I remember as kids, me and my friends, were always comparing each others’ birthday—or Christmas—presents. Who had gotten the coolest, the best, the most expensive, the latest, the hippest present of all? It was of course a childish competition of sorts, but just that; childish or naïve. I believe all kids have probably done the same. However, many of us still do it in various ways as grown-ups, don’t we, even if we don’t spell it out as blatantly as we did as kids. But we still compare in our minds, and we envy the neighbour when he has bought a bigger and better whatever it is than we have or when she got promoted and we didn’t. The comparison is similar compared to when we were kids, only the objects have changed (and become more expensive): Who has gotten the coolest looking car? Or who has the most beautiful looking home amongst our friends? Now, though, as grown-ups, it seems silly or spiteful. Moreover, as grown-ups we have learned to feel inferior when we fall short on such comparisons.
From a rationally point of view such comparison does derive as silly, but it does—or did—serve an understandable purpose. It’s instinctively something we human beings do, and it’s a way of securing our existence—from the times when we were hunters and gatherers. However, in a modern society, it may not serve much of a purpose any longer. I am not trying to make judgements in any ways, just observing the behaviour of my peers and myself. What I do know, tough, is when we pass on this need to compare into our creative lives, it becomes very destructive. Creativity is killed when we start to compare ourselves with others.
As kids when we compared presents, it wasn’t something serious, we didn’t hold it within us for longer than it took to spell it out. Then we moved on. As grown-ups, life becomes serious, and I believe that is what makes the difference. Everything means so much more when we leave childhood behind. As we get older, we learn the importance of the outcome of comparing one thing with another—or we put more significance to it. We learn to interpret the result of comparing with others and make it become something we adjust to. And that’s why comparing creative work is so destructive for us.
If you go into a classroom of kids and ask them who can draw or who can sing, you will get every single kid to raise their hands. Do the same with the same persons twenty years later and probably none of the class will raise their hands—or only a very few. The older versions of the persons hear the question with a string attached to it, making it into a comparison: «How many of you can draw or sing… well? When we age, we start to compare everything. We compare ourselves with everyone and dwell on where we fall short. The older version of the kids that could draw or sing, think to themselves, «I can’t draw that well so I shouldn’t raise my hand». This comparative logic is extra baggage that devalues and decreases any creativity we once had.
The first step to become more creative (regardless of age) is to stop blaming ourselves, stop believing we can’t do, and take action. Even if you think you aren’t very creative, it doesn’t mean you can’t change. You might just need some practice, or you need to let go of the mean teacher who criticized your lack of skill. Like Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and countless other great books, whose teacher once wrote on his report card when he was 15: «A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.» Roald Dahl wasn’t the sharpest kid, but he channelled all of that into plot lines, characters and words. That is what makes his writing so fun.
The moral is that we should not compare our creativity with others. Keep it flowing by itself, there is no need to hold it up against the rest of the world. That only creates—pun intended—fear in ourselves. And if anything, fear kills creativity. So—as hard as it sometimes feels—believe in yourself, believe the creative magic that is within you and don’t look to your next door neighbour. As before mentioned Roald Dahl was wrote: «Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.»
Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Canon EOS 5D and a 24-105 mm zoom lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/11. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.