Comparison Is A Creativity-Killer

randomlychad  —  August 13, 2012 — 17 Comments

If you’re a Christian, and a blogger, and you’ve spent any time at all on the Internet over the past few years, you know who Jon Acuff is. In addition to being an uber-successful blogger, and author, he’s aimage

man who’s wise beyond his years. In addition to his penchant for pithy insight into church culture, he drops bombs like:

“Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

Now we’re not talking about Japanese hot dog-eating champion Takeru Kobayashi here–although the principle applies. Just as Kobayashi trained to get where he was, so must we who are bloggers, artists, creatives. Just as it would be unwise for a beginning contestant in the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest to expect to achieve Kobayashi levels of success, so those of us who are starting out on this creative path can’t expect to instantly achieve Acuffian levels of success.

It doesn’t work that way.

Yet we all seem to do it.

What do we do? We compare. We compare ourselves to those who are further along the road we want to walk. We do this oftentimes without knowing what those people had to do to get where they are. For instance, look at Jon Acuff: he wrote two, or three, other blogs before Stuff Christians Like took off. He had put in a monumental amount of effort in relative obscurity before he was a hit. Though SCL did strike like lightning, there were years of practice behind it. (Even now, as successful as he is as writer and speaker, Mr. Acuff works for the Dave Ramsey organization in Nashville).

Our problem is that we see these seeming overnight successes, and want to replicate them. But again it doesn’t work that way. Look, for instance, at an image

author like Tosca Lee: there were years and years of writing things that never saw the light of day before her book, Demon: A Memoir hit print. In the interim, she continued to work for Gallup as a traveling consultant as she pursued her dream of being a full-time writer. It’s my understanding that it was only within the last two-and-a-half years–after having published two books of her own–that she was finally able to quit her day job in pursuit of her dream job. (Now in her case, and to be fair, she did coauthor a trilogy with the ultra-successful Ted Dekker, but that opportunity didn’t come about until she had been working for years and years on her own. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Dekker became aware of her work, and when her novels Demon and Havah were reprinted, Mr. Dekker was asked to make an endorsement. Conversations then ensued, and the Books of Mortals were born).

But there were years and years of work before she got to that point.

I can’t say with any certainty, but being that they are human, I would venture to guess that both Mr. Acuff and Ms. Lee from time-to-time look to those who are more successful than they are in their respective fields, and compare themselves. In Acuff’s case, for the sake of argument, let’s say he compares himself to someone like Michael Hyatt. As successful as Jon is, Hyatt has a larger following. Never mind the fact that Mr. Hyatt was the CEO of Thomas Nelson, and has been plugging away for years.

Or in the case of Ms. Lee, lets say–again for the sake of argument–that she looks to someone like Neil Gaiman, and wonders why she hasn’t yet achieved that level of success. But again, Gaiman has been working for how long, and in how many fields?

Allow me to be entirely blunt here: I chose the writers I did because they are people I have looked at, have compared myself to. I mean who in the Christian blogging world wouldn’t want to be Jon Acuff? Or who, as a Christian novelist, wouldn’t want to be a Tosca Lee?

It’s when I get my eyes off of who I am, and the work that I’m about, that I run into trouble. When I start comparing myself to others whose work I admire, and bemoan my lack of success, I kill my creativity.

And dishonor the God who put the spark within my heart.

Whether you, or me, such comparisons only lead to despair. Let us each be the best we that we can be.

Have you ever compared yourself to someone you viewed as more successful than you?




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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers.

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  • Chad, this is so true. I’ve compared myself MANY folks. And of course in my mind, if I’m completely honest, I’m always the greatest. I realize how arrogant that is and sounds but that’s what my brain used to tell me.

    Then, I realized something AMAZING. Writers read. We REALLY are in this together. WE are the writing/reading economy. We tell others about the books we love and sometimes even buy them to give away. We ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.
    And I’ve also learned a VERY important concept (the hard way of course)- creativity is NOT a contest. The process is key and the goal should be helping others.

    • Jim, those are some hard-won insights. It is about sharing, and it does take a village. We are none of us above the fray. We need to get in there, and mix it up, build relationships.

  • chad, it’s like you’re speaking right to me. this is one of the biggest, nastiest dragons i have to slay. comparing myself to others has cost me many many years of creativity and happiness.

    as jim mentioned in his comment, we are all in this together. everyone who wants to write should read, which means opening ourselves up to others’ words and writings.

    • Tim, if there were any fingers pointed at anyone in this post, they were squarely pointed at me. Because I’m so guilty of this. But I am glad it spoke to you--because we are in this together.

      Is it Hebrews 10:25 that speaks of spurring one another on in love and good deeds?

  • Chad, you put into words thoughts I’ve had. I wrote two blogs before my current one. More people read this one inI one weekI than read those others in their lifespan. I was messaged about a possible writing opportunity last week. I learned that a guest post I submitted for a big time blog will be published in October. It’s about perseverance and finding who you are as much as anything. And finding great friends who we share these wxperiences with Great post, my friend.

    • How exciting, Larry! Looking forward to continued greatness from you!

      Patience is key, because it always takes longer than we think it should. And you’re right: we need to know who we are before we really have anything to give. Even so--who, and what, are we if we don’t have friends with which to share these things?

      Thanks, Larry!

  • Ricky Anderson

    I don’t do it so much with bloggers and writers, but I do it in other areas. Have a successful business? I’ll envy you starting now, thank you very much!

  • You should read Boenhoffer’s (sp?) “The Cost of Discipleship.” As far as I can tell, he’s the originator of the idea of “cheap grace,” which is a lot of what you’re talking about here.

    It’s like a young man who observes an elderly man who has worked hard his entire life, only to conclude that working isn’t the end all be all of life. In trying to skip the pain that the elderly man experienced, the young man skips to the end and decides never to work a day in his life. He never really learns the lesson, even though he “learns” it.

    Great post, Chad!

    • Adrian, I believe I have read The Cost of Discipleship, but it was many years ago. (Probably when I was your age). It’s high time for a re-read. Yet I remember the concept of “cheap grace,” and it haunts me.

      By skipping the pain, we sidestep any attendant growth--for we don’t grow on the mountaintops, do we? We dare not denigrate the process through which God imparts grace to each of us individually. For we do so to our detriment. He alone knows what it takes to keep us each in that place of utter dependence upon Him.

      Thanks, Adrian!

  • It’s hard not to compare yourself to folks you admire & aspire to achieve the same level of success that they have. Yet we have to remember that our abilities & successes are our own and will only come when we put forth the effort.

    • Sure, it’s hard not to, but what benefit is there in doing so? As for our abilities: they come from God, Who gave them to me (and who could take them away). The successes that come--for myself, yes, I’ve worked hard, but those are of grace, too. I believe hard work is more about removing obstacles that stand in the pathway to success, than it is the cause of success. God provides the increase.

      Truly any blessings I’ve received in this arena didn’t happen in a vacuum: it is because people like you responded. And for that I am very grateful.

  • Dude, I heard Jon Acuff on the EntreLeadership podcast talking about this very thing. It really hit be between the eyes because I’m trying to chase a dream while bringing my A-game to a day job on a daily basis.

    I’ve made the mistake of comparing where I’m at as a blogger/writer to Jon Acuff (or Jeff Goins for that matter), but I’m not them. I’m KC. My story of success (and failure) will be different from theirs.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

    • kc,

      i’m right there with you. the comparison game is killer.