Compared to What?

Barbara McAfee Posted by Barbara McAfee.

Barbara McAfee is a musician, coach and consultant with over twelve years of experience in organizational change.


Just about every week I hear myself saying the same phrase.

Just about every week I hear myself saying the same phrase.

When a voice client tells me how terrible he is at public speaking…
When a friend complains about how out of shape she is….
Even when I’m giving myself a hard time about some perceived failing in my character….

What is this handy phrase?
“Compared to what?”

The moment I say it, there is a deep shift in the conversation. An unexamined judgment receives some scrutiny.

Some years ago I took that phrase on my annual songwriting retreat and started creating a song. (You can listen to it here.)

Compared to what?
Compared to who?
Where’s that standard come from that we’re measuring up to?
Compared to what?
Compared to who?
There’s nobody else who’s just like you. 

After I created the chorus, I interviewed other songwriters on the retreat about the ways they compare themselves to others. One man confessed that he thought his belly was too soft. A woman said she was embarrassed by how bad she was with money. I learned a lot about my songwriting friends – and harvested some great material for the verses of the song.

I’m foolish with money.
I talk too much.
My abs aren’t sexy, they’re soft to the touch.
You’re shy at parties and I’m way too tall
I don’t look like those people on TV at all….

Of course, asking such questions of others prompted many of my own answers. The scathing judgments I used to heap on myself were crueler than any I would inflict on another person. Like many women, I was critical of my body. Any small error I’d make would be dissected and repeated ad nauseum. I’m grateful that that inner voice has gotten kinder in the past years.

I’m much too rowdy to be a real girl
We don’t do enough to save the world
Your moods are dramatic
My tongue gets crass
And don’t get me started on the shape of my ass….. 

When I’m lost in self-judgment, I’m not available to connect with the outside world. That inward-looking trance makes me miss out on the beautiful people and experiences all around me. If that judgment yielded anything good, perhaps it would be worth the time and energy it takes. But honestly, the only thing judgment ever creates is … more judgment.

Yes, you’re the only you and I’m the only me
And both parties are required to make a decent “we”
Let’s drive the comparisons out of our head
And leave it for the apples and the oranges instead

I love the way that a really good question – like “compared to what?” – creates a shift in awareness even before you answer it. Tell me, are there other good questions you employ in your everyday life?