A Letter On Creativity & Comparison

The following email was reposted with permission.

Dear Ash,

A large part of why I create is because I don’t know who I am without it. I especially love that through creating I’m able to make people feel like themselves. Because for so long, that’s what creating has meant for me. It’s been both a dream and a promise.

Then I made the mistake of playing the comparison game. I spent way too many hours looking at Instagram posts and blog posts and views and comments. I’m almost entirely certain I had at least sixteen different tabs open on my laptop at one point just so I could see where I was going ‘wrong’. Why I had less views, fewer comments.

I was a few hours into the comparison game when I took a look at every hurdle I’d overcome. And I thought to myself :

‘My struggles will forever mean I’ll always have to work twice as hard to be successful. And because of that, I will never succeed as a creative. Everything will come easier to everyone than it will to me.’

But now I’m exhausted. I’ve spent so much time hating on everything that’s brought me joy over the past few years to want to do any of the things that genuinely make me excited about life. The comparison game has mentally and creatively drained me and for the first time in a long time, I’m not excited to create.

Has this ever happened to you? Any ideas on how to solve it?

All my love,

A


Dear A,

When I first started writing, I declared that I was going to publish a blog post every week. I was going to show up, be consistent, and see that commitment through. For a while, I kept that promise. I would pull up a blank page every week and write all the stories and words I wished I could have read when I was younger. I had pent up my creativity for so long that when I finally had the chance to write, it all came flowing out. When my blog was shiny and new, I was so grateful to have just one person read my words. Any more than that was the cherry on top.

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you become aware of something, you start to see it everywhere? It’s like when you get a new pair of boots, and you suddenly notice it on the feet of everyone your cross paths with. That phenomenon is known as ‘frequency illusion.’ Now that I had carved out my own corner of the internet, it felt like every man, woman, and dog was trying to establish themselves online. As I consumed more of their content, I started to feel a twinge of envy here and an ache over there. There were so many brilliant creatives out there with a huge audience. Why would anyone care about me? How was I to succeed? These writers were so much better than me so what was the point?

Like you, I started to play the comparison game. I became torn up over the numbers and I agonised over why other people were getting a better return on investment than I was.

So, I stopped writing.

I justified to myself that I was merely giving myself space to focus on my clients and prioritise the writing that was going to get me paid. But the truth was: my inspiration had dried up. My willpower had deserted me. Writing had become a chore and the joy I once felt for creating was stifled by the thoughts that I wasn’t enough.

You and I are very similar, A. We attach so much of ourselves to our work. We bare the most vulnerable part of our souls and we feel crushed when it seems like nobody cares. Left unchecked, that crushing feeling is what drives so many people to give up on blogs halfway, close up businesses, and deactivate Instagram accounts.

Here’s what I know about the comparison game: there are no winners. While you’re comparing yourself to that writer, they’re probably comparing themselves to someone else. The result is two individuals who feel deflated and less-than.

Comparison also gives you an incomplete picture. It’s a flawed view of someone else’s life. It’s easy to look at other people’s creations and see all the things they’re doing better than you.

But you literally have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes.

This could be their 3rd attempt at creating a blog. They could have been honing their craft behind the scenes for years and only choosing to share it with the world now. They could have messaged all their friends and asked them to leave likes and comments. For every successful blog post you see, there are pages and pages of drafts that never got to see the light of day.

It’s normal as a creative in 2020 to get caught up in social media and the numbers. But here’s some tough love: there will always be someone out there with better metrics than you. Even if you were to reach a goal of 10,000 readers, there will be someone else out there who has 20,000. Chasing metrics is a race you will never win. The magic lies in going deeper with the readers you already have, not wider.

That being said, you can’t create from a burnt out place, A. It’ll only turn you bitter and cynical. Take the time to have a break from the pressure to create for others and just rest. Use the ‘mute’ button and pull yourself away from the comparison game. Take heart in the fact that even if other people have a bigger audience, there are people that only you will be able to reach.

