Self Doubt, SXSW, & The Evils of Comparrison

The last week has been a challenging one for me.

I struggled with my identity.

I lost track of some core ideas.
Ideas like:
You are always exactly where you are supposed to be.
And, Float more, steer less.

There are a few things that triggered the stumble. But it comes down to comparing myself to others.

ACK!!! The dreaded trap of “Comparison!?!?”

It is a crazy notion, actually: To judge your current situation NOT by how you feel, but in comparison to something external.

Am I happy? I’m not sure… my neighbor’s lawn is greener, but my car is better. My girlfriend is hot, but most the guys at the office have HiDef TV’s.

Ridiculous, of course…but it is easy to slip into thought patterns like that. Hell, most advertisements train us to think that way.

My issue this last week was comparing my life path to fellow internet visionaries.

Oh my! Look at that glowing article about them! Wow! What an awesome idea they have developed!! What an impressive company they have built! Look at those pageviews!!!

I think I feel a little shame for not pushing harder to create a real company. I had a few business ideas…and I didn’t follow through.

Being in another Startup seemed too hard and scary.

Over time I’ve seen companies develop ideas similar to the ones I had. So I become an enthusiastic user.

Hello, my screen name is HumblePie71.

In times of sanity, I recognize that I am applying irrational judgment on these things.
(Alas, the sane times can be rare.)

Much of my recent feelings were sparked by the upcoming SXSW conference.
I’ve been going to the tech gathering for 10 years. In the early days, I spoke on panels and even hosted the web awards. Along the way, many colleagues & friends have written books, started empires, and created wonderful things that have become a part of modern culture.

And here I am without even a mention on Wikipedia.

Ouch! There’s Pride stinging ya again!

Pride is one of the vicious beasts unleashed when you fall into a state of Comparison.

But when I am still with myself, I know that ALL of this pride and doubt is in total opposition to everything my spiritual practice has entailed the last few years.

First of all, making a comparison has the inherent falsehood that I know what is “best.”

How could I possibly know that being the CEO of Google is “better” than being a lifeguard at the beach?

To believe that such a comparison is even possible is to believe in an external measuring stick. Obviously that is crazy.

The only true measuring stick is happiness.

Unfortunately, I got so focused on my missed opportunities, that I forgot that I was happy.

I got pulled into an old story of mine. The “white picket fence” story where “happiness” is measured by prestige, pride, and accomplishments.

But I know better.

I know that my true happiness comes from following my heart and coming from love.

I am lucky that that path has also provided me with a decent living and had it’s share of prestige and accomplishments.

But it would be a huge mistake to start focusing on those things as proof of my joy.
It would be totally counterproductive to draw value from my life by counting accomplishments.

This is something I still struggle with…even during my best times.

And during weeks like this, as the SXSW wunderkinds start printing up stickers of their latest mind-blowing ideas, it takes extra work for me to stay balanced.


There are a few mental “tricks” I’ve been using to help myself get back to sanity.

1) Asking myself if I am happy.
Nothing makes me see the insanity quicker than this question.
It is a special kind of crazy to lose the joy of a moment because you compare it to another option. It’s like having a wonderful meal and becoming focused on the 6 course dinner I’m missing out on.
Am I not filling my belly? Am I not enjoying the taste? Do I even know that I would LIKE the 6 course meal? Or that it would be good for me?

This is the “Baywatch Trap.” All over the world, people who were content for years suddenly had access to American television. In an instant, they realized what they were missing and fell into the comparison trap. (Sadly, one of the by products of this particular trap is the International Stardom of David Hasslehoff. But that is a different essay, altogether.)

2) Focus on the good things about the choices I *did* make.
When I look back on the last couple years, I really couldn’t be happier about how I spent my energies. Tons of family time & more effort towards spiritual growth than ever before. I realize that this is still a comparison mentality, but it at least helps snap me back into measuring what is important.

The reality is I did not make as much professional and creative progress as I used to. But it is not the miles covered…it is the direction headed.

3) Looking at lives I admire.
Wealth and power are not even things I value. When I start to want them, it is usually when external voices start creeping in.
It has been an amazing blessing to listen to Jacob Glass lecture each week. In addition to sharing amazing wisdom, he also shares his personal path. I am inspired by his choices towards personal truth and away from societal pressures. He is not a traditional financial success, but his wealth of integrity is massive. So even though his bank account may be modest, his needs are always taken care. He does not advertise. He does not promote. He simply walks his walk. And the truth is loud enough, that people hear and support him. His lack of ambition has been an inspiration to me.

