Ask The Expert, Design, Studio, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized

January 18, 2018

The Comparison Conundrum

The Comparison Conundrum


Let me make something super clear right off the bat: comparing yourself to others is something that everyone struggles with. Every. One.

(My husband hates when I speak in absolutes, but I think it’s safe to do so for the above statement.)

And just so you understand the importance of this, I’m going to bold it for you (if this were a lecture in college, you’d wanna write this one down):

Comparison is not evil, it is human nature. It keeps us competitive and striving for excellence; it keeps us on our toes. When we compare using the best parts of us, it makes us appreciate what we have and what we can do; the worst parts of us twist what should be inspiration into something ugly and dangerous. 

The reason that “comparison” has become such a dirty word is because of the ease with which we can compare ourselves to one another today (plus, that oh-so-true quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy”). 20 years ago, we were somewhat limited by our geography. You could very likely only consider your local region’s population (or those you read about in magazines and newspapers) as your comparison network. Now, with near instantaneous sharing of content, we can share ideas and compare ourselves with others worldwide! Yay!

This becomes a problem only when we let it get to us (we’re only human, after all).

As a beginner, comparing yourself to a pro is like a seed comparing itself to a flower

What to do about comparison when you’re starting out

I compare myself to everyone daily, whether I do it consciously or not, and it doesn’t necessarily pertain to my business. As a new resident of Seattle, I find myself going a little green with envy at my friends back home in Florida enjoying warm weather. I have absolutely had moments where I compare my life and successes to those who are younger than me. (And yes, I fall into the pit of comparison despair on occasion, too).

Concerning my business, comparison happened with some frequency when I was in my first year of practicing calligraphy, and again during my first 6-8 months of officially owning a business. There were several calligraphers and stationers that I looked up to (and still do!) that seemed to have everything together, down to an art, and totally perfected. Their calligraphy looked flawless. They were working with amazing brides and vendor teams. They were killing it and I had barely solidified my own style of calligraphy.

It’s important to consider that these talented individuals weren’t born with a pen in their hand, ready to write. They spent countless hours (years even!) honing their craft, building their business, and developing their skill set.

As a beginner, comparing yourself to a pro is like a seed comparing itself to a flower. There just isn’t any comparison that can be made, because you’re both at different stages in your journey.

You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, saying, “I know all of this already. How can I get past it?”

The answer is: with focus, with grace, and with practice.

What to do about comparison when you're a beginner

Here’s what you shouldn’t do: Convince yourself that you’re not talented, discredit your hard work and talents, and make yourself believe that you’ll never be as good as Susie Stationer.

Instead, do this: Practice. Take pride in your work. Use your skill at any available opportunity. Send letters to friends and address the envelopes with your calligraphy. Practice some more. Actually accept a compliment about your work, don’t just brush it off. Fail and refine your style. Create products based on things you like, not what other people like. Practice until you have to ice your hand, because success doesn’t come easily.

(Don’t do that last thing all the time, or you’ll get burned out and probably have to visit an ER eventually. My point is that it takes hard work and time to get good. Talent does not guarantee success.)

Remember that a year ago, you may not have even picked up a calligraphy pen. Maybe you hadn’t ever designed stationery before 6 months ago. Your journey doesn’t have an end, but it does have a beginning followed by a heck of a lot of developing story.

I’ll bet that the you of last year would have compared herself to the you of this year, so think about where you want to be 1 year from now, write it down, and revisit it in 365 days…then let me know what you think of yourself.

Talent does not guarantee success

What to do about comparison when you’re a seasoned pro

As I said before, I still catch myself comparing my work to others. This happens whether I’m confident in my skills or whether I’m trying out a new technique or calligraphy style. This comparison doesn’t feel as scary as it did when I was starting out (when I used to tell myself I wasn’t good enough), but it does come on fast and unexpectedly.

Here’s what I do when I find that I’m comparing my work with someone else’s:

  • Take a deep breath and count to 10
  • Seize upon the first activity I can think of that makes me happy, even if it won’t make me any money
  • This is usually some sort of organizational task like color-coding envelopes or cleaning my desk off, but if exercise or making a dozen cookies or shopping will help take your mind off things, do it! The important thing is to choose something that will keep your mind busy enough to not think about your work, at the very least.

Once that activity is done (read: organization that will end up consuming at least two hours of my time), I feel infinitely better. I stay off social media for as long as humanly possible, go back to my practicing or my client work, and I’m generally much more productive and happy.

What to do about comparison when you're a seasoned pro

Here’s what you shouldn’t do: Look at Susie Stationer’s latest Instagram post that tags a dozen vendors and has been featured in XYZ wedding magazine, get on Facebook and scroll through your friend’s statuses, and delete all of your work or crumple up paper.

Instead, do this: Pull out thank you notes from past clients or vendors and read them. Create something just for you to hang above your desk. Reach out to your friendors (yeah, that’s a word) and let them know you’re struggling with your style. Pull out a piece that you’re most proud of and tape it to the wall next to you. Cuddle your animals (because they know how awesome you are, and that’s all that really matters in the world).

When all else fails

Come talk to me! Message me, email me, write me a letter. I don’t like seeing people be discouraged, especially when it’s nothing a little conversation can’t help!


Holly signature

  1. Petra Repka says:

    Love love loved this read. So applicable to any creative in the industry, and great tips on how to cope!

  2. […] know that the Instagram life is an urban myth, but that doesn’t stop us from falling into the comparison trap on a regular basis. I also hear a lot of talk about achieving the perfect work-life balance (if you […]

  3. […] hasn’t compared themselves to others at any point in time. But I’m a firm believer that comparison is a good thing in moderation: it keeps you hungry, it encourages you to think out of the box, and it can keep you […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *