How do you stop comparing yourself to others when you hold a device in your hand all day that shows you everyone else’s highlight reel? I don’t have all the answers to this question, but today I’m going to share with you the perspective I’ve taken on comparison, which has really helped me in my creative journey (as well as my career).
Comparison happens to us all
This morning I woke up early and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I was scrolling through Facebook notifications from the lettering community I co-manage, The Letter Lovelies, and I came across a post from one of our community members expressing how tough it is for her to deal with comparing her work to others’ work. Immediately my reaction was “I feel you girl,” and when I saw that there were 54 comments on the post I knew that there were a lot of others who felt the same way.
Comparison is a natural thing, especially when others’ work is so visible these days due to social media. And to a certain extent, this can be good if it is channeled into motivation. But, let’s face it, most of the time it’s not. Most of the time this is how it goes: “Oh wow, they did [insert basically anything] so much better than I ever could. I may as well just give up.” Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt that way. I know I have.
So how you stop comparing yourself to others? For me, it’s all been about trying to reframe my thinking when it comes to comparison. There are so many amazing quotes out there about comparison, but two in particular have really shaped the way I approach it.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Yes. This. Thinking back on all the times in my life when I’ve gotten caught up comparing myself to someone else, I realize that when I do that I suck the joy right out of myself. Whether it’s comparing my body to someone else’s body, my work to someone else’s work, or really anything else you can compare – it’s a joy-stealing activity. I never feel good about myself after I take a trip down comparison lane. And what I’ve started to realize is that comparing myself to someone else is completely unfair. It discredits all of my life experiences that have brought me to the place I am today, and immediately puts someone else’s life or work or looks above my own. This type of comparison thrives on that little voice inside all of our heads telling us that we’re not good enough. Let me tell ya, that little voice needs to go take a hike, like yesterday.
Reframe your thinking
When I find myself falling into the comparison trap, I try to reframe my thinking. Yes, okay, maybe so-and-so’s lettering is “better” than mine. I’m not about to say I’m the best at lettering, because I know I’m not, and how would you even quantify that anyway? But when I start to look at other peoples’ work and get those thoughts of “I’ll never be that good,” I try to redirect my thinking to why I’m attracted to their work (or, honesty hour here y’all, why I’m intimidated by it).
What is it that makes me feel like their work is better than mine? Is it more precise? Does it have more variation? Did they choose color combinations I’d never think of in a million years? Okay, I can work with all of those things – because none of them point back to me being deficient, and instead point to the other person’s skills they’ve worked on and honed. If their work is more precise than mine, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they probably spend more time practicing than I do. At this point, I practice when I can and I’m okay with how much practice time I put in (aka I’m not willing to put in more, even if that means my work isn’t as precise as someone else’s). If they have more variation in their work, maybe they’ve taken classes geared specifically toward that and they’ve learned other styles that I haven’t mastered yet. You can’t help what you don’t know, right? Immediately I feel better. Or if they consistently choose color combinations I wouldn’t think of, instead of being envious of their amazing color pairing skills, I tell myself that I need to learn from that person and pull inspiration from their work.
Someone else’s success is not your failure
This way of reframing my thinking leads me to another quote I really like about comparison – “Someone else’s success is not your failure.” (A quick Google search tells me this quote is attributed to a lot of people, so let’s just say that it’s a pretty popular quote.) When I was scrolling through the comments on the post in The Letter Lovelies that sparked this blog post, I saw a few comments that went something like this: “I’m frustrated because my Instagram following isn’t growing, and other people who started after me keep growing faster than I am.” Trust me, as someone who manages social media for a living, I understand your frustration.
Instagram in particular is a tricky beast. It’s part of my job to pay attention to social influencers (people who carry influence through their social media presence), and there are people I track whose work is absolutely stunning yet their follower number pales in comparison to other people who don’t appear to have as much range in their work but their growth is explosive. I say this to show you that the little number beside your account that tracks how many people are following you really has no correlation to how “good” you are. So please, if you get nothing else from this post, stop using that as a measurement of your worth. It’s a social media metric, and nothing more.
Really, someone else’s success is NOT your failure
But back to the point here – really, who cares if someone who started after you has gained more followers? What does their success do to harm you? I’m going to repeat this quote again because it’s so important: Someone else’s success is NOT your failure. Just because someone else has a bigger following than you, or has had impressive opportunities, or has sold $1 million on Etsy in the past year, doesn’t mean that you’re somehow failing at what you’re doing. If you want to accomplish the same things, you can. It’s as simple as that. I know you’re probably thinking “But I have [insert reason you haven’t reached the same level of success] that’s causing me to not be able to do [whatever that thing is the other person accomplished].” Yep, you probably do have that obstacle in your way. But guess what? That person you’re comparing yourself to has stuff going on too – you just don’t have the luxury of knowing that that is. If you really want to accomplish something, you’ll find a way to do it.
Sometimes you don’t actually want someone else’s success
There have been times when I’ve seen someone else’s success as my failure, only to stop and take a hard look and realize that the success they had isn’t really a success I’m willing to put the work in for. This takes some real self reflection to come to that conclusion, but it’s so freeing once you do. If you can recognize that even someone else’s success is absolutely amazing, it isn’t actually something you want to accomplish, you free yourself up from comparing what you’re doing to what they’re doing. In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, she says “good for you, not for me” – something can be an amazing success or opportunity for someone else, but maybe it’s not right for you, and that’s totally okay.
And when you do, you’ll work for it
And then, there have been times when I’ve seen someone else’s successes and realized that I do actually want the same thing. So I’ve worked hard for that thing, and achieved it – not as a way of competing with that person, but as a way of using their success as inspiration and motivation for myself.
Two examples of this for myself are teaching lettering classes and writing a book on lettering. I’m not the first person to do either of these things – I saw other people I look up to do them and it sparked a drive in me to do those things too. Both have required A LOT of time and effort, and trust me, that back-end time and effort isn’t glamorous in the least bit. If I didn’t really want to do these things for myself, I wouldn’t go through all the time and effort required (which is why I mentioned that sometimes when you see someone else’s successes, you need to be realistic with yourself about whether you’re willing to put in the work required to achieve those successes. In my experience, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can make just about anything happen for yourself.)
Climb out of the comparison hole
I think what all of this ends up circling back to is that when you start falling into the trap of comparison, the easiest way to climb out of that hole is to change the way you’re thinking. Instead of focusing on how great someone else is and why that makes you awful in comparison, focus on the reasons for those differences. If you have to make up reasons to stop the comparison train of thought, make them up! I’ve found that for myself, the faster I can stop those comparison thoughts, the faster I can get back to working on things that matter and that will grow my own skills.
How do you stop comparing yourself to others? I’d love to hear your tactics, tips and tricks in the comments!