The important thing for me to remember is that this path is one of many many small steps. And trips and stumbles should be expected.

Truth be told, I am actually encouraged by how quickly I was able to regain my footing this time.
And as I pack my bags for SXSW, I am happy, humble, excited, and sane.

  1. #1 written by Clarence March 5th, 2008 at 19:20


    This post is hittin’ me like the TRUTH! As a SxSW newcomer, I have had these same thoughts (naturally, they existed before — but SxSW brings things right to Front St. for me!)

    Yesterday I got down with your HugNation, live, via your chat channel. It was right on time for me, bruh — participation and all.

    Honestly, I am surprised to see you drop a real and in effect post like this, because I believe you to be the rockstar you are! But, also because it would be impossible for someone who has achieved and experienced growth as you have to encounter issues similar to myself (who registers on no ones radar at the moment).

    I dig the positive vibe that you lay down, Halcyon. I look forward to the possibility of our paths crossing at SxSW, because if my path intersects with you, then I will connect with you — feel me?

    Strength & Hugs, bruh. Strength & Hugs.

    RE Q
  2. #2 written by Kelly Fay March 6th, 2008 at 09:15

    I’m hosting a “Create a Vision Board Party” soon and would love to read this to my friends who will be there. Our “wants” can get toxic if we aren’t careful, and I love the laser like way you make the point of focusing on our path’s direction. I think this will be truly helpful, thanks! Have fun at SXSW!

    RE Q
  3. #3 written by Deva March 6th, 2008 at 09:53

    I think everyone feels this way. It’s life. I felt horrible after my Monday… then awesome after yesterday. People affect me. And I affect them. The funk will come… and let it. It just means I feel. And, thank God I do. Some people don’t. All I can do is try to see the beauty and love amidst the sickness… whether it be mine or another’s. I find true happiness in the minute details… the everyday graces…and in the humanity of each other’s “imperfection”. Thank you for sharing… people are more similar than not… so comforting.


    RE Q
  4. #4 written by georgette March 6th, 2008 at 17:21

    We can spend a lifetime being hard on ourselves, for things that are not always possible, or we can spend a lifetime sharing love and happiness, and surrounding ourselves with bliss. Thank goodness we always have the opportunity to stop, breathe, and take the time to look around, and decide that the frame of mind that we have been in has not been in a constructive format, and is not bringing joy, and that if we wish to proceed, and don’t want to continue the same frame of mind, we are going to need to change it.
    I love your heart, and I love that you share!

    RE Q
  5. #5 written by Kate March 6th, 2008 at 18:31

    What a universal feeling we all fall into, you expressed it so well! And the remedies we can try and use to get ourselves out of that downward-comparing-spin, they are just as you described. Are we happy? That’s so easy to overlook or think it doesn’t matter, or to try and convince ourselves ‘maybe I’ll be happier when I have…’. I’ve only just started to realize this, to look inside and find out that I am happy after all, even though I don’t have this or that. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have the newest cell phone, or I don’t dress a certain way, because I have people in my life who are wonderful and make me happy and let me know I make them happy. Your post was so wonderful, thank you so much for expressing this and everything I’ve read of yours – you are honest and true to yourself in a way that seems so hard to find sometimes, you really do touch people. Much love from Canada!

    RE Q
  6. #6 written by realist March 8th, 2008 at 02:36

    The problem is you’re all taking yourselves far too seriously. Notice how fixated you are an the word ‘I’. It doesn’t matter what you think you want. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you. You are mistaking your conditioning, the mental construct that you call I with who you really are. You’re trying to be something, trying to attain something other than what or who you are. Lose your’self’. A lot of this good feeling new agey stuff is toxic. It’s the same old dysfunctional crap dressed up on fluffy language. There’s an undercurrent of shared neediness in there. Get over yourselves people. Read Krishnamurti, sri ramana maharshi and eckhart tolle. Don’t intellectualize or talk about their teachings. Live them.

    RE Q
  7. #7 written by slinkerbell February 5th, 2009 at 12:03

    awesome, john! i needed to read that today:) you have blessed more people than you know. your hugs have changed my life, for one:)

    RE Q
  8. #8 written by Destin February 5th, 2009 at 14:56

    Your honesty, humility, and wisdom are always an inspiration.

    RE Q