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Martha Graham on the Hidden Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others

Martha Graham on the Hidden Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others

Agnes de Mille had just achieved the greatest success of her career, but right now the only thing she felt was confusion.

She was a dancer and a choreographer. Early in her career, de Mille had created the choreography for a ballet called Three Virgins and a Devil. She thought it was good work, but nobody made much of it.

A few years later, de Mille choreographed a ballet named Rodeo. Again, she thought her work was solid, but it resulted in little commercial fame.

Then, in 1943, de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, a musical show from Rodgers and Hammerstein that enjoyed nearly instant success. In the coming years, Oklahoma! would run for an incredible 2,212 performances, both around the nation and abroad. In 1955, the film version won an Academy Award.

But the success of Oklahoma! confused her. She thought that her work on Oklahoma! was only average compared to some of her other creations. She later said, “After the opening of Oklahoma!, I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha.”

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Martha was Martha Graham, perhaps the most influential dance choreographer of the 20th century. (Although not as well-known by the general public, Graham has been compared to other creative geniuses like Pablo Picasso or Frank Lloyd Wright.)

During their conversation, de Mille told Graham about her frustration. “I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.” [1]

Graham responded by saying,

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

The Uselessness of Judging Yourself

For nearly two years, I have been publishing articles every Monday and Thursday on JamesClear.com. Some days the words come easier than others, and there have been plenty of times when I have felt a smaller version of what Agnes de Mille felt.

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“I thought this was a good article. Why don’t people seem to enjoy it?” Or, I’ll feel like I mailed it in on a piece only to see it become the most popular post of the month. Regardless of the outcome, I’ve realized one thing: we are often terrible judges of our own work.

Martha Graham’s advice takes this concept a step further by explaining that not only are you a bad judge of your own work, it is not your job to judge your own work. It is not your place to compare it to others. It is not your responsibility to figure out how valuable it is or how useful it can be. It is not your job to tell yourself, “No.”

Instead, your responsibility is to create. Your job is share what you have to offer from where you are right now. To quote Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, your job is to “come as you are.” (And then find your inner Sisu and keep coming.)

There are people in nearly every field of work who make each day a work of art by the way they do their craft. In other words, nearly everyone is an artist in one way or another. And every artist will judge their work. The key is to not let your self-judgment keep you from doing your thing. Professionals produce, even when it isn’t easy.

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

In grade school, I remember my teacher passing out an assignment and telling each student to “keep your eyes on your own paper.”

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Perhaps she was simply trying to teach 8-year-olds to not cheat, but hidden within that phrase is also a deeper message about what really matters. It doesn’t make a difference what the person next to you writes down for his answer. This is your race to run. It’s your assignment to complete. It’s your answer to create. How your paper compares to someone else’s is not the point. The point is to fill the paper with your work.

The same can be said of your work today. No matter what you spend your days doing, every morning you wake up and have a blank piece of paper to work with. You get to put your name at the top and fill it with your work.

If what you write on your paper doesn’t meet someone else’s expectations … it is no concern of yours. The way someone else perceives what you do is a result of their own experiences (which you can’t control), their own tastes and preferences (which you can’t predict), and their own expectations (which you don’t set). If your choices don’t match their expectations that is their concern, not yours.

Your concern is to do the work, not to judge it. Your concern is to fall in love with the process, not to grade the outcome. Keep your eyes on your own paper.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

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Sources

1. Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham by Agnes De Mille. pg. 264.

Thanks to Paul Jun for pointing me to the story of Agnes de Mille and Martha Graham.

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Last Updated on October 18, 2018

50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

Life is filled with highs and lows —happiness and struggles that will test your resilience and integrity, push you to overcome challenges and leave you with lessons that will make you even stronger on your way up.

It’s the way you feel and think about yourself, including your expectations and beliefs about what is possible to you, greatly determines everything that happens to you.

It all starts with your thoughts. When you change your thoughts, you transform the quality of your life. (Right, Nancy’s story is a typical example!)

Below is a list of the best motivational quotes to inspire you to start your day with a blast:

Quotes for self-assurance

1. Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality, upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.

    2. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.

      3. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

        4. The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others

          5. You attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, then be great.

            6. It’s not who you are that holds you behind, it’s who you think your are not.

              Quotes about positivity

              7. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.

                8. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

                  9. Falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice.

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                    10. If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that.

                      11. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.

                        12. Don’t be afraid to give up the good and go for great.

                          13. Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned from worst times and from the worst mistakes.

                            Quotes for work and success

                            14. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

                              15. Never stop doing great just because someone doesn’t give you credit.

                                16. Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.

                                  17. Work while they sleep. Learn while they party. Save while they spend. Live like they dream.

                                    18. The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.

                                      19. Never apologize for having high standards, people who really want to be in your life will rise to meet them.

                                        20. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

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                                          21. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

                                            22. Don’t fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.

                                              23. A hill is just another opportunity to leave your competition behind.

                                                24. Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.

                                                  25. Hustle until you no longer need to introduce yourself.

                                                    26. You didn’t come this far only to come this far.

                                                      27. Be selective in your battles for sometimes peace is better than being right.

                                                        28 If we keep doing what we are doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.

                                                          29. You will never know your limits until you push yourself to them.

                                                            30. Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.

                                                              31. The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.

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                                                                32. If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.

                                                                  33. If you can’t handle stress, you won’t manage success.

                                                                    34. Don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams.

                                                                      35. Don’t mistake silence for weakness. Smart people don’t plan big moves out loud.

                                                                        36. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

                                                                          37. Obsessed is the word the lazy use to describe dedicated.

                                                                            38. You become who you spend your time with.

                                                                              39. Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods.

                                                                                40. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

                                                                                  41. If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

                                                                                    42. Between stimulus and response is our greatest power –the freedom to choose.

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                                                                                      43. What comes easy won’t last, what lasts won’t come easy.

                                                                                        44. Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.

                                                                                          45. Work until your idols become your rivals.

                                                                                            Quotes about money

                                                                                            46. Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.

                                                                                              47. I create new enemies every day, it’s called business.

                                                                                                48. When you have a Million Dollar vision, don’t surround yourself with 1 cent minds.

                                                                                                  49. You can’t get rich thinking poor.

                                                                                                    50. Doing what is comfortable is rarely profitable.

                                                                                                      51. If you can count your money, work harder.

                                                                                                        If you find yourself feeling lost and frustrated, it’s never too late to change things up. Check out this guide:

                                                                                                        How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

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