Happiness Project Reflection 8: Nothing Good Happens When You Compare Yourself with Strangers on the Internet

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Hey guys!

Happy August!  As I shared a couple of weeks ago, I quit my regular day job this past Thursday!  WOO HOO!  I’d worked for the organization for almost 15 years…  I know, LONG TIME.  It’s one of the biggest life transitions I’ve ever experienced, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I don’t work there any more.  I’ll share more about it in my future blog posts!!

OK, so, I have a confession to make.  When I set a goal of publishing a new blog post every Sunday, I had also planned on having at least 3 posts in a queue.  I wanted to make sure I can consistently post every week.  It would have been better to have more in a queue, but 3 was all I could manage before I published my first post.  I was consistently writing 1-2 posts per week on my days off from my day job so I could stay ahead.

And then July happened.   July was such a whirlwind!  I gave my notice at my day job at the end of June.  My organization was going through many transitions already, so as their HR Manager, I was already pretty busy.  Add my own transition to that mix.  It got pretty overwhelming pretty quick.

My mom was also visiting from Japan during that time.  Granted she was not staying with us, I spent a good chunk of time with her for two weeks playing tour guide and an interpreter.

Gorgeous view from the Vista House in Columbia River Gorge, OR
Gorgeous view from the Vista House in Columbia River Gorge, OR. My mom and I took a weekend trip to Oregon.

Let me just say my mom is a very sweet lady.   Since we live so far apart, we don’t get to see each other very often.  And though I really appreciate spending time with her, it does get a little tiring to hang out with your parent for an extended time.

Between work craziness and mom’s visit, I was swamped.  My stress level got pretty high, and I was feeling drained.  I had a custom illustration deadline as well on top of that.  And an art show.  My plate was pretty full!

When I’m under stress, I revert back to what’s more comfortable and familiar.  It takes more energy to stretch and go out of your comfort zone when you’re stressed.

This is how I felt most of the month...
This is how I felt most of the month…

Writing requires more focus and energy from me than, say, drawing.  Although I’m getting better at it as I write more regularly, it is a muscle and I need to be intentionally using that muscle to keep getting better.

I got behind on my writing commitment in July.  My blog was still being published every Sunday, but I wasn’t adding anything new to the queue.  I was dipping into my “savings” if you will.  It didn’t feel good, and I was getting anxious.  I had a little voice telling me all kinds of “shoulds” – “I know you are tired, but you should stay up and write.” or “you should say no to hanging out with your mom today.  You haven’t written any blog posts this week!”

It was a lose-lose situation.  Eventually, I was able to see that my priority was to enjoy my time with mom and to be present at my job.  After all, I had built up the reserve for situations like this.  I made peace with the fact that I wasn’t writing as regularly as I wanted and let it go.

let_go
Let it go so you can grow!

So I’m finishing up this post a day before it’s scheduled to be published.  I’m happy it will go out at the regular time.  I will be upping my writing goals for a while until I have extra posts in my queue again.  A word of advice for anyone wanting to start publishing blogs regularly – have a bunch in a queue before you start publishing 🙂

Thank you for letting me share that – I think it’s important to share the challenges as well as successes.  It’s never an easy road all the time.  And if it is, you’re probably not growing or learning very much.

So, let’s get back to our Happiness Project Reflection blog series, shall we?  This is our 8th post in the series of 9.  I hope you’re getting some value out of these 🙂

Today I want to talk about a common disease called “Comparing Yourself with Strangers on the Internet Syndrome.”  Does it sound familiar?  Maybe you’ve gotten the diagnosis before.  Don’t worry, you’re not weird if you got it.  Study shows that majority of people who have access to the internet get it at some point in their lives.  (Note: OK, I don’t know about a study, but I’m sure it’s accurate.)

Symptoms include, but not limited to:

  • Consistently spending more time than you had planned on the internet oogling beautiful images other people put out in the name of “research” or to find an “inspiration.”
  • Feeling inspired by those beautiful images at first and then start wondering why your work doesn’t look like that.
  • Feeling small because you don’t have as many followers and cool client list and a book deal.
  • Feeling depressed and anxious that you’re never gonna make it.  Also feeling down because you know you should be making your own things but now wasted hours oogling other people’s stuff online.
  • Continuing to click to see more stuff because you don’t think it’s gonna make any difference if you stop now.

Hey, I’ve been there, too.  It is so easy to do especially if you can’t find a motivation or inspiration to create.

People you admire on the internet seem to have everything together, always putting out awesome work and working with fabulous clients, right?  You think, gosh, they’re so talented.  They must’ve been discovered by a high-power art director one day, and work keeps coming in just like that.  And they have nice hair and work in a beautiful, minimalist art studio filled with plenty of natural light.  It seems like just a luck of the draw.  What chance do I have?

But is it really just a luck of the draw?

I’ve read, listened to, and talked to many artists who I consider very successful to know that “overnight success” happens to only a few people.  Yes natural talent gives advantages to people, but it’s not a guarantee for success in and of itself.  Just like any other skills, you need to practice, work hard, and persist to take your creative skills and business to the next level.