The ability to create is a privilege. Focus on the joy that creating used to bring you. Perhaps you can try exercising your creativity using a different medium, like through cooking, music, or pottery. Don’t do it for the purpose of uploading it to Instagram and gaining views & likes– create just for yourself.

There will come a time when you’ll be ready to come back and start publishing your words again. When you do, remember that you’re not ‘going wrong.’ There isn’t something inherently wrong with you that makes you unlikely to succeed. The obstacles and struggles that you think disqualify you from succeeding as a creative is actually the secret sauce that sets you apart. No one else will live your story and tell it in the raw and honest way that you do. Someone, somewhere is going to need to hear how you held firmly to your courage and made it through to the other side.

Before you get lost in a sea of numbers, views, and likes, remember why you set out to create in the first place.

Encouraging you always,

Ash


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The Weeds That Trap Us: Thoughts on Comparison

@priii_barbosa

To know me is to know that I’m a hoarder of journals and scrap pieces of paper with ‘notes to self’ scribbled on them. I love reading the stories I used to write about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. It’s a testament to how much things can change in a single year.

As I pulled my notebooks off the shelf and skimmed through the brittle pages, a multitude of memories flashed through my mind about the angsty struggles and insecurities I used to face. Hard conversations with friends exposing where I really put my worth. Having to say goodbye to someone before their chapter was truly finished. Playing small because I was too fearful of showing up. Watching other people live out the storyline I wanted for myself.

I say I ‘used to’ face these insecurities, but really, a lot of them are still flaring up in the present. Like babies that demand your full attention, these insecurities cry out and whinge until you start devoting all your energy to them.

The loudest of these is comparison.

Comparison has always been a struggle in my life, but I don’t think I ever truly understood how much damage it could inflict until two years ago.

Even to this very day, the memory of having to watch ‘my person’ get with someone else occasionally makes me cringe. I remember feeling overcome with despair as I watched on the sidelines while their storyline unfolded. It was like a tsunami of hurt and pain flooding through me. No survivors were found.

In the aftermath, and even after the punch to my gut had faded away, I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl he had chosen over me.

 “Is it because she’s prettier than me??”

“Is it because she’s smarter than me??”

“Is it because I’m not White??”

Like soldiers on a battlefield, I lined up every single one of our traits and began comparing them in an attempt to search for some sort of certainty. Some reasoning or explanation for why someone else, who was so painfully similar to me, was getting all the things I wanted.  

Every single thought was like a stab wound to my heart and mind- yet somehow, I couldn’t stop indulging in the belief that she must be better than me. As time went on, my uncontrollable urge to compare myself to her, and the inevitable thoughts of discontentment, mixed together to become a poisonous concoction of pain and anger. For months, I resented this person from afar and engaged in a tug-of-war battle in my head over who was better- me or her. Yet somehow, I was always the one losing.

Maybe you’ve never experienced comparison to the same angsty and dramatic extent. But replace my situation with a dream job prospect, a competitor in your business, or someone you follow on social media, and I bet you can start to recognise the discontent feeling that tells you you’re not enough.

Like weeds, comparison begins its lifespan so small and seemingly harmless that we’re initially dismissive of its existence. It starts off with a tiny twinge here, and a throbbing ache there. Its birthed from a small question, ‘why doesn’t my life look like theirs?’ and grows into a nutrient sucking force that wails ‘why aren’t I enough?’

You become wholeheartedly convinced that you’re inadequate and you’ll never measure up. You resolve to do whatever you can to close the gap between you and this idea of ‘enough,’ only to find it’s a never-ending uphill battle. For me, I became embroiled in the lie that I was destined to watch other people live out the story I always wanted.

Distrust and bitterness grow rampant when we continue to water the seeds of comparison. Left unchecked, it can entangle us in a never-ending cycle of wondering why other people have it better and easier than us. It can choke the life out of the dreams we’ve planted for ourselves and make us question if it’s even worth tending to our garden if someone else’s is just going to look better. It can be the driving force that compels us to keep striving to prove we’re worthy- only to leave us burnt out in the end.

Nobody wins when we engage in this battle of comparing ourselves to others.  Whether you’ve waged full-blown warfare against someone, or just made snarky digs at them in your mind, it’s a futile fight against the wrong enemy.

I think that comparison latches onto our hearts so easily because we want to become somebody. We just want to know that our efforts to make our lives meaningful, are going to pay off. So, when we see someone else get the things we want it can make us feel robbed. We wonder what’s wrong with us that we couldn’t achieve the same thing even with all our striving. Underlying all of this is the belief that other people deserve good things, but not us.

Two years on from that fateful event, I now know that what’s good for someone else, isn’t necessarily good for me. What one person perceives as a blessing, someone else is having to deal with the side effects that come alongside it.

Once I could separate myself from the poisonous fog that was clouding my mind, I could see that what I so desperately wanted was (thankfully) never supposed to be mine. I could see that, though my vison and goals looked similar to others, I was on my own, unique path that nobody else could claim.

Comparison is not something you conquer. It’s something you continuously acknowledge. I don’t think it’s something that we triumph over once and then move on with our lives without ever measuring ourselves again. Rather, we must intentionally uproot the lies every time it strikes our most vulnerable areas.

Although I’ve moved on from that event, I can still feel comparison’s snare around the parts of my life that I’ve invested in. I may not be competing for a legal job anymore, but I’m still wondering why other creative businesses are flourishing more than mine. I may not be competing for a guy’s attention, but I’m still fretting over why certain relationships in my life look different from other people’s.  

Comparison recently flared up again when I was scrolling through the posts of a writer I deeply admired on Instagram. Though I owe a lot of my bravery and wisdom to her, I couldn’t help but feel familiar twinges of discontentment whenever her posts popped up on my screen.

“I wish I could be as cool as her,” was the thought that kept circling through my mind as I watched her life play out on the screen.

‘Why is she making more of an impact than me?’

‘Why is she more successful than me?’

‘Why can’t I be more like her?’

It got to the point where I had to sit down over Skype and have a conversation with her about what I was feeling.

“I fear I’m trying to become too much like you and it’s manifesting itself in the way I write,” I told her.

“You’re not me and you never will be,” she told me. “You have you own stories to tell, and dreams and wisdom that’s yours and only yours. Focus on that.”

The lesson I learnt that day?

We were never created to be like someone else. We were never meant to follow someone else’s story. There is a plan and a path of your life that’s reserved for you and you only. Though you may be aspiring for the same things as him or her, and though they may have gotten it ‘first,’ it doesn’t detract from the truth that there’s something out there for you too.

There are stories only you can tell. There are gifts only you possess. It’s not a cliché to say you’re unique – it’s fact. You can’t compare two vastly different lives.

The irony is that, while you’re over here looking at another person’s life, someone else is probably wondering why they aren’t more like you.

And how heartbreaking would it be if you never discovered your full potential because you were too busy trying to imitate someone else.

So let me leave you with this, dear reader.

There is a seat for you at the table.

There is enough blessings and abundance in this world for both you and her to achieve the things you want.

Someone else’s success doesn’t take away the fact that there is so much purpose and impact running through your veins.

No amount of striving will change the fact that you’re already enough.

Though you may not see the path laid out before you, rest assured it’s there and it’s not going to be like everyone else’s.

How boring would it be if we all received the same things at the same time? What kind of storyline would that be? There wouldn’t be any room for redemption and triumph. No euphoric, uplifting thoughts of ‘it was all worth it.’

So how do you remove the weeds of comparison from your heart?

You unclench your fists and bless the other person. You stop thinking of them as someone to compete with, and wish them well on their journey. You pull on your gloves and start uprooting the lies that you are inadequate and that other people are better than you. You sow the seeds of truth that good things are on its way to you too.

I don’t promise it’ll be easy. There have been so many times where I have wished blessings over other people’s lives only to still feel angry the very next day. Even in the middle of writing this, I saw a post from someone else and got so triggered I had to stop writing.

But there is value in uprooting our tendency to compare. There’s gold in remembering who you are and the fact that you’re one of a kind.

You’re on your own journey babe, and nobody can steal that away from you.

Encouraging you always,

Ash xx


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