In an online world where many of us are tied to computers and social media for our jobs and even hobbies, it's incredibly easy to get sucked up into a cycle of creative doubt and worse, one of toxic comparison. We see an endless barrage of curated clips of the lives of others on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, showcasing only the best of the best in a way that is decidedly not authentic. Surrounded by folks who seem to have it all together makes it all too easy to compare yourself to them and find yourself coming up short. Continued for long enough, this nasty habit can stunt your creativity, damage your potential, and put a serious damper on your creative, personal, and entrepreneurial motivation.
But at times it can seem almost impossible not to attempt to hold yourself up to this standard. It seems simple and achievable for so many people, tantalizingly just out of reach, and it becomes incredibly easy to beat yourself up over not being as good as others.
What's a creative maven to do to get their creative juju back?
1. Ditch social media.
This one becomes a little convoluted if you are required to spend a lot of time on social media for business, blogging, and networking purposes— so maybe I'm not saying ditch social media completely. I am saying, however, that getting away from the influence of social media (sometimes good, sometimes bad, as we've heard so much about recently) will help you see your own purpose and progress with clarity (we'll be writing an entire post about how to successfully juggle the two shortly, so keep an eye out for that!).
Schedule as much of your work-related social media as you can, set a block of time during the day when you absolutely need to be on social media, and otherwise stay away. Not only will you have less available to compare yourself with, you'll be saving time, getting more efficient, and improving your own craft in the process. Never forget that everything you're seeing on social media, much like a film or song, is completely filtered through the lens of that person's ideal— we all do it ourselves. It's not fair to compare your everyday experience— a real one, with highs and lows each day— to their carefully curated highlights. Let's say it all together now:
I WILL NOT COMPARE MYSELF TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET.
If you're in desperate need of some internet-related distraction in your workday, check out my collection of the top 10 places to find happiness + positivity online.
The Challenge: Schedule one or two slots a day when social media interactions will happen. This INCLUDES the personal type— consider one block of time for work-related, and one for personal. Make a list of the places you engage in some self-sabotaging toxic comparison and work to reduce their presence in your daily habits.
2. Focus on yourself
This particular point works fabulously in tandem with the first one. By removing the influence of others from your work, you can really get to focusing on yourself. Why are you making art? What is it you are hoping to learn from the process? What are you trying to improve?
It really is about you, after all. Often when we doubt our abilities, it is because we are focused on how other people will perceive them. If Neil Gaiman is out there, how will people ever appreciate my art? It's a difficult feeling to overcome, but it helps to remember that the best art is often made when trying to impress and please yourself, and not others. Many writers produce their best books when they were simply writing something that they would want to read. Many beautiful paintings were created simply because something of a scene struck the painter as beautiful or unique.
The opinions of others are just that— opinions. Though you may doubt that others will see your art is good enough, what matters is that you see it as good enough. Art is an expression of your innermost self. It doesn't matter what others are doing. It matters what YOU are doing.
The Challenge: Answer some of these questions for yourself. Why are you making art? What is it you hope to learn? How do you want to grow in your art and otherwise this year?
3. Compare with yourself
"I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be." Joan Didion
You are your best competition, I promise you. There is nothing better to compare yourself with than the person you were ten minutes ago, yesterday, last week, or last year. This is the truest indicator of progress you will ever have, and the only one that really matters. All we can do it try to wake up, and do a better job today than we did yesterday.
This type of comparison is the most accurate type, as we are able to see ourselves the way we were in the past with (relatively) little illusion. In looking back at our previous experiences we can honour all of our successes, even if we don't think they measure up to the successes of others. Success is relative, and your small successes can be the big, epic, heart-pounding successes of others. It's horrifically unfair to yourself to compare your current beginning to someone else's middle or end. You wouldn't look at the sketches of a nine year old and say It's good Amy, but honestly, not Da Vinci. By comparing your current self to your myriad previous selves, you are also able to notice progress, success and failure, where you may not have even noticed it before. It's very easy to forget how far we've come. When we compare with ourselves we can see where we went wrong, or why something didn't work out. This is much more conducive to future growth than the endless comparison of yourself and others.
On an average day I don't consider myself to be a spectacular knitter with mad needle skills. But then I look back to how I knit when I was first learning, and would rip out an entire project when I dropped a stitch because I didn't know how to fix it, and I see how far I've really come. That's epic. And that's the kind of progress that really matters.
The Challenge: Think back on your progress, even if it's something you currently feel like you're struggling with. Can you see how far you've come?
4. Humanize Your Competition
There is a bit of a lie in this title, as you shouldn't be seeing the other folks as your competition anyway, but that's how it it's gonna be. The best way to get past seeing these people as some sort of untouchable pinnacle of achievement and success is to humanize them. Placing them on a pedestal takes away their humanity and you deprive them of a chance to be authentic. They may have talent, as do you, but it helps to bring their successes into perspective.
They're simple people, just like us. They made many crappy pieces of art. They struggled. They got frustrated, and probably wanted to give up. They were elated, and made art beyond even their imagining. They wanted to throw laptops out they window. They stayed up until four in the morning labouring over a piece (and you shouldn't do this, by the way. Here's why.)
The Challenge: Think about what their day might have been like. How many photos and how long they spent editing to get to that one epic shot. How many times they rewrote that first chapter, or how long they spent choreographing with bloody toes. Take a moment to really appreciate their journey and struggles (broke, shitty relationships, injuries) which led to their successes.
Humans (generally) love ritual. It's such an important facet of our lives, for celebrating birthdays, lives, holiday, academic success— ritual shapes so many of the transitions from one part of life to another that it's hard to imagine what our life would be like without them. And so it should be! Ritual is a great way to mark and hold a moment of appreciation for your successes, and it shouldn't be passed up.
I'm not suggesting you should strip down and party under the full moon (although, yeah, really, you should try it), but small, personal rituals are also a great way to honour your successes, your struggles, and yeah, even for letting go of some seriously failed projects. Celebrate with friends or family the completion of a long-struggle project with a nice dinner or a cake (because yes, cake). Treat yourself to an epic weekend of relaxation and self-care after a scary big choice and settling in for some sweet journalling (yes, I consider that treat, not torture). Most of all, they acknowledge that you did, in fact, have a success. It doesn't have to be as big or as small as the successes of others— what matters is that it was a success for you.
The Challenge: In the planning stages of your next project or creative endeavour, plan out how you will celebrate upon success. Not only does this give you something to look forward to, but it plants the seed of success in your mind from the start, and that's the kind of attitude we like around here!
Which challenge are you going to take? Let me know in the comments!
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