Creative Pep Talk #14: Comparison and Self-Rejection

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Continuing from last time: more on comparison, and how it’s actually a way to reject ourselves, even if we don’t know it. Perfectionism factors into that process, too, creating an ugly soup of not-good-enoughness. The good news: you CAN do something about it. Details within!

Want more help? Check out my Creative Tune-Up, which is full of my favorite coaching tools to help you get unstuck. 

All of those things taught us that we have to kill ourselves to do it right. And a lot of times, there is no right. We don’t even know what right is. The process, though, is where the joy lies.

Nancy Norbeck

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Please note: This is an unedited transcript, provided as a courtesy, and reflects the actual conversation as closely as possible. Please forgive any typographical or grammatical errors.

Nancy Norbeck [00:00:06]:
Welcome to Follow Your Curiosity, where we explore the inner workings of the creative process. I’m your host, Nancy Norbeck. Hi there. I’m back with this week’s Creative Pep Talk, and I want to build a little bit on what we talked about last time, the story about my mother and how comparison really messes with us because I feel like there’s so much we could say about comparison. You know, you’ve I alluded last time to the quote about how you shouldn’t compare your behind the scenes to somebody else’s highlight reel. And that’s so true. And, you know, comparison is insidious because we’re basically taught to compare ourselves to others. You know, we go through school and we learn handwriting and our handwriting is hung up on the board and compared to somebody else’s.

Nancy Norbeck [00:01:02]:
I remember, you know, they would send ours out to someone. I can’t quite imagine who, but supposedly they went to someone and we would all wait to see whose would come back with the big gold star on it or the sticker or the stamp or whatever it was that week. And because we all wanted ours to be the best. It’s probably not a terrible way to teach handwriting, but it’s not a great way to go through your life waiting for external signs of approval and, you know, the gold star and, and all of these things to come from other people. What if the gold star never comes? What does that mean? For a lot of us, it means we’re not good enough because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to people that we think are better than we are, which is why it may shock you to think of it this way, but comparison is a form of self rejection. Comparison gives us an excuse to believe that we are not good enough when actually we were all born good enough. We may not all be great at the same things, but that’s the way the world is supposed to be. You know? If if we were all great rocket scientists, who would develop new recipes? Who would write the newspaper articles, who would fix your car, we’d have a problem.

Nancy Norbeck [00:02:31]:
So, you know, comparison is useful in some contexts, but it’s not a great way to live your life. And if you really think about it, if you really think about comparison as a form of self rejection, you may be kind of horrified by that idea. I know I was, but it’s true. And then the question becomes, how do I stop rejecting myself? This is where comparison and perfectionism, which I have also talked about before, but frankly, I don’t think you can ever talk about them often enough, overlap. They overlap a good bit because perfectionism is about believing that you’re not good enough. And a lot of the time, it’s about believing that if you do this thing perfectly, someone will finally tell you that you are good enough. Both of these ideas break my heart, both because they’re just so painful right on their face and because so many people fall victim to them, and we do it without even realizing it. You know, social media, like Instagram is a great source of unhealthy or unhealthy comparison and fuel for perfectionism.

Nancy Norbeck [00:03:57]:
Because we see somebody else’s highlight reel, and we have no idea how much work, makeup, Photoshop, whatever went into that highlight reel. We assume that it’s real. We compare ourselves to it. We decide that we are not good enough, and we reject ourselves. So what has this got to do with creativity? It’s got to everything to do with creativity. Because even though this is a larger phenomenon than just creativity, so it’s worth discussing regardless, How much good creative work do you think you’re gonna get done if you’re busy telling yourself you’re not good enough? How much creative work full stop? Whether it’s good or terrible, doesn’t even matter. And we’ll talk about that later in another podcast. But, you know, if you are convinced that you’re not good enough and you’re busy rejecting yourself, which you may not even realize you’re doing, that’s part of what is so awful about it.

Nancy Norbeck [00:04:59]:
You’re gonna have a hard time convincing yourselves that anything you do is worth the effort. It’s gonna be a whole lot easier to sit down and binge watch The Crown on a Saturday afternoon than it will be to find 5 minutes for yourself to do something you really love. So with that in mind and also bearing in mind that both of these things, especially the perfectionism side, but they are so closely intertwined that I don’t think it really matters, can be deeper issues that may require the work of a good therapist to work through. There are still things that you can try in order to get past them. And the first one, and I can already hear what you’re saying. I can hear it in my own head because I’ve said it so many times. But the first one is just to practice telling yourself that you’re good enough. There is something to be said for being on your own side.

Nancy Norbeck [00:06:03]:
In fact, I once heard it phrased as being militantly on your own side. And I really like that phrase even though I think I initially bristled at the word militantly, and so you might too. But the fact is the only constant companion you have in your life is you. The only person who is guaranteed to be there for every single thing that happens to you is you. If you’re not on your own side, who will be? You gotta look out for you. It’s not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity. And the first thing you can do is to start by saying, you know what? I am good enough, and this is fine.

Nancy Norbeck [00:06:56]:
It’s adopting the idea that done is better than perfect. It’s it’s just practicing letting the details go, letting them be okay and letting it be all right. That maybe when you put your swimsuit on, you don’t look like that person on Instagram. But you’re gonna go and you’re gonna have fun in the pool or in the ocean or wherever it is that you’re wearing that swimsuit to anyway. Because what you look like in that swimsuit is not as important as the experience that you have while you’re wearing it. And that is just as true for the creative work that you do. The process is just as important as the product, and people have trouble with that when I say it because they think because again, the penmanship, the grades that you got in school for artwork or writing the best paper or whatever that encouraged you to stay up too late at night and dot every I and cross every t six times and take out, you know, the word the and put it back in 27 times. And yes, I’m speaking from my own experience as a writer because editing can be a rabbit hole that you fall into and never get out of.

