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Rethinking Competition

Creativity coach Omar Mizdaq provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Even if an artist is successful, it can be rather hard to deal with the successes of others. Envy is a powerful problem for creatives; as is our built-in instinct for competition, an instinct that can be submerged or overridden via cultural or personal injunctions but that still simmers right beneath the surface. In today’s post, creativity coach Omar Mizdaq explores this theme.

Omar explained:

Our brains seem hardwired to think hierarchically. We perceive a pecking order ‘out there,’ internalize it, and assign ourselves a place in it, above [X] but below [Y]. There are evolutionary reasons for this tendency, but for an artist, it can be especially damaging and should not be indulged in. If we do indulge in it, then another one of our in-built mental tendencies, the negativity bias, will ensure we’re forever berating ourselves because we’re not as successful, rich, famous, or well-reviewed as our ‘betters,’ rather than appreciating our own real progress.

Even the idea that someone else’s work is ‘better’ than yours is an assumption that needs to be questioned. Anyone who has shared their work with others knows that it’s impossible to know what will connect with people. So how can you be so sure that your personal denigration of your own work in comparison to that of your ‘superiors’ will be shared by the public?

A friend says that if he feels a need to draw something, it’s because that need hasn’t been met by anyone else’s drawings. The truth is that no one can compete with you at being you. You are unique, your experiences in this life are also unique, and your art is the result of this undeniable specialness.

One day you came into this world, one day you will leave it, and never again will there be someone quite like you. Just as we leave behind our unique fingerprints on what we touch, your creative works are your unique ‘heartprints’ that the world needs, and that you have every right to share.

Undeniably, it can often be challenging to see so many others doing the same kind of thing as you do, or to see peers reaping the rewards you crave. But as we asked earlier, is anyone really doing the same thing as you? No, that’s literally impossible. And are the material rewards really so impossibly limited that success is like winning the lottery? The short answer is yes, but only if you think so.

If you reject a scarcity mindset, things aren’t that black and white. More ‘competitors’ means there’s a market and that demand is growing. Harness those energies! [Y]’s wild success should show you what is in fact possible and studying their success can teach you much about advancing in your own journey.

Another trap is black-and-white thinking, where you divide artists into two groups: successful and unsuccessful. In reality, it’s more like a spectrum. True, one artist might have an audience of millions and another will have only a couple dozen. But both artists still need to play the same game, and that is one of action and engagement with a world whose attention they seek.

The artist’s path is an inner journey. Don’t be distracted by looking up or down imaginary hierarchies. Look within and know that your only responsibility is to give your art the respect it deserves, with the deep faith that it will take you exactly where you need to go.

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