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The Creative Columnist: Why comparison is the thief of joy.

Image Copyright Pete Clayton

Pete Clayton is Made in Plymouth’s Creative Columnist; an illustrator, animator and graphic designer based in Plymouth. Not a born native to the city and region, but a fully bred Plymouthian who’s lived here most of his 41 years… man and boy! In work, Pete’s purpose as a multidisciplinary creative and writer is to share his love of what he does and in turn give people an inspiring creative lift. Outside of work, Pete is a father of 2 to Jack and Mia who love a family outing to The Box or a trip to the Barbican for pasties and iced fingers.

I have, over my many years as a creative, been guilty of comparing my creative career path to other designers and illustrators that I admire. In turn it has only made me second guess my skill set and sucked the joy out of what I do, like a happiness destroying Dementor from a Harry Potter novel. Even in my early days of study at the Art’s University Plymouth (then PCAD) and later Cardiff Met, I could feel comparative and, dare I say, competitive dark clouds looming over me. These days, social media can conjure up the same environment with vanity metrics like follow counts and engagement.

I guess for me, I’ve always had an innate need and thirst to be creative. Though contrary to what you might think, I don’t ever want to be the best or better than anyone else. I just want to be good and enjoy what I do. This is why I try to remember and practice the two modes of thinking below when that horrid, joy sucking Dementor comes calling. These principles help keep me in check and in my own joyous, artistic lane.

Don’t base your worth on metrics and algorithms

Comparing yourself to others on social media is a dangerous game. It can leave you second guessing everything you do, gives you a sense of imposter syndrome, and make you forget how far you’ve actually come. This has mainly been evident for me on Instagram, where I have spent eight years building my 2-3K following while others have skyrocketed theirs into the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands. However, as I am repeatedly reminded in my optimistic, but not delusional thinking… It’s not about quantity but rather the quality of following which is important.

Even so, I do wonder at times why I don’t get more engagement in the form of likes and comments. While I prefer to think I don’t have much of an ego, I can’t imagine it’s really anything to do with the quality of work or my ideas. The algorithm of Instagram is a tricky beast and one that creatives like me loathe, as it seems at times to determine where and when a post may get presented to my followers on their feeds. It seems perhaps a little out of our control. However, I really don’t know the inner workings of Instagram’s algorithm or how they 100% work, but in any case, I’m not going to stop creating and posting because of it. A long time ago, I learned to do what I do as if there’s no algorithm. As I mentioned, I have an innate thirst to be creative. It goes hand in hand with me as a person, and I will not base my worth on metrics and systems that I don’t fully understand or need to understand. I’m more than a set of numbers. Still… it’s nice to get 100 likes and comments on a post when you’re only used to getting 20-30!

You’re not Picasso… your creative journey is different!

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have influences and to have a favourite idol / artist, but comparing your success to theirs is silly. Ultimately, your creative journey and career path is different to the next. Even as I write this, I’m remembering times I thought “why” hadn’t got a particular type of creative job for example in my career… oh when oh when will it be my turn? Blah, blah, blah! But as I try to remember, it’s not my path. By all means other people’s successes can be inspiration to fuel goals, and I do get excited about the prospects of the future. The point is not to get bogged down because I haven’t achieved what my heroes have. My path is on a different trajectory, and I have been so blessed to be where I am today, and long may it continue.

Thinking like the two thoughts above helps me overcome the breadth of comparative hurdles. It simply reminds me to keep on going. At the end of the day, I make me, and you make you. Not algorithms, not metrics and not other artists and creatives alike. We need to harness ourselves because that’s where the magic is in creative work.

So when that joy sucking Dementor comes knocking, send a swift Patronus Charm out of your wand (or pencil) and get back to doing what you do best. And that’s doing you!

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