For instance, I’ve been admiring and following the works of Sean McCabe and Lisa Congdon for a while now.  They’re both prolific with their creation and business and commercially very successful.  Neither of them went to an art school or business school to learn what they do.  And they didn’t get “discovered” and became famous overnight.  They followed their passion and worked very, very, very hard for many years before anyone knew who they were.

I remember in one of her interviews Lisa was talking about how people thought she was this overnight success, but it was just that not many people knew who she was for several years before she had her initial success as an artist in 2008 although he was already putting out her work consistently.

One of the statistics Sean shared during this podcast episode resonated with me very much:

The best work of composers was after their 10th year: 497 of the 500 most popular symphonies were made after the composer’s 10th year of work.

 

When you’re oogling other people’s work and feeling depressed, you’re likely looking at a body of work of someone who had been putting many hours of practice and reached a level you haven’t reached yet.  It doesn’t mean they haven’t been where you are before.  It is likely that they weren’t very good when they started out. It means that they didn’t stop creating when nobody noticed their work.  Potentially for a very long time.

My 365 Day Happiness Project gave me a structure to create every day for a year.   Some days, I struggled to find the inspiration to draw.  I’ve been sucked into the unproductive, self-loathing internet hell many times.

But I continued creating because I had to.  I did it because I told people I was going to do it and didn’t want to be a flake.  Inspiration or not, I needed to put my work out there every day.   Every day, I had to make a choice: Do I waste hours not reaching my goal, or do I conjure up the energy to do one thing to help me become a better artist?

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Because I had to squeeze in my art time around my day job, I also needed to be practical.  I had many days where I stayed up until 11 or 12 to work on my drawing because I spent more time than I should clicking away and looking at other people’s work.  I don’t function very well without a good night sleep, so that taught me a lesson to make the right choice.

If you’re struggling with the “Comparing Yourself with Strangers on the Internet Syndrome,” these tips may help:

  • Try to remember that everyone starts somewhere.  While it’s OK to admire the works of the masters, know that they probably started somewhere similar to where you are and got where they are by working hard for a long time without a significant recognition.
  • Also remind yourself that you don’t know everything other people go through to become successful.  Making assumptions or feeling jealous of other people’s situations do not help you reach your goals.
  • Instead, compare where you are now to where you were a year ago.  3 years ago.  Or 5 years ago.  How did you improve?  How much time and energy have you been spending practicing your skills?
  • Create a time in your day to focus.  A lot of people do 30-minute or even 15-minute drawing a day.  Set a timer.  Put your cell phone in the airplane mode.  Turn off your push notifications and close your internet browser tabs.  Arrange with your family so they know this is your alone focused time.
  • When you notice you’re comparing yourself with others and feeling bad, take a breath.  There is nothing wrong with being self-reflective and wanting to improve.  But if it’s keeping you from creating your own thing and appreciating it, then it’s not helping you.  It may help to jot down positive things you or others have said about your work so you can come back to it whenever you need a little encouragement.

I hope this post was helpful to you.  I still struggle with this and think it comes and goes for many people too.

My next blog will be the last of the Happiness Project Reflection series!  I want to sum up the benefits and share all the great things that have come out of the project 🙂  Stay tuned!

I will be slowly adjusting to my new life as a full-time artist (!!) in the next few months to come.  I want to document my processes as much as I can so I can share with you my challenges and successes.  If you’re hoping to quit your day job (or significantly reduce the hours) and pursue your passion full-time some day, follow along  🙂

And don’t forget to sign up for my new e-newsletter here!  I have many exciting news to share and would love for you to hear it ❤

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Thank you for reading!! Have a wonderful week!

xoxo  Yuko

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5 thoughts on “Happiness Project Reflection 8: Nothing Good Happens When You Compare Yourself with Strangers on the Internet

  1. Great, thought-filled post – and a pod reminder to all! I wanted to add that “things are not always what they appear to be…” : I distinctly remember a coaching session with a client, after which I saw her blog/FB post … There was an ENORMOUSLY discrepancy in what the public was seeing of her day/week than what was truly happening with her. It was a significant moment for me personally, in realizing that what people are posting is not necessarily the reality (or is a very angled glimpse, leaving out the much bigger, dominant story).

    I say this not at all to judge my client – for I very much respect the “send out positive vibrations” angle of life. I say it instead to help remind people, just as you did, of the downfalls of comparing ourselves to what we’re seeing in others…certainly on social media, but in real life as well.

    Such an important topic – thanks for creating space for it!

    1. Hi Julianna! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I want to keep a good balance of positives and challenges in what I share because that’s real life. And I want people to know that real people can achieve their big dreams and that, in fact, we’re all real people 🙂 Do you still practice coaching? One of my goals for this year is to start a coaching service for people pursuing their passions 🙂 I’d love to hear more about your practice 🙂

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