2 min read

Don't Compare Skyscrapers to Camels

(This is a better turn of phrase than apples to oranges)

I just recently caught myself doing the thing again. You might know the thing, the thing you've told yourself not to do, you've told other people not to do, the thing you know not to do.

No, not that thing. The other thing.

You need me to spell it out for you? The thing where I get all obsessed with getting something exactly perfect and right, because I know in my mind that it can be more than what it currently is - so I hang on to it for too long, get bogged down and overwhelmed by that one minor piece that isn't quite working.

That thing. I caught myself doing it again. This time, though, I caught myself...and then the realization of just how often I actually do it came crashing down upon me.

One of the reasons I fall down that hole over and over again (and, fortunately, can climb my way out of it faster and faster) has to do with one of the downsides of seeking external inspiration: the intimidation of coming face to face with someone else's excellence. You see what someone else is doing, and it can feel like, "shoooooooooot, why do I even try when he/she/they are out here doing their thing?"

But here's the secret: usually you're looking at the wrong thing and comparing skyscrapers to camels. You're looking at post-arrival and not looking at how they got there.

Take, for example, Lin Manuel Miranda. You know the guy, right? He's the one who wrote the song the children in your life are singing incessantly...and you kind of don't mind? He's the MacArthur genius, almost EGOT, iconic multi-hyphenate. He's the guy who I actually whispered out loud to myself in the middle of his feature film directorial debut, "is there anything that bastard can't do?"

In 2015 he dropped Hamilton, followed it up with Moana, Mary Poppins, His Dark Materials, Encanto, Tick Tick Boom. He's had quite the run. No one should compare themselves to 2015-2022 Lin Manuel Miranda, unless they're maybe looking for an excuse to feel humbled.

But rewind the clock and look at the 5 years prior. Here's the deal: he's not a nobody. He's already got some Tony Awards under his belt and has done that epic White House poetry performance.

But what's he doing during that stretch? He's co-writing the musical Bring It On - ie, a show that played on Broadway for less than half a year. He's writing a 20 minute musical for This American Life. He's appearing in some smaller live productions with some bigger name people in the world of musical theater. He's winning an Emmy, sure, but not exactly a major one.

He is getting his reps in. He's grinding. He's doing the work. He's getting exposure to people he can learn from. He's stretching himself, building new muscles. He's exploring and experimenting.

He's writing Hamilton and workshopping it and polishing it.

No one arrives fully formed. Everyone puts in the work. If you don't see it right away, rewind the tape just a little bit.