Don't give comparison a seat at the table.
When my husband gave me a Canon camera as a wedding gift, I was almost more nervous than I was excited. Even though I’d always been fascinated by photography, I thought that the photography “space” was oversaturated, and I wasn’t sure I would be good enough to add to the noise. The last thing this world needs is another self-proclaimed, self-taught photographer, right? Plus, Instagram automatically makes everyone a photographer nowadays.
I started following photographers on Instagram because I thought I could find inspiration, but I found myself getting so caught up in how great their photos were that I only grew more ashamed of mine. I felt crippled by the comparison of my amateur photos to the most beautiful wedding shots. There was this seemingly infinite gap between my current skill level and the impossible standard I had created in my head. I was convinced that my work wasn’t worthy of sharing until I could get it to look like that impossible standard I set for myself. So for the first few months, I hardly wanted to share any of my photos. They just weren’t good enough yet. I wasn’t a good enough photographer yet – not compared to the photographers I knew or the ones whose photos I envied. I thought it was going to take me years to get there.
The funny thing about “there” is that it’s never as good as we think it’s going to be. The grass isn’t always greener. We build “there” up to be some magical destination where we’ll find everything we’ve been searching for. If we could just get “there,” then we’d be happy. If I could just be as good of a photographer as others, then I’d finally feel proud of my work.
Comparison and the fantasy of “there” is a pretty dangerous combination. When your idea of “there” is a standard that you’ve set for yourself based on other people, you’re caught in a vicious cycle. It’s impossible to measure your personal growth if you’re more concerned with what everyone else is doing – especially in the creative world. Creative endeavors are meant to celebrate the uniqueness of the individual. Comparison will only rob us of the uniqueness that only we can bring to the table. Comparison shouldn’t have a place at that table.
One of my favorite quotes from Hannah Brencher is this: “I think it is almost impossible to be the best version of you when you are constantly measuring yourself up to someone else. Other people cannot be my standard. Their success does not determine mine. If I am looking to people to serve as a benchmark for me then I have clearly missed the point of people.”
People are incredible creatures who have incredible talents and skills to offer this world. People are the ones who compose symphonies, design skyscrapers, write novels and crunch numbers. People are meant to be celebrated, not compared.
So I’ve learned to compare my work only with the work that I’ve already done. I spend less time dwelling on the fact that my photos might not be as good as the ones I see on those Instagram accounts, and I spend more time focusing on how I can stretch my own creativity. I try to build community with other photographers to learn from them – not compete with them. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to grasp at first: we’re all just trying to do what we love. We’re all in the lifelong process of learning, growing and becoming better versions of ourselves. I want to want this process more than I want the false promises of getting “there.”
Whatever it is that ignites your passion and gives you life – that’s exactly what you should be doing. Even if someone else is already doing it. Even if thousands of people are already doing it. That shouldn’t matter because there’s no room for comparison here. You have something special to bring to whatever table you choose to sit at. Don’t give comparison a seat at that table.