The Detriment of Comparison

January 19, 2016
6 min. read

Being on the Internet is like traveling into a black hole; once you enter into the coded realm, it takes hold and sucks you into an endless abyss. There have been countless times when I intended to research one thing and, without fail, would get distracted by clicking on some funny video, then wanting to watch more funny videos and somehow end up entranced by a dancing seaweed man in a tutu, showing off his spotlight-mangina. If getting distracted isn't bad enough, the web is also plagued with people displaying their successful lives and all the accomplishments you wish you had. Everyone boasts about their credentials: where they've been featured, awards they've won, who they've met, the amazing job they just got, their next fabulous project. It makes you feel like you're the only person not advancing in life. For me, online inspiration can definitely add to a brainstorming session, but there's also a fine line between being inspired and getting discouraged.

Let me explain: I can spend several hours reading articles, admiring design projects and browsing influential websites, but inevitably, I will cross into the threshold of comparing myself to others and lose motivation to be productive. There are individuals who become motivated from seeing other people's work and achievements. Then, there are people like me who end up feeling like a complete failure for not being featured in The New York Times or not having made the Forbes list of 30 under 30, because I've passed my prime, or won some prestigious award for conserving the Borneo Rainforest.

When I get into this state of mind, you know what I do? Nothing. Not a damn thing. And after having done nothing, I'm disappointed in myself for not following through on what I initially set out to accomplish; it's an annoying endless cycle and only perpetuates the feeling of inadequacy. Truth is, everybody compares themselves to other people, it's a human condition that lives in all of us and stems from our insecurities and profound need for validation. However, what we often forget, or don't realize, is that these displays of success are polished presentations. We don't get behind-the-scenes access to people's everyday struggles, developments, sacrifices and all the grit that led to their final outcome. Eliminating the process gives the illusion that they magically became successful overnight, and consequently, hinders our ability to produce because we're too busy feeling sorry for ourselves.

Lately, I've tried to be more aware of these moments. When the feeling of discouragement starts creeping in, I immediately shift my attention to doing something productive. Even if it's completing a small task, I'll be in a better headspace because it puts me one step closer to tackling my overarching goals. This approach also allows my creativity to flow organically, without the distraction of preemptively judging the outcome, and therefore, giving me the ability to produce at my fullest potential. The best ideas are usually born from unbridled exploration when we permit ourselves to unload all the weird ideas even if none of them make any sense. I remember sitting in Art History class and—during the few times I actually payed attention—we learned about an artist named Kazimir Malevich, who was famous for his 'Black Square' painting—it's basically a canvas that's painted completely black with nothing on it. I sat there thinking: What?? I could've done that! But I didn't. Someone else did and they figured out how to make it work. Now it's in Art History books. Remember when the Snuggie was invented? Someone was probably sitting on their couch, eating Cheetos, and was like you know what would be a brilliant idea? A blanket with sleeves! And their friends and family probably said, um how about no, that's the worst idea I've ever heard. And the person was like, eff y'all, I'm going to make this thing. When it launched, everyone said it was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever seen and who the heck was going to wear a robe that had an uncanny resemblance to a white supremacist uniform? In the end, it turned out to be a multi-million dollar idea, and now people are like: why the heck didn't I think of that? This is the type of stuff I use to motivate myself when I get discouraged from seeing people's brilliant ideas and collection of accolades. If someone can make an all-black canvas with nothing on it become part of Art History, or develop a KKK-looking blanket robe-thing that generated millions of dollars, then I'd like to think there's a space for my crazy-ass ideas too.

This quote perfectly sums up my on-going struggle with output. I've allowed discouragement to overtake my level of productivity for so long that it prevented me from exploring and building out the ideas I had floating around in my head. Living in a city surrounded by high-achieving individuals and known for its 'rat race' mentality, one can easily feel defeated when running in a race that's not theirs to run. The most valuable lesson I've learned is the importance of navigating life by our own timetable. If we see other people launching their parachute but we're only half way up the mountain, it doesn't make sense to turn around and walk back down. The length of time it takes to reach your destination is irrelevant as long as you don't submit to staying anchored. Keep walking, even if numerous people pass you along the way; eventually, you'll reach the top and seize your moment of flight.

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