Comparison is the Thief of Joy

A memory came back to me recently from when I was working at The Sheepfold. One night, a mom was sharing her dreams with me, the ones she kept to herself, locked in her heart because she didn’t see how they could possibly come true. “But there’s already people out there, doing the things I want to do.” She referenced a prominent Christian woman & the global women’s ministry said woman had started. “She’s already doing it. How could I do it? How could I possibly be able to do it as well as she did?” This sweet woman felt directionless; all she could see was how big her dreams were & compare them to this other woman’s success.

I remember explaining to her that she wasn’t being fair to herself. That she was seeing the fruit of this woman’s labors but not all of the failures & steps & setbacks it took to get there. And just because someone was doing something similar to what one wanted to do didn’t mean that one shouldn’t still chase one’s own dreams. There would always be someone out there doing the thing one hopes to do, at least to some extent, & there will always be someone out there better than you at them. And there will always be someone worse. But does that mean you don’t try?

Maybe that doesn’t seem all too encouraging to others but it does help me keep some perspective typically. Now fast forward to March 2017. I realized as I recalled this memory that I need to take my own advice! I’ve been in a bit of a creative slump the past few years that I only recently felt myself climbing clawing my way out of. There were various reasons for it but one thing was: I didn’t know who I was, creatively. I only could see what everyone else was. I would constantly compare myself, my art, to those around me, whether that meant my personal friends or broader society. I didn’t know how to express myself in my own way; all I saw was everyone else’s way. And try as I might, it never felt quite right because I was telling their story, not my own. Thus, everyone’s expression seemed so much better. What could I possibly say that hadn’t already been “said” & “said” better? So I chose not to speak. I began a love-hate relationship with creativity; I would pull out my sketchbook, a canvas, a piece of paper & nothing would come. An hour long stalemate that ended with me chucking my pen/pencil/brush & storming off to go find some more fruitful activity to clear my head. For years. I was mad. The one thing I’d always had seemed gone.

And then I moved to Thailand. And I stubbornly packed a box of art supplies (didn’t realize there’d be whole stores of art supplies here!) because dammit, I wasn’t going to give up. Cue more stalemates. And irritation. But then… I decided to start with something little. I began writing down quotes I loved in different fonts & sizes. Sure, they’re no Van Gogh but I was enjoying it. I began forcing myself to do that in my free time. Then I started adding little painted details. And I started sketching people to see if I still could. I wrote a few poems for a lost friend. And I started trying new things. And I stopped worrying about what anyone would think about it or if it was “good” enough. Suddenly, I found my creative well, dry for so long, beginning to trickle & then become a stream. That was when I realized one night as I caught myself comparing myself & my art to a friend’s– it hit me that I don’t need to be like her or anyone else– my art is my own. I used to believe that but somewhere along the way I’d forgotten that. I am free to do whatever I want in my art & people can take it or leave it.

art

Since then, I’ve continued creating. I even resolved to push myself to share it & be more open about it. So of course God gave me multiple opportunities to put my money where my mouth is & share what I’d done. I still get nervous & kind of hate it. But I also think of it as growing. And I remember the words I told that mother, that just because someone is doing what you want to do, doesn’t make what you have to give invalid or less. So cheers to smudged-ink scrawlings, paint splattered pants, & many rolls of film!

“There is no such thing as bad art. There are no mistakes in art.”

~ Mrs. Lou

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One thought on “Comparison is the Thief of Joy

  1. Great blog! Comparison is the thief of joy for everything in life! I kind of worried about this with KidsArt’s program, because I could see what a strong creative talent you had, but they always had you copying others’ art. I would have liked to enroll you in a different art program that started in YL but by then I had already stopped being able to pay for your art lessons. That program focused more on getting your own voice out of you.

    So glad you are not giving up! I think you will get more and more confidence as you go along.

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