Today, I want to offer some tools for dealing with those inevitable moments walking our creative paths when we look up from our feet and start sizing up the other people walking along the path with us. Today I want to talk about competition and jealousy.
There are so many different times when these issues can come up along the creative path. Maybe someone in your community is successfully doing the type of work you want to be doing, and it seems like they’ve got the market cornered. Or maybe you’re the one who has been at it for a while, but then someone new comes along and potential clients or buyers or editors seem excited about the novelty of this new person’s work. Maybe you google something for a project idea that has just come to you, and find out that there are a number of people doing these types of projects already, and it discourages you. Or maybe you feel like you’re out there every day trying your best, but the attention that seems to come so easily to others is passing you by, and you feel resentful.
Totally understandable scenarios, all of them - right?
Yet each of these situations, so ripe for a jealous reaction, is based on a premise that is entirely wrong: the premise that creative success is a limited commodity, and that competition is the only way you're going to get ahead. That success is like a pie, in which there are a finite number of pieces, and once they’re divvied up, there is no pie left for anyone else. This is called scarcity thinking and, for many reasons, it is terrible for your creative life.
It’s so easy to get sucked in to scarcity thinking. It seduces us by making us think we’re just being "realistic." If we believe that creative success is a scarce commodity, then this will seem to prove valid, over and over again. We may hoard whatever we think we do have going for us, or get paranoid about other people stealing our ideas, or obsess over the financial profit we are making (or not making), or feel that any further advancement is relentlessly difficult to achieve, and so the message will keep seeming clear – there is not enough pie for everyone. “That’s the way things work,” we will tell ourselves, “so it’s no use pretending that they don’t.”
Actually, though, scarcity thinking is the opposite of realistic in the context of creative fulfillment and success, because the only way it can make sense is when “everyone else” or “the competition” is an abstract construct, an undifferentiated group of Others who want to eat up all the pie. The reality is that those others you’re supposedly competing against are real people – individuals who have their own specific, special talents, like you do. Some of their talents may overlap with yours or seem similar, but none are a clone of your own. What you have to offer, creatively, is necessarily unique. That’s just how creative self-expression works. So viewing yourself as being in competition with other creative folks is a waste of time.
For example, no matter how many other mural painters there are in my neck of the woods, or how many other creative mom bloggers there are on the internet, no one can be Alison Marra better than me. No one else has my specific set of talents and interests and abilities. And I don’t have theirs. If I pit myself against others for being "competitive" with me, for trying to steal my place, then I am inventing that story, and all I get out of it is the distraction of the drama it creates. It shows that I am insecure about what I do uniquely have to offer, and it cuts me off from the possibility of finding a home - actual or virtual - with a tribe of other people doing similar work.
Breaking out of scarcity thinking is challenging, but it's also enormously empowering and freeing, and really nourishing for your creative work. Scarcity thinking leaves you tight and closed off, conditions under which creativity can’t thrive. The tighter (and more worried and pissed off and panicky) you get, the faster you can watch your inspiration dry up and kiss your motivation and joy goodbye. Think about it: if I submit a mural proposal and then don’t get the job, sure, I am disappointed - but if I get jealous, then I am inviting that disappointment to stick around and start messing with me. If I let myself be bitter about the artist who did get the gig, now I haven’t just lost that mural job, I’ve also shut down some of my creative flow going forward, for however long it takes me to get over it. I might have even, in some cases, shut it down a notch for good. If I assume that the “competitor” got the job because they are just a better artist than me, what damage does that do to my confidence in my abililties – and then what effect does that damage have on me getting the next job I try for? Or, if I assume the other painter got the gig because some circumstance had been rigged in their favor, like maybe they had an in with the client or some other situation that is clearly NOT FAIR, what damage does that do to my optimism about the world I’m working in – and then what effect does that damage have on my desire to keep working? So long as success is a pie with limited pieces, sabotage is around every corner and creativity is an impossible muse to court.
Instead, in the situation above, I can go back and figure out how I could have presented my proposal more effectively, and so feel even better prepared for the next time; I can choose to see the other person’s success as proof that there is success out there to be had; maybe I can even offer to help the person who is doing the mural, thereby keeping my skills honed, learning from someone else, and continuing to put my name and abilities out into the world.
This other way is abundance thinking. When you are coming from abundance thinking, there is enough to go around. There is enough success for everyone. And if this strikes you as the equivalent of believing in fairies, just know – it works. It begets more creative motivation. It keeps you focused on your authentic creative process, rather than contorting your work to seem like something it’s not (which doesn’t work anyway). Plus, abundance thinking is not just tricking yourself - it is truly valid, as any mother of more than one child knows. Expecting your second child, you can’t help but worry a little – how will you possibly be able to love another baby as much as you love your first? How will there be enough of you to go around? But when the new baby arrives, you understand that your love was never a pie that had already been divvied up. Love doesn’t work that way. As your family grows, so does your love, and there is enough for all. Creativity works the same way. The more you give out, and the more you risk, and the more you be yourself and generously let others be themselves... the more you GET. Abundance.
I’m not claiming that success is guaranteed. There are ways to “fail” (i.e. not get what you want), but what I'm saying is that most of those ways are your responsibility, not anyone else’s. If you know you’re doing great work, but it’s not yet as successful out in the world as you want it to be, then one of two things is probably going on: either you’re not marketing your work to other people in a way that comes across as an opportunity they want to take (which you can fix); or you’re not the right fit for a particular client/job/project (but you will be for another). And if you’re not yet as fulfilled as you want to be - if you’re not creating the work you want to be making - then letting yourself get turned off or discouraged by what’s already out there, or who’s coming up behind, is just an excuse. Instead, recommit. Open up. Invite in the muse.
As we come into the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, I'm struck by what a perfect time of year it is to practice this abundance thinking. Thanksgiving is all about abundance – appreciating it and creating it. So take this opportunity to find out what becomes newly possible when you make the choice to come from a perspective of abundance. See that the folks who are already successful are proof that you can do it, too. See, in the other people who are walking the creative path, a tribe of friends with whom you can share work and mutually improve. Have enough confidence in your unique gifts to encourage the gifts of others, and watch your own work flourish.
Happy Thanksgiving, lovely people! As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Is there an area in your life where you've been tightening up and doing some scarcity thinking? Can you imagine applying a little abundance thinking there instead? What might change if you did? Would it be a relief, or feel really hard to make that change? Let us know!
(And, if you are local to the Rivertowns and appreciate this kind of discussion, a gentle reminder: less than a week left until Reclaim Your Creativity, my 4-week class, begins next Monday! For more information, and to register, click here.)