Comparisons are a Meaningless Exercise

In his article, How Do You Measure Your Life, the writer Mark Manson narrates an interesting story which he also mentions in his popular book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

In the early 1980s, a talented young guitarist was kicked out of his band. The band had just been signed to their first record contract, and they were preparing to record their first album. A week before recording began, they fired the guitarist. There was no warning, no discussion. The guitarist woke up one day and was handed a bus ticket home.

The guitarist was demoralized. He felt betrayed. No one considered his side of the story. No one cared how he felt. At the most crucial moment of the band’s short career, he was abandoned by those he trusted the most.

So he vowed to start a band of his own. He would start a band so amazing and so successful that his old band would regret ever firing him. He would become so famous that they would spend the rest of their lives thinking about what a horrible mistake they had made. His ambition would make them pay for their disrespect.

He recruited even better musicians than before. He wrote and rehearsed religiously. His desire for revenge fueled his passion. His rage ignited his creativity. Within a couple years, his new band had signed a record contract of their own and was taking off.

The guitarist’s name was Dave Mustaine, and the band he formed was called Megadeth. Megadeth would go on to sell over 25 million albums and tour the world many times over. Today, Mustaine is considered one of the most brilliant and influential musicians in all of heavy metal music.

Unfortunately, the band he was kicked out of was called Metallica. Metallica has since sold over 180 million albums worldwide, and they are considered by many to be the greatest heavy metal band of all time.

And because of this, in a rare intimate interview in 2003, a tearful Mustaine admitted that he couldn’t help but still consider himself a failure at times. Despite all he had accomplished, he was still the guy who got kicked out of Metallica. Tens of millions of albums sold. Concerts given to screaming stadiums of fans. Millions of dollars earned. And yet, a failure.

H.L. Mencken once said, “a wealthy man is one who earns $100 a year more than his wife’s sister’s husband.”

The habit of comparing oneself with others always, without exception, leads to stress. The world is full of brilliant people, one found after another. How many can be beaten? Not only that, but also we are all good, really good, at one or two things. These are the areas we have spent most of our time in life on. The tradeoff is that we are pretty average in most other areas of life. For example, I would not bet much on Rafael Nadal’s intellectual level. Or parental skills of Elon Musk.

So once we are all unique and have our own unique paths in life, there is essentially no comparison. Days in and days out are just uncovering of our own life stories like the blossoming of a flower. Looking from this angle, it is something to relish rather than entering into meaningless comparisons with life paths of other people.

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