As my fellow and beloved Missourian, Mark Twain, once said “Comparison is the death of joy.” And boy is it ever. Especially in the design industry. She gets published more than I do. Or, she gets published and I don’t. Or, she gets published in more popular magazines than I do. She has licensing deals. She has a consistent client base. How is she always so phenomenal at choosing the right accessories? People call her back. Her clients don’t pushback on markups. I may have just designed my first full home project ever and I was extremely stoked about it. But now that I know what she accomplished…, I realize that I’m actually just a dreadful failure.
No matter what the comparison is, or what level you’re at, it can be a never ending story. One that quickly spirals out of control. And leads to nothing but terrible outcomes. Bitter jealousy and hatred towards someone. Or, feeling terribly less than. Hopeless. Biting your nails to their gross nubs anxious. But it doesn’t have to be. Nor can it be if you want to be successful. To be successful, you need to spend your time focused on improving rather than comparing.
Just Because They Achieve, Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Too
But there are those who just seem to get it. Who just know that because someone else succeeds, doesn’t mean we can’t. And sometimes it’s the littlest of us that we need to learn from. The other day while visiting a children’s museum, my son watched a young girl struggle to use small wooden beams to build a house. He had already tried a few times but couldn’t as he wasn’t strong enough and didn’t quite understand how at only 17 months. So, he sat and watched her instead.
He watched her go back and forth, trying out different pieces and realizing over and over they didn’t fit. But once she figured out how to properly connect the pieces, he clapped for her and yelled “Yay!!!!. As she put the next piece down, he celebrated her achievement again. He didn’t contemplate whether her achievement meant that he was stupid. Or bound to never make it in life. Or that because she was achieving something, somehow it meant that she was taking his place at the top. Or why could she do it but he couldn’t. Her achievement had nothing to do with his own abilities. He just appreciated it for what it was, another person struggling and working hard for something. And then accomplishing it.
I must say, it was a proud moment. But more than just being a proud parent, I realized how freeing it would be to look at life that way. To realize that someone else’s accomplishments don’t somehow mean we’re a failure if we haven’t achieved the same thing.
But the truth is that we all compare ourselves to others, at least some of the time. So it becomes a question of just how often, how much we let it affect us. Does it keep you up at night? Does it create this constant stir of anger within you? Does it make you constantly wonder if another designer would do it differently? Do you focus more on envying what others are achieving, then being ecstatic about what you are?
Someone else achieving great things doesn’t mean that we can’t do the same. Or that there isn’t room at the top for us. Or that for some reason because she achieves something first, that it makes our achievements less meaningful. Or that we’re not as good because we’re slower to get to wherever we want to go. And remember, we’re only seeing the outside perspective of someone else’s achievements. We never know how much someone else struggled to get where they were. How much mental, emotional, financial struggle they went through. What they’ve sacrificed. And remember, you’re just seeing the highlight reel from someone else’s life. Not the behind the scenes or bloopers shots. And we all have them…
Learn How They Became Successful
Look to others to learn. Not compare. Easier said than done certainly, but if you’re not careful, envy can stunt or even completely stop growth. I know it’s happened to me. In my recently acquired baking hobby, comparison is something I constantly struggle with. Their cake isn’t dry like mine. Their pie crust has more flakes than mine. Their macarons have a delicate eggshell like crack and mine are hard to cut through with a knife. I think, should I just quit? Maybe I’ll never be as good as they are. Because if I’m not that good now, why even continue? Ugh, maybe my desserts are actually vile. And people secretly spit them out and frantically scrape their tongue off when I’m not looking. Maybe I should just do something else…
But really, what does that do? Comparing ourselves to others? Especially to those way above our own talents at the moment? Instead of comparing, we need to study their work. Analyze the hell out of it. Pick out every item in that impeccably designed room that’s on the cover that you wanted and understand why it’s so spectacular. Why it got that cover. Read everything you can on them to find out how they got to where they are. Take a chance and reach out to them to ask just how they did it. But don’t compare yourself to them. Comparing your business or designs to the likes of Phoebe Howard, Vicente Wolf, or Kelly Wearstler is like me comparing my 6 month hobby/only bake during nap time abilities to a 5 star gourmet European bakery (which I have admittedly done..).
Someone Will Always Be Better Than You, And Worse
Yes, someone will always design at a higher level than you at some point in your career (and many will design at a lower level). But you never know how they got there. Maybe that designer you so envy grew up with a mother or father who was an incredible designer. And they’ve been teaching her everything they knew since she could walk. Or maybe from a young age she knew she wanted to be a designer and has been honing her skill for 20 years. Whereas you became interested only a few years ago. Maybe her closest high school friend happens to work at the magazine where her work got published. Or maybe she contacted 400 editors and heard “no” 399 times. But did get one “yes.”
We just never know what goes on in someone else’s life, and how they got to where they are. We often talk about “overnight success” but rarely is that true. What it usually means is, they worked their arse off for 10 years, and then one day they got their break. That overnight because of that big break, they became nationally known. But it took them a decade or two to get there. So when someone else achieves, celebrate them. Because it actually means that it’s possible for you too. If someone else did it, then so can you. Don’t let comparison kill the joy you have about your own achievements. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small. Be proud of them. You know how hard you worked to get there. Appreciate it for what it is. Not for what it is in comparison to someone else.