When I was six or seven, I entered into a coloring contest for kids at some nearby restaurant. It was springtime themed, with bunnies and flowers and sunshine. The winner of the contest got twenty-five dollars. When you’re at that age, that’s about the equivalent of a diamond mine. Oh, the things young Megan could do with that money. (Actually, living in New York on the intern diet, twenty-five dollars sounds like a million bucks right now.) I took that coloring page home and spent all day working on it, making sure my clumsy self didn’t color outside the lines or, god forbid, use the wrong shade. After my long day of hard work and presumably many cookies, I was ready. Ready to enter that contest, ready to win those twenty-five dollars, sure that it was going to be me. It has to be me.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t win. I couldn’t understand… I had put my all into it. My very best! To be fair, though, I’m pretty sure whatever kid won that had their parents color in their paper. It was too good, you know? (Not that I’m bitter or anything.) So I didn’t win the twenty-five dollars, and even though it was the best of my ability, I didn’t pull it off. I didn’t have the prettiest coloring page. It set childhood me into a pit of sadness, of envy, of self-doubt. I wasn’t the best. And what did I learn from that experience? Absolutely nothing, because instead of focusing on what could be better, I focused on why they were worse.
There is always someone better than you. It is a fact that takes a lot of emotional confidence to come to terms with. There’s always going to be someone who colors better, who writes better, who sings better. If you’ve ever seen the American Idol auditions process, there are people who either learn to come to terms with the idea, or, refuse to come to terms with it. (Take one Google search of American Idol reject auditions to see the classic “THE JUDGES JUST DON’T KNOW GOOD SINGING” reaction). But despite the daunting title, this is not a negative article–– nor is the idea of better-ness a negative notion.
Working and studying in creative environments for ten thousand years, I’ve come to the realization that life is about collaboration. Your strengths are another’s weaknesses, and vice versa. No one person is good at everything; you are not a one-man band. Because of this fact, the creative process is that much more exciting. You get to work with so many people of different talents and skill-sets, and learn from each other. Because these people are involved in different areas of interest, it’s easier not to feel threatened by their knowledge. Even if you’re at the same place in your professional standing, because they are in different fields we take it as a learning experience rather than a competition.
Within your field of passion, whether it’s photography, design, styling, grooming–– whatever it is that you do, there are people that you look up to. There are people whose work you idolize, who you look to for inspiration. You know they are the top and you strive to better yourself to be among the likes of them. This is why the idea of better is so important. When it’s someone established, you become inspired to reach up to be at the same level as them.
It is seemingly much harder to accept when you’re looking at the work of your peers; someone on the same professional level as you with a skill-set you wish that you had. But the idea is essentially the same; you see their work, and you strive to better yourself to be among the likes of them. So why is it so difficult to put aside the ugliness of envy or resentment and instead use their work in the same way as when you look to your idols?
Perhaps it is an issue of pride; few will gladly admit they “look up to” a peer. What if this pride and these envious feelings were cast aside to instead fuel and spark your creative energy? Channeling those feelings into bettering yourself and your own skill-set are nothing but beneficial to your own creativity. Instead of resentment, it can be turned into discussion, collaboration, experience–– a learning process to your own benefit and, perhaps to theirs as well. For maybe there is something you know that they don’t.
Betterment of self through collaboration and learning is an effort beneficial to all involved. Every person you meet knows something that you don’t; you can take the opportunity to learn and grow, or you can turn that inwards and shut yourself off from that potential creative growth. What you’re willing to learn and grow from is a choice; to look at it from a positive or negative perspective is up to you. There is competition in life, yes–– but that nature can be used for self-improvement over self-doubt. There is always someone better than you. Use it to make a better you.