Comparison is a Boogeyman

Nacho Cano (Harmless) on the ever-shifting goalposts of “success.”

What do I know about success? If you asked my mom or my wife, they’d regale you with stories about my recent accomplishments. They’d tell you about how handsome I am, all the cool things I am doing, the weight that I’ve been losing, the songs that I’ve been putting out. They can’t believe how proud they are of me. If you asked me though? Couldn’t tell you. Why? Because I live in constant fear of my boogeymen. 

Some years ago, a more successful friend of mine and I were walking about in the morning. It hadn’t been long since one of my songs had gone viral and I started to feel the buzz. As jovial as I was, I found that anytime I let myself get excited I immediately compared myself to someone and the excitement didn’t just diminish, it turned into complete disappointment. Seeing as my friend was someone who I felt was more put together than myself, I asked him if this was normal or if it would ever go away. My friend looked at me with compassion, shook his head, and let out a deep sigh… “You’re finding your boogeymen.” He said. 

I half-cackled until he told me, “This is your boogeymen.” When I asked him to elaborate he simply said something along the lines of… “We all have a boogeyman. This person represents everything that I’ve wanted to do with my life. It terrifies me still.” He talked to me about how this closeness to someone, this comparison, sometimes robs him of his joy in his career. I thought it ridiculous, my friend was so successful. This is the kind of person who I look to for guidance and they’re telling me they’re a fraud. I couldn’t believe it. I vowed not to believe in such a concept of a boogeyman, a machination of comparison. I wasn’t about to subscribe to that. It had been a long time since I felt like a boogeyman. There shouldn’t be any left, by all standards I had made it. But boy, I’ve been wrong about things in my life… Let me tell you, I was very wrong about this prospect. 

Comparison was a boogeyman in my life long before I had this conversation. Before I was hit by a drunk driver. I was at constant odds with myself and my place in American culture. My boogeymen were my peers and friends from college. I’d compare myself to them because I was neither an American Citizen nor what I felt to be accomplished in my career. While there is nothing undignified about working in service or retail, of which I have done both, it always made me feel less than folks I knew who were working bigger jobs than my own. 

It always stung a little hard when I was a Postmates driver and I delivered food to wildly successful people. Meeting them only face to face in this setting always made me feel like I was never remotely close to their heights. Some were kind, others were not, but they were all my boogeymen. Representations of what it would be like if maybe I was an American and my passion hit it big with the people. (Shoutout to Kate Hudson for saving my Christmas with a large tip.) I remember distinctly one night while delivering food, a peer of mine was announced to play Coachella. I was on Mulholland Drive when I saw it pop up on my feed. I started crying my eyes out. I extended congratulations, but not without sourness. I spent the whole night trying not to ride off a cliff or give up on my dreams. But as we all do, I used that as motivation to prove myself, to make better music, to put myself out there, and to not let it get to me. Ultimately to defeat the boogeyman. 

Unfortunately, a very real boogeyman by way of a drunk driver ran me over amidst my stride to what I was convinced would be my success. 

As I lay in the hospital, my legs became my boogeymen. I had to learn to walk again, to endure pain, to endure life. But once again, I used the boogeymen as a means to motivate myself out of bed, to walk out of that hospital myself. PTSD was next. I remember making a point of visiting the site of the crime as soon as I was released from the hospital. I thought that every boogeyman that made itself known to me needed to be defeated. It was justified to discredit the astounding merit that was walking, because I felt that if I allowed myself the feelings of accomplishment that came with it I would seize to fight. 

These feelings endured until I saw my numbers rise in my music career and I felt comfortable enough to pursue that full-time. The COVID boogeyman and everything else be damned, I was set to make this a living. To defeat and overcome the boogeymen that haunted me before I nearly died. But then came the boogeymen of the music industry. With every label meeting came a boogeyman who made it clear that I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t fit their slate for my “non-urban Latin” styles. Well, to hell with them, I would say. I held out and found a record deal and was poised to make my first album. Boogeymen were finally defeated. No need to look back, no need to compare, I’ve conquered the world. So I thought. 

Whether you’re in bed, on the toilet, or lounging on your couch, chances are you’re on your phone. It’s become such a passive activity that sadly, I sometimes equate it to daydreaming. As passive as this activity might feel, it’s also a wonderful place to torture yourself with the helping hand of whoever or whatever your boogeyman might be. I was very naive to think that the boogeymen were gone. They sprouted as I went along with life even though my life was more stable than ever before. 

In my youth, it was easy to look at my grades on a math test and then look over at my friends and compare my answers. There was a definitive reasoning behind why I got something wrong and they got something right. Nowadays, those numbers don’t provide the same feeling when comparing myself, because the reasoning is abstract, confusing, and ultimately unfair.  

I don’t know if there is truth in a band having more monthly listeners than me because we are of a different race or socio-economic background, but I do know that it’ll make me feel bad enough about myself to make it true to me. This is how boogeymen get made. I compare myself using some truths and vast unknowns to give birth to the very thing that will haunt me, because this is the only way I know how to move forward. 

Is this the appropriate formula? God no. But it seems to be the only one I know. And it’s for that very reason that thought processes like these create boogeymen. It’s in these profound comparisons that hit an unchanging personal core that we truly become haunted by them. Because I can’t change certain parts about myself, I must feel bad enough to push against myself and the resistance of my environment. It’s not healthy. It’s soured me to the extent that I can’t look at someone else’s accomplishment and be congratulatory. Instead, I think about how bad I should feel about myself for not being at their level. It’s unending because my phone and the world that exists within it have given me the freedom to create countless boogeymen to haunt me. It’s embarrassing. 

I’m a 31-year-old person avoiding stories and posts because they’ll wreck and haunt me for the rest of the day. I make my wife give me margins of where I am on Spotify so that I feel more secure about my future. It’s childish. I’m like a kid asking their parent to check everywhere in the room before I can safely go to bed. I want to just be able to look without fear. Do I know how? I don’t know if I do. 

I think we are too tied to technology to not have boogeymen. Every year someone younger than you has your dream come true and you’re going to read about it every day for a couple of months on your phone. There’s no avoiding it. Boogeymen have a way of finding you because wherever there is light there is dark. I hope that one day I will no longer be afraid of the dark. That I can be safe in my environment and pay no thought to what I do or how well it does. I don’t know how to get there, but I do know that maybe by acknowledging these boogeymen I can safely coexist with them long enough to learn how to live with them. 

(Photo Credit: Rob Klassen)

Nacho Cano was born in Mexico City and now resides in Los Angeles, California.

He attended the California Institute of the Arts where he sound designed and mixed numerous animated projects that have exhibited in festivals around the world. He helped teach sound design courses for graduate and undergraduate students.

His musical project Twin Cabins has released one mixtape, I’m Sure, and one full length LP, Harmless Fantasies.

He currently works on mixing both music and films for various artists around Los Angeles. Under his new music moniker Harmless, he recently released an EP A Donde Te Vas?.