"Comparison is the death of joy."
— Mark Twain
Yes, sir. Mark Twain certainly nailed it there.
I hardly think there has been anyone who hasn't compared their guitar skill to friends and family. I know. I've been there.
I used to practice very intensively when I was a teenager (those were the days when you could just easily spend 3 or 4 hours of non-stop practice). Even with a lot of practice, I found it difficult to play as well as I wanted to, after comparing myself with friends and others who were also learning to play. I was pretty good with chords, but not as good with other techniques, which was pretty frustrating at times.
Back in my teens I used to compare my age with that of my favorite guitarists. I would go on and say "oh, so this guy was playing at this level when he was X years old, so I still have a couple of years to get to that level". Yes, I'm hardly the only one to think that. In fact one of my guitar teachers also thought the same way, which was pretty surprising to me since I'd never told that to anyone else and it suddenly felt very awkward.
It doesn't matter whether you compare yourself to your friends or your favorite guitarists; the outcome is always the same: nothing!
Come to think of it: what does it actually matter how fast someone gets to some level?
Well, let me tell you what I discovered somewhere along the way, which might be one of the underlying reasons why you might be comparing yourself to others (yes, it can be unconscious):
Comparing yourself stresses you out.
When you compare yourself with anyone else, it always feels like a competition. If you have ever been in a competition of any kind, you'll know that you do not feel comfortable. This is why top performers need to have nerves of steel to cope with this stress.
You develop tunnel vision.
As we established that comparing makes it a competition, sooner rather than later you tend to develop a tunnel vision in which you focus yourself on "beating the opponent". Needless to say, you do not want to disregard other areas of your life that are equally important (or more).
You tend to regard the other as an enemy.
Of course! Needing to beat the other one is the primary objective, so he/she becomes the enemy.
Please don't do this. There is no reason to do so, and it can even ruin friendships.
You see yourself as the underdog.
In most cases, this is also true. The reason to compete is because you feel like you have something to prove, and doing so you believe that you have to be as good as X or even better, and there's a very thin line between that and to seeing yourself as the underdog that has to beat the other one.
You don't need it.
This alone should be enough to persuade you not to compare yourself. However, it's not so easy to realize.
Understand that you want to learn to play to have fun. Competing is hardly any fun, so why would you want to go there in the first place?
I'm definitely guilty of comparing myself to others at some points in my guitar journey. What about you?
It's OK to draw inspiration from others, but not more.
If you are still not convinced about this, know that even top musicians do not compete with each other. There is no need to; the audience is not won to one side or the other anyways.
About the author:
Max Chiossi is a rock guitarist and engineer with a laser-focused approach to teaching. You can visit my website at www.iwillteachyoutoplayguitar.com.