A lesson from “American Psycho” on comparisons

American Psycho is a dark movie that targets the narcissism and materialism of the 1980s. I am not going to go into details about the plot, but be warned that the movie has several disturbing scenes. For all that, it also has some genuinely funny moments. That’s why it has often been described as a psychological horror comedy.

In the scene below, Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale and from whose perspective the story is told) shows his colleagues his new business card. His pride soon turns to shock and disbelief as his colleagues display their own “better” cards. (If you look closely, you’ll see that all four cards have the same details, including the same direct dial phone number! A subtle jab at corporate conformism.)

This scene is classic. It shows just how ridiculous things can get when we constantly compare ourselves to others. The thing is, and as Bale’s character discovers, constantly comparing oneself with others just begets further discontent. And that’s exactly what happens when we constantly compare our speaking abilities with those of other speakers. At least if we go about it the wrong way.

I always encourage people to watch videos of excellent speeches. The idea is not to try to emulate the speakers or be “better” than them; rather it is to learn from them. To take on board some techniques or practices and to try to make them our own. But it is a bad idea to compare ourselves too closely with other speakers.

If you want to compare yourself with anyone, compare yourself with you. Yes, you. Not Barack Obama, not some amazing speaker on TED. You and only you. That is how you not only improve; it is how you develop your style. A style that nobody else has. The tagline for this blog (at the top right of the page) is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” Every time you speak, your goal should be to be better than you were the last time.

And now that I have written this post, it reminds me that because I am now working full-time for myself in the public speaking field … I need to get some business cards.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Motivation, Psychology of Public Speaking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A lesson from “American Psycho” on comparisons

  1. byrdwords says:

    Great post, John. This should be emphasized every chance we get. Thanks!

  2. Two quotes that I’ve relied on when I find myself slipping into Comparison mode.

    Zig Ziglar: Success is not comparing yourself with someone else. Success is looking at where you are now compared to where you were with what you have to work with.

    And, Anonymous: Don’t compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter 20.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Both great quotes, Dave. Thanks for sharing. Comparisons can be good if done the right way. When I look at people who are better off than me, I tried to be inspired; when I look at people who are less fortunate than me, I try to be grateful for what I have.


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