are worthy of all the love in the world, and we need you exactly as you are.