So you’re developing a new skill. You’re past the awkward, disheartening I’m-never-going-to-get-this stage and starting to feel pretty darned proud of what you can create. Maybe you even go so far as to think, Wow, I’m getting good enough I bet people would want to buy this! Flying high on your own confidence, your pleasure, in that developing skill and enjoying comparing your current work to your first efforts, seeing just how far you’ve come.
Then suddenly you see a similar type of work, someone else’s, and the piece makes you feel all at the same time a sudden rush of admiration, envy and resentment. Because the quality of that other person’s work is everything you wish yours could be. Everything that you thought yours already was, until you saw this in comparison. And the roller coaster in your heart and mind comes rushing down and your self-confidence plummets along with it. You might even think that you’re never going to be any better than you already are, tell yourself you might as well toss whatever-it-is in the trash and never touch it again.
I could be sympathetic. I could offer a bunch of platitudes, tell you that everyone’s skill measures differently, that you have no idea how long that other person has been practicing their craft or who they trained under or where, that you’ll get to where they are if you just stick with it, improve a little day by day. And none of that would be false.
But the harsh truth of the matter is, there will always be someone out there who’s better than you. No matter how skilled you become, there will always be someone who makes you feel like a hack-handed amateur.
There are a lot of reasons for that reaction. A genetically-programmed negativity bias, for one; our ancestors survived to be our ancestors by always being aware of what could hurt them and avoiding it, rather than focusing on what might help them and seeking that out. A society that has built on that negativity bias and created a network of standards and industries based on making people feel ‘less than’ so they can be sold something, for another – new clothes, a diet pill, a fancy car; all of which silently promises to cure all a person’s ills and make them worthwhile.
The thing is, the reason for the reaction only matters if you use the knowledge in order to reverse the direction of the roller coaster, restore confidence and pleasure in your skill.
When the coaster falls, look at your work again. See its good points instead of what you despair of as flaws. Share it with a friend whose enthusiasm and optimism you trust, and take their praise to heart instead of mentally and emotionally dismissing it simply because it’s the opinion of someone biased on your behalf. And if they have any suggestions, take those to heart too. Get a picture of the piece that sent you downspiraling in the first place and keep it nearby: Analyze it instead of wallowing in self-induced misery; why is it so appealing to you? What’s different about your technique? What can you learn from it and – not copy it, never copy, because that denies your own individuality – apply to your own work in a way that will accent your uniqueness and yet also improve your skill?
Above all, don’t throw in the towel on something you enjoy just because someone out there is better at than you are. Chances are good, someone else is looking at your work and envying you.