Nancy Norbeck [00:08:13]:
And I know there are other forms of that, so adapt that to whatever applies to you. All of those things taught us that we have to kill ourselves to do it right. And a lot of times, there is no right. We don’t even know what right is. The process, though, is where the joy lies. For a lot of creative people, we’d much rather be painting the painting than trying to sell it. We accept that trying to sell it may be a goal, may be something that we need to deal with for one reason or another, but separate those processes. Because if you stop having fun doing the painting, you’re definitely not gonna end up selling it.

Nancy Norbeck [00:08:58]:
And if you’re constantly telling yourself that your painting isn’t any good, you won’t end up with a painting at all. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the experience of putting paint on a canvas or words on a page or feeling the music that comes out of you when you sing or you play an instrument. Sometimes rehearsals are the best fun of making music or doing drama. They’ve always been my favorite part. And I think it’s because you you lower your expectations a little bit. It’s a rehearsal. You’re not expecting it to be performance quality.

Nancy Norbeck [00:09:37]:
And that’s why you learn so much while you’re doing it and have more fun with it. See how these things go together? Having more fun is more learning. Having more fun is more experimentation. You may find some totally unexpected new way to do something that you wouldn’t have even allowed to come into your head if you were busy comparing yourself to Laurence Olivier and deciding that you had to mimic his performance absolutely step by step, shot by shot. You gotta leave some wiggle room for the process to work through you to allow you to be part of the process. You are more than a mimic. You are here to be you and give your unique gifts to the world, not to turn yourself into somebody that you aren’t. And your own unique gifts will always come out in a way that is unlike anybody else’s.

Nancy Norbeck [00:10:32]:
It’s yours. So why would you compare it to someone else’s anyway? It’s okay to say, in the case of the story with my mother from last time, I never would have thought to do this this way. If you look at it as a learning experience, then you can take that idea and you can run with it and you can see where it leads you. And it could be that the person that you got it from will see something that you did and then say, wow, I know you started where I was, but I never would have taken it where you did, and that’s amazing. And can I borrow that from you? How magical is that? If you’re running around saying, well, I’m not creative because I didn’t think of that, or I’m not good enough because my painting would have this flaw, well, maybe that flaw is your style. Maybe it’s something to build on, not something to banish. But in order to do any of that, you have to decide that you are good enough, that you are worthy of the work that you wanna do, that you enjoy, that lights you up. And what could be more of a sign of worthiness than the fact that it lights you up? So my challenge to you is to practice being okay with imperfection, being okay with being yourself, and reminding yourself that you are not everybody else and that’s not a bad thing.

Nancy Norbeck [00:12:04]:
They’re not you either. You all have your own ways of doing things and exploring things, and that’s what leads to all of the different ways that we see different work presented into the world that inspires us, and then we inspire others. We may not know we do, but I promise you we do. So just take it a little bit at a time. Just a little bit. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the idea because if you’re not used to it, you could shut yourself down very, very easily. But just a little bit. It’s okay.

Nancy Norbeck [00:12:40]:
I’m good enough to do this. I’m worthy of this. I’m gonna enjoy the experience. I’m gonna let it light me up, and I’m not gonna worry about what the finished product looks like. I guarantee you you’ll have more fun and your work will be better too. Now if you want a little bit more to go with all of this, I want you to check out the creative tune up kit, which is available now. I’ll have a link in the show notes. It, it is a simple, but profoundly effective set of tools that will help get you out of a creative rut, get you started in a creative pursuit if you don’t already have one, and keep you going.

Nancy Norbeck [00:13:24]:
It’s a 25 page ebook, a video that explains how to use everything, and also offers some more insights into the creative process, kinda like the things that I talk about here, but in the context of the tools in the ebook, and 2 audios that will help you integrate the ideas in the tool book. There’s exercises, inventories, journaling prompts, all sorts of stuff in there that if you especially if you take it in in order, you can jump around, especially after you’ve looked through it the first time. But I recommend going in order the first way through it, will help you stay in that magical place where you can get out of your own way and get past the comparison and the perfectionism and do the things you really wanna do. You deserve the creative life you’ve dreamed about, and that’s why I created this kit for you. So I hope you’ll check it out. And if you do, I hope you’ll let me know what happens when you try it. So link in the show notes for that. But even if all you do is experiment with reminding yourself that you’re good enough and you’re worthy and you’re just gonna enjoy the experience and not worry about all the rest of it.

Nancy Norbeck [00:14:32]:
Even if it’s just one of those things, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day, It’ll make a difference. So go forth. Be challenged to be better to yourself, to stop rejecting yourself, to know that you’re good enough and get to the things that light you up. Because as far as I’m concerned, that is what life is all about. So with that, I will see you next time. You can find show notes, the 6 creative beliefs that are screwing you up, and more at I’d also love for you to join the conversation on Instagram. You’ll find me at f y curiosity.

Nancy Norbeck [00:15:14]:
Follow Your Curiosity is produced by me, Nancy Norbeck, with music by Joseph McDade. If you like Follow Your Curiosity, please subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get new podcasts. And don’t forget to tell your friends. It really helps me reach new listeners. See you next time.