Singer-Songwriter Tori Kelly on Moving Beyond Comparisons

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Singer-songwriter Tori Kelly knows something about comparison. She was twelve years old when she signed her first deal with a record label and began her career in music. She found herself surrounded by people who had opinions about her – what she should do, how she should look, who she should be. When that first deal ultimately fell apart, Tori met with agents and music executives and producers. Each one named something she needed to change.

They said, you're so reserved.

They said, you're too shy.

They said, you have a boring personality.

They said, loosen up a little bit.

But, what they were really telling her was to be less herself and more like someone else.

"They wanted me to be this outgoing, bubbly personality, which I just didn't have. And that's when I really started to compare myself to other people."

Comparisons are insidious things. Mark Twain called them "the death of joy." They invite judgment and insecurity. They require us to always be searching for a measure of whether or not we are enough.  In a time when we're more connected, more exposed and aware of each other than we have ever been, comparisons feel like the tide – impossible to hold back.  How do we keep from defining ourselves and our worth against other people? Like so many things, it's easier said than done, but for Tori Kelly, it started with a moment of quiet.  She stepped away from the opinions and the criticism, went into her childhood bedroom and wrote down everything she was feeling in her journal. She wrote her questions, her fears and her prayers.

"I wrote about confusion, feeling different, getting out these emotions that I've never been really good at explaining...Finally [I just said], 'Okay, God you said you have a plan for my life, so I'm just going to trust that, and even if it means I that don't get famous or anything, I'm just going to surrender all of this to you, put it in your hands. And I think once I did that, that's really when doors started opening."

What Tori found in the quiet – asking honest questions in her prayers and her journal –  is that the person she is outside of the music and the auditions and other people's definitions of success is a person who isn’t just a talent or a face or a personality, but a whole being – a person who is loved, a person with a voice worthy of being heard.

"Those moments in my bedroom, when it was just me and my notebook, that's when I really got into songwriting more. I felt like I had something to say now. Instead of other people giving me words to say...I didn't have to change myself, I could just be myself...Through Christ I can just be myself, and be surrounded by his love."

There's a freedom that comes with letting go of comparison. We're free to define ourselves by what we love rather than what we can achieve.  We're free to celebrate each other instead of feeling inadequate and discouraged by others' successes.  And, we're free to try things, to learn and do and create without fear, confident in our uniqueness – the same truth that Tori found:

"To my twelve year old self...you're being built up into the woman that God wants you to be. It might take a while, but one day you're going to grow into your own skin and just be the girl that God uniquely made as you, and you'd don't have to compare yourself to anybody."

You can watch Tori Kelly's full film with I Am Second HERE.

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