Comparison is the thief of joy

The title of this post is a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that I found earlier today and posted on my twitter page. While rolling the quote over in my head about a multitude of topics, I realize that in one area it applies directly to training, and specifically competition training, in the firearms community.

dave shooting

Here’s an example: you’re in the Bulk classes in USPSA, somewhere in between C and A where most of the shooters exist. You’ve been training hard, working in dry fire and you’ve made progress, which you can track because you’re smart and you log your training. Then you go to a major match, an Area match and you get to see some of the top GMs shoot a stage. They shoot it in 1/3rd the time it takes you and they get way better hits.

There are two comparisons you can make when you see that. The first is positive: “Wow, those guys are good, if I keep at my training, take some classes and work really hard maybe I can be that good some day.” If you do that, you’re in good shape. However, the 2nd comparison is much easier to make, because most people’s default setting is “Training? Why should I do that when I can play Battlefield 4 and eat Swiss Cake Rolls instead?” The second comparison is to see those top flight shooters shredding a stage and think “I’ll never be that good, all my hard work is for nothing, I’m going to play Battlefield 4 and eat Swiss Cake Rolls instead.”

Everyone at some point in an athletic pursuit will fall prey to the 2nd form of comparison. It’s natural to get frustrated, it’s natural to want to quit. Make no mistake: what defines you as a competitor is not the choice you make when you feel good about training, it’s the choices you make when you’re frustrated and don’t feel like training. From the physical fitness world: “Anyone can go to the gym when they’re in a good mood and got plenty of sleep. Few people can when they had a long day and work and are already tired.”

The training doldrums are a tough place to get out of once you get in; for some people like myself the solution is simply to HTFU and go train. No excuses, just put in the work. For other people, you may need an external boost, like a coach or a trainer to drag you along kicking and screaming at times. Sadly, some people will never get out of the doldrums. They’ll bounce from hobby to hobby, sport to sport and make great strides initially, and then get frustrated and go do something else.

I understand this post isn’t for everyone. It’s for people like me, people who are serious competitors and have experienced the comparison, the doldrums, and the frustration. Buck up. Train hard. It will get better. Keep logging your progress, so the next time the doldrums hit you can look back and say “I did get better, I just need to keep training.”


  1. I found myself making that second comparison lately. I see other shooters shoot better then me and all I can think is I don’t have the time to dedicate to training long enough to get as good as they are. This is kind of put me off the USPSA and IDPA scene a bit. My initial goal was to be a better shooter and have fun but somewhere along the way I plateaued and the act of going to the matches ceased to be fun; I had to do better than X or Y shooter except I wasn’t; they were progressing up through the ranks and I found myself stagnating. I made a whole post about it on the Enos forums. The joy and thrill of just shooting the matches for the hell of it is gone and I don’t know how to get it back. If I can’t find the joy I’m worried I’m going to give it up completely.. and I am struggling with even that idea it because I gave up so much to try and get where I am currently and I really don’t want that effort to be for nothing.

  2. Absolutely love the TR quote – having read quite a bit about & by him, I don’t remember that one. It sure is fitting and I appreciate you putting it in to this context. I am and have been since day 1 the best shooter in my agency. Some of the guys ask how to do better, how I do what I do, and really are in the “I want to know how to do that!” group. Then there’s some who get frustrated to the point that if we’re shooting with another agency their behavior is embarrassing. For years, annual qualifications are now quick and truthfully boring for me. Then I go for my instructor requalification and things get more humbling lining up against the best shooters from other agencies, and once in a while I go to a match to see that I’m mediocre enough to almost suck. It can be good to compare if you want to – strive to – be better. I’ve seen it also bad to compare when you have lost hope, had none to begin with, or are one of those kinds who blame everything but yourself for what’s going on.

    The tougher thing for me is the annual PT test, and being older now it really is a struggle – starting months earlier to get in trim, busting my butt to stay in a “pretty good for your age” bracket, and yes, getting a bit discouraged (I might say ‘winded’ but it’s actually the old age kicking in) when the 18-29 year olds fly by.

    Then on a daily basis what I’ve been hearing from folks who don’t do what I do – my job title is one of those that just automatically rings “damn cool job!” – is, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” And in my mind I think that, no, if you ‘always’ wanted to do this, then this is what you’d have been doing all along. It took a lot of education, hard work, crappy seasonal jobs as a grunt in my agency and a few others, and finally I earned the right to call myself what I have for over two decades.

    It’s all relative depending upon skill sets, but with so many things related I sure did like this post.

  3. As I read that, especially near the end – I thought about the lessons I’m trying to instill in my young daughter and how what you wrote applies to any activity you engage in. Do I just want to do this to fill up time or am I passionate about this activity, do I want to improve at this, stick with it, and excel? Perhaps take it to the next level and become one of the masters?

    I’m in my mid 40’s and still trying to find my passion in life – all my efforts seem to be ‘sprayed’ out in to space rather than laser beaming my focus.

    Nice post Caleb.

  4. I find it helpful to pick out a rabbit. Somebody just a little better than me. Then make it my goal to crush them the next time we compete. I often fail, but it’s always so close….

  5. “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
    ― Theodore Roosevelt

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