BY JARED OVERSTREET
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight – constantly, we are analyzing information. But how our brains gather the information is only the beginning, point A, of a long chain of thoughts that end at the conclusion, point B. This link between points in the brain usually take the same amount of time as you read the last few words in this sentence. The interesting part is the filters and lenses between the points that can alter our conclusion.
For example, I was standing in line at the store and a person in front of me was paying and was very impatient with the clerk thus the word rude popped into my mind. I could either conclude that the person is just being flat out rude and should wait just like everyone else. Yet, if I would simply see that I don’t know the whole story, as she might have a very sick daughter that needs the medicine she is buying, and conclude that she is not rude but rather coming off rude. Whether the woman had a reason for being impatient or not, you still receive the same information but with a different perspective, you end with a different thought.
Information such as this is always flowing into our brains and our perception of others can affect our concluding thought. It is also how we see ourselves that can alter an end thought and move us into action – or stop us in our tracks.
A strategy that all humans use for choosing what information is useful and what information is left behind is called critical thinking or comparing. We are very skilled at comparing in our everyday lives. You might be doing so right now – comparing the rest of this article with your time to see if it is worth your while to finishing reading it or to put it down.
A simple way to compare two things is to line one up next to the other and visualize the better option. If you are comparing a thought or idea, most people move to a pros and cons list to sort out the information. We do this so much that we don’t even notice it happening. Pay with my credit card or cash? Skip this stair step or not? Change the channel or stay?
But what if the act of simply comparing can become detrimental to you?
As a photographer, it is my job to freeze moments and seconds that I see in the world around me. As I take more pictures and follow different people, it never fails that I compare my own work to that of others. I do this often, not only with photography but also when I was a college student.
I compared my academics to that of other colleagues. Many other students in my biology classes were pursuing internships or research projects with a professor. I compared myself to them – how I had not pursued a research program or a volunteer position but instead stuck myself in a third-floor newsroom editing photos for a publication. Both comparisons of my academics and my photography could not hold a flame to those who seemed so much further ahead of the game than I was at the time.
It did not stop there either, as now I am in a season of life where at 23-years-old I should have a job using my degree and can make enough money to live on my own. I should be thinking of starting a family and raising children. I compare myself to an old idea that was set up from the previous generation of how my timeline should be flowing. If you want the truth of where I stand to these standards, I am far off, and because I feel that I cannot live to these expectations, my self-worth plummets. Just thinking about applying to a job in forensics and crime scene investigation makes me anxious because in the back of my mind I know that are other people more qualified who will apply and succeed – all because I compare my life and my choices to those who have not walked in my shoes and me, not in theirs.
We fall into these traps of comparison because we are so unsure about our own lives. We want to be good at something so we dive right on in, hoping to succeed. When we see others succeed but not ourselves we become discouraged. Just because someone else achieved a similar goal doesn’t make your accomplishments any less valuable. There is a multitude of reasons, such as years of experience, more education, the people they know, etc., that has placed them where they are now. Their success only means that it is possible to reach it, too.
Now I'm not here to preach that comparing one's life or work to another is wrong but it is how you perceive and act on the information you now know. It is the same as saying that the lady in line with me was being rude or that she was coming off rude; two different perceptions of the same information presented to you. It is how you perceive the situation that affects your attitude and conclusion.
Comparing your life to others will never stop. There is no off switch or magic level to stop this critical process in our lives. There’s also no off switch for your emotions, such as envy or jealousy for the other person, but it is how we funnel these feelings that can tear us down or bring motivation back into our lives. We can either say that achieving our goals can no longer be done because someone else is better or we can be inspired to work a little harder. Everyone has their own pace in life and everyone has a worth that they cannot see sometimes.
“For wheat is wheat” – it’s a nice saying, but Van Gogh has been improperly quoted. It’s actually more of a revision of what he wrote down in a letter to a man named Theo, his brother. In this letter, he writes that critics compare a drawing to drawing or a painting to painting, which is formidable but routine. One should compare the art to its realistic counterpart which is what Vincent says is nature. The word “nature” here can also be synonymous with the word reality, where the true comparison of how well the art portrays “nature” with the artist’s style.
“If I make better work later, I still won’t work otherwise than now; I mean it will be the same apple only riper — I myself won’t turn from what I’ve thought from the start. And this is why I say for my part, if I’m no good now, I won’t be any good later either — but if later, then now too. For wheat is wheat, even if it looks like grass at first to townsfolk — and the other way round too.”
The original version resounds more with a struggle of self-worth and his work compared to others in his time. This also has some motivation, like a quick whip, underlining the text with it stating that if he is no good now, he will not be good later. Small steps in the right direction will get him to where he needs to be and so he should start now.
Comparing oneself to others is a harsh thing to do and people have struggled with it before the 1880s and to present day. Remember, it's how you take the comparison and view it. That’s the key and it will make a difference in the way you live and the attitude you have towards your work or life situations. Also self-worth is based in what you find value and what, if not who, you place value in.