They produce the news; they have three adorable children; they win contests; they travel; they run businesses and run marathons. They know photography, and cooking, and home brewing, and interior design.
But sometimes they’re not my friends at all. Because sometimes I hate them.
On Monday I wrote about creative burnout and how it can relate to letting our work transform us. But that’s not easy when so many other things compete for such a position. Today I’m focusing on the one I and other people seem to struggle with the most: comparison, and with it, envy.
I agree with Theodore Roosevelt that comparison really is the thief of joy. It’s also the thief of rest, of patience, and of diligence, which are all crucial to a successful creative life.
I didn’t always compare myself to everyone else as often as I do now. I simply couldn’t. I’d have to call individual people up and ask them specifically, “What are you doing that, if I knew about it, I’d be tempted to think less of myself?” I chose not to make calls like that, so I did relatively well with envy for a while.
Facebook and Twitter changed all that. Now there are a hundred million things to feel like you’re not doing but should be. For every friend who gets a master’s degree, another has two seemingly perfect children, and another goes to Europe for a vacation. It’s hard to use my analytical skills to remind myself every time I’m online that these aren’t all one person, that they’re only sharing their good moments, and that I’m still enough.
Moments of comparison allow writer’s block to grow like mold. If I let myself think about other people when I’m working, I will give up. I’m that weak.
As I struggled with burnout and tried to identify some factors that got me there, comparison to other people ended up high on the list. Beside it, I made a list of deliberate actions I could take to counter that comparison, and the envy it too often ushers in.
- Using social media sparingly and strategically.
- Investing more time in sacred texts and spiritual development – not everyone will agree, but I find this healing.
- Enjoying natural and urban beauty for its own sake.
- Using laughter and humor as much as possible. (This comes from a great lecture by John Cleese on behaviors that foster creativity.)
- Learning to listen and care on a deeper level than social media, which is just a shell of ourselves. This behavior is also known as “friendship.”
- Surrounding myself with friends who are ambitious but not arrogant.
Perhaps that last one needs some explaining. I enjoy being around ambitious, passionate people. They usually inspire me. But when talk of their work feels like a belittling of mine, it can stall me.
Instead, we should all be striving to work in a way that draws other people in rather than isolates them. We should be networkers, collaborators, and mentors for each other. Doing so would make us all more creative, while giving us a better sense of the harsh realities our friends really go through before those ecstatic Facebook updates.
I know this affects more people than just us creatives. In writing this post, I looked up Teddy Roosevelt’s quote and found similar posts for people in fitness, ministry, and family life. But with a wide range and far reach, artists have a unique position in this common struggle to exemplify collaborative, healthy friendship.
And thus we come full circle from Monday: the ups and downs of creative work can – Nay, must! – transform us. Dealing harshly with our envy might not only give us renewed energy; it could make our creative efforts, and our world, better.
Have you struggled with comparison? Has it affected your work? I’d love to hear other ideas for how to combat it, so please share what you’ve tried!