Welcome back to our series Ask Angella, where we do exactly that.
If you’ve ever had a potentially sensitive creative question, we want you to throw it our way so that we can hand it over to Angella: our resident art writer, expert, and all-around kind, funny and wise human being. Here’s the question we’ll tackle this month:
“I know I shouldn’t compare myself to people, but with endless access to other people’s lives on social media it is SO hard not to. What’s the best way to stay connected to the world around me without falling into an endless “they’re better than me” rabbit hole?”
They say comparison is the thief of joy. They also say humans tend to imitate each other when they don’t know what else to do. In psychology, the act of mirroring is a method we humans use to bond with each other (test it out: next time you’re with a friend take out your phone and see how long it takes them to do the same). So it makes sense that when you admire another artist’s work or witness creative success you want to be as close to it as possible. We may look at that artist’s career trajectory or their particular methods and initiate a dangerous process: comparing yourself. Almost immediately you realize that you lack crucial similarities because, surprise, you are nothing like them! Because you’re you! And yet that doesn’t stop you from deeply milling their Instagram for clues and criticizing yourself along the way. Feeling inspired by someone else’s work is a good way to get motivated but beating yourself up is never a fair fight. Nearly everyone I know (and I guarantee even more) struggles with this nasty habit, so here are a few tips.
Define success for yourself
A little competition is healthy, but when you compare yourself to someone else you’re focusing on who you aren’t, rather than who you are. Everyone’s timeline is different and comparing your failure to someone else’s greatest hits is not only an inaccurate measuring system, it’s just a waste of time. Being inspired by someone’s achievement is a great way to motivate yourself but it doesn’t mean you have to aspire to the same triumphs as them. What does success look like to you? What are your goals? Being caught up in someone else’s dream leaves no room for you to thrive. Besides it’s likely that what you’re comparing yourself to doesn’t even exist.
Limit time spent on social media
O Instagram. Land of a thousand photo’d brunches and self-promotion. If I had a dollar for everytime I felt like hell while scrolling mindlessly through my Instagram feed, I’d be moderately wealthy. Social media tends to be ground zero for practicing the brutal art of competition and taking a break is never a bad idea. The world is dense with fascinating people, one of which is you. If you’re human and full of shortcomings, than so is the person you’re comparing yourself to. Idealizing someone’s life remits the reality that they’re just humans! Plus, mindless scrolling is just bad for your brain. What are you into when you’re not leveraging up or looking at Instagram? Trust your taste and talent by cleansing your palate. When’s the last time you looked at some art and didn’t post it to your Insta stories?
Know thyself and love thyself
Accepting your flaws can be difficult, but it’s work never wasted. Knowing how you work, what you’re good at and what challenges you is a strong defense against comparison. Counting up how much you suck is going to only going to steal time and energy away from making your own work. As cheese ball as it sounds, make a list of your positive traits. Include everything you’re good at and what you like about yourself. Remind yourself that Rome, or your creative empire, wasn’t built in a day. When you feel that doubt creeping back in, sit with it but remember that it’s only taking you away from that vibrant future you saw reflected in someone else. As my dad says, you can always find someone more talented, more beautiful, more wealthy than you, but no one can replicate who you are. Cultivate yourself, everyone else is already taken.
All artwork featured in this post can be found here. Header art by Lauren Zaknoun.
Want more sage advice? Check out our Ask Angella archives