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The Comparison Trap: What to do When You Feel Like You Don't Measure Up

Comparison is a helpful part of life. It helps us decide where to live what job to take and who to spend our time with. When we choose one activity over another we are literally comparing the two and choosing one as a more valuable use of our time at any given moment.

So what happens when we compare ourselves to other teachers? We usually feel a little down on ourselves, or even worse, we feel better by comparison. The truth is, comparing yourself to the standard of others isn’t a fair analysis. Here’s why…

You don’t know other’s circumstances

When you hear about the accomplishments of another music teacher, see a picture of their classroom, or hear one of their ensembles perform, it is so easy to put yourself down by comparing your teaching career to theirs, but it is important to take into consideration that you don’t know their circumstances.

Perhaps their classroom full of instruments is due, in part, to donations from wealthy parents, or a grant that the teacher applied for. Maybe their ensemble has three days to rehearse after school while most of your students have to attend tutoring. Maybe the teacher has spent decades growing their program and you are just at the beginning of building yours. Don’t treat these as excuses but understand that there are circumstances that affect your teaching outcomes. The key is learning how to best work with what you have, and focusing on what you can do to make things better.

You are looking at a snapshot

When you see the accomplishments of another music teacher, remember that you are looking at a “snapshot” of where they are at one moment in time. Most teachers want to project their best moments and hide their worst; it’s human nature. So the next time you see or hear of another teacher’s successes, keep in mind that there may have been many struggles and failures on the way to achieving them.

This isn’t to say that teachers who do well are faking it or unworthy of their accomplishments, but that their lives and teaching aren’t perfect. Much can be learned from them but the best teachers will admit that there is still much for them to learn.

You may be wondering what you can compare yourself to, then, to have a basis for measuring improvement. The answer is simple:

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday.

If you think about it, your past circumstances are virtually the same, and you see your progress over time so you are looking at much more than a snapshot.

So how can you compare yourself against who you were yesterday to improve?

Here are several ideas:

  • Pick one thing to improve today (or this week). It may be giving clearer directions or facilitating better transitions but focusing on one thing makes it easier to track.

  • Keep a teaching journal. It is astounding to look back on how you felt when you were newer at teaching and see how you’ve progressed

  • Record your concerts. This allows you to see and hear how much better you prepare your ensembles and how the difficulty of your repertoire increases over time

  • Pick one thing you know you’ve been putting off that will make you better and do it. This may be getting a certification or collaborating with other teachers. If you ask yourself what one thing you can do to improve might be the answer will come.

By seeing others as inspiration and not a yardstick to measure yourself up against, you avoid self-defeat. By comparing yourself to who you were yesterday you have a clear perspective of what you can do to improve.

What is one thing that you are committed to improving? Please share in the comments below to make the commitment more real.

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