In general, comparing yourself to Patti Smith is a terrible idea. I don’t recommend it. But there I was, not yet 30 years old, reading her then-newly published Just Kids and mercilessly chastising myself over my boring, disappointing life.
Patti read Rimbaud and traveled to France and lived in the Chelsea and made Horses and on and on and on all before she was 30. By comparison, I was a washed-up old hag whose punk days, such as they were, were behind her. I missed my chance. I could never possibly accomplish anything worthwhile at this advanced age. Cue the violins.
Patti wasn’t the only hero I put through this deification/self-denigration gauntlet. I used to frustrate myself endlessly by comparing artists I admired and what they achieved by such-and-such an age versus my whole-lotta-nothing existence. Lovely readers, if you find yourself doing this, PLEASE STOP IMMEDIATELY and remember what Uncle Teddy said:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
When I read Just Kids, I was at a low-point, creatively. It had been a few years since my band broke up and theater was not yet on the horizon. I felt stuck but my limited emotional skill-set allowed that stuckness to spiral quickly into hopeless catastrophizing. Everything needed to happen RIGHT NOW and if it didn’t, well, that was further proof of my worthlessness.
Then I started a new band. And then I got cast in a play. And then I took a pretty epic motorcycle trip. And then I started working with Little Green Pig. And then I started running. And then I did a lot of not-insignificant work on myself to get at all this bullshit that was holding me back. And on and on and on.
Because it’s bullshit, friends. It’s total bullshit. The thing that tells you you don’t measure up? Bullshit. You aren’t ____ enough? Bullshit. You’re too old/fat/lazy/whatever to do the things you want to do? Bullshit. That someone else’s success is somehow evidence of your failure? Bullshit.
Comparing myself to Patti Smith is bullshit. I will never be Patti Smith. Now I can read that as a simple statement of fact rather than a denouncement of my existence. What’s more, I am not here to be Patti Smith. I’m here to be me. I don’t have Patti’s words or experiences. I have mine. They are not any more or less significant than hers. They simply ARE. I’m done comparing.
Now I can put on Horses and feel nothing but inspiration. I can even remember my Just Kids low point with a fond wink and a bit of maternalism for Young Me, the ever-harsh. I can support and lift up my fellow art-makers because there is room for all of us. This is the world we’re making.
We’re all in this together, Soapboxers. I’m interested to hear from you. Leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
‘Til next time!
Mara’s blog post about Imposter Syndrome.
Mara’s blog post about Perfectionism.
Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her newest original theatre piece, YES TO NOTHING, was commissioned by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concernand played to raving crowds at music venues in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham in fall 2017.