The Joy Thief: How Comparison Kills Your Creativity + 3 Tips to Kick it to the Curb

This blog post is going to be a little different from my more bookish related content, and I appreciate you all bearing with me through this. My mental health has been all over the place recently, and I’m sure a lot of people can say the same. The world is a scary place – in general, and especially right now with an actual pandemic looming over all of our heads every day.

With so many of us spending more time at home, it stands to reason that we’re spending more time online now than maybe ever. You might have noticed an increase in your friend’s posts recently, or a change in tone from some of the people you follow as they try to adjust and deal with the changes around us. A lot of people – me included – have started finding a way to channel the feelings we’re experiencing in response to what’s happening through creative means – by writing, by painting, by gardening, by baking.

Focusing on the silver lining of a situation isn’t always easy, and it takes practice to be able to see something good amidst all the bad. Recently, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the silver linings in my day-to-day; from being able to spend more time at home with my boyfriend, to seeing new things being created by friends who previously didn’t have the time to devote to art, or cooking, or their spirituality. Seeing people find bright spots in the middle of all this in turn provides a bright spot for me, and I love the ripple effect it seems to have.

That said, with a silver lining has to come a bit of darkness as well. If a portion of a thing is brightly shining, that typically means there’s some other part of it cast in shadow – that’s just the way things are, and this situation is no exception.

While I’ve been loving the things my friends and the people I follow have been creating, I’ve noticed something uncomfortable happening. With each new success, with each new achievement, with each new announcement, I’ve found myself wondering more and more – why not me?

Now, I want to be very clear here: I’m not at all saying that I wish these successes for myself in place of them for other people. That isn’t who I am as a person, and I hope that those reading this know that about me by now! Absolutely the opposite, I celebrate these new successes and milestones with my loudest cheers, and am genuinely happy for each person I know who is accomplishing something right now, whatever that may be. I’m excited to see the new things my friends are working on, and more than happy to give them a signal boost & spread the word when possible – sharing is caring!

But I also want to be very honest with you if you’re reading this, and sometimes honesty isn’t that pretty.

I’m happy for the success of other people while simultaneously wishing I were successful, too – and sometimes that results in me feeling bad about myself, like I’m just not good enough to be where they are. I end up comparing myself to other people, measuring my own achievements against theirs, honing in only on the parts that I lack, or ‘don’t measure up’.

I suffer from imposter syndrome on even the best of days, but when I’m watching the people around me absolutely glow up while I struggle to gather the will to have my first meal of the day at 7 PM, that bad boy syndrome kicks into overdrive and I’m left questioning myself, and why I’ve had the absolute audacity to even consider for a minute that I could produce anything of quality or of value.

I end up talking myself out of projects I was once excited for, convinced that I won’t be able to accomplish what I want to. I stop promoting my blog posts and my Patreon because I’m positive people are sick of hearing from me. I put half-finished paintings away, sure that there’s no point to completing them because nobody will like them anyway.

I effectively stunt my own growth, abilities, and success because it’s easier to convince myself that I have nothing to offer in comparison to what other people are producing and putting out into the world. And the only person this hurts is me!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting better things for yourself, especially when you’re faced with that ‘better’ happening for other people. As long as you don’t find these feelings turning into negative thoughts toward these other people (for example, being vindictive or mean), and recognize that they’re just feelings coming from you wanting to be successful yourself (which isn’t a bad thing!), you can actually use them to your advantage!

Creating in spite of your ‘bad brain’ telling you that you shouldn’t is an act of defiance all by itself, and it’s one that we should all be putting our fullest efforts into right now. Comparison really is the thief of joy, and we need all the joy we’ve got right now – swiper, no swiping!

Dora refs aside, I mainly wanted to write this to get some stuff ‘off my shoulders’, so to speak, but also to tell you that if any of this sounds like you or sounds similar to things you’ve felt or feel, please know that you aren’t alone. And the weirdest part? I can almost guarantee that the person you’re looking up to for being successful has moments like this, too.

I put together a short list of things that help me to do and to remember when I’m noticing that my abilities to create are being hindered by my ability to self-sabotage, and I hope they help!

1) We all have something different to bring to the table – and the table is BIG!

Just because you’re doing something similar to someone else doesn’t make what you’re doing any less valuable (as long as you’re not ripping anyone off, of course!). Maybe you have a Patreon with less subscribers than someone else, or maybe you notice that you have less likes or followers than another person you admire – that’s okay! Keep doing you regardless of what other people are accomplishing. The blog posts and short stories and artwork and music you’re putting out is STILL important and it’s STILL valuable, even if it’s not getting as much attention as something else. Be consistent, and be true to yourself – which brings me to my next piece of advice!

2) Create for yourself, first and foremost.

One of my favorite artists who I’m also happy to call a friend recently told me that he’s struggled with creating stuff in the past because he was doing it for the wrong reasons. Once he started realizing that creating for himself was the way to go, the world opened up – and now the people who follow his art are people he knows genuinely like the stuff he loves to put out. This is such an important realization to have, and living your own creative life this way can be extremely liberating. If you find that you’re uninspired producing content for your audience, try to hone in on what got you started to begin with, and follow that passion to its roots. Put out the stuff you believe in, promote the hell out of it, and your audience will find its way to you.

3) Give back to the people that inspire you.

Have you ever noticed that on a bad day sometimes being nice to someone makes you feel a little bit better? While it’s usually true that misery loves company to thrive, it’s also equally true that misery can usually be defeated with a little bit of kindness. If you’re feeling especially down or uninspired, try reaching out to the people that you admire and tell them that they’ve had a positive impact on you. Pay someone a compliment, boost someone’s new art project, contribute to a Kickstarter project you believe in. Doing good makes you feel good!

BONUS) Keep going.

Sometimes you’re not going to feel like creating, and sometimes you’re going to hate everything you do. That’s okay. During a conversation about writing with one of my favorite authors, he mentioned in response to my worry about being awful at it that, as long as I didn’t stop and kept going, trying, writing – I couldn’t fail. This was really helpful advice, and it’s super freeing as well – especially for those times when I feel blocked by myself, and want to just get something out. You don’t have to tackle a huge book or a full painting – just do something small. Sometimes being overwhelmed by the idea of a finished product can impact your ability to focus on the journey getting there, and that’s not conducive to putting a person in a creative mindset at all. Be gentle with yourself, and keep going – you’ll get there eventually!

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