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How to Avoid the Comparison Trap

Marshall Taylor March 31, 2021 · 4 min read
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We do it all the time, we measure ourselves relative to another person and we size up the competition to see where we stand. It seems to be an automatic response, something we do without thinking, but can have such a profound effect on us. We bet our ego on this comparison, and when we lose, we lose big. Creatives are no strangers to this comparison trap: second-guessing your work before handing it to a client, or juxtaposing your latest personal project to the constant barrage of new projects available on Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, or any other social network. The effects can be exhausting and emotionally straining, diminishing your self-esteem and confidence in your own work. Thankfully, there are tactics we can employ to help combat the comparison trap and help replace negative responses with positives take-aways.

Celebrate the differences

Life is interesting not because of the similarities but because of the differences. Sometimes it’s healthy to be nervous about presenting new work to your client. Often times new will mean different. If you are nervous because your work doesn’t reflect the community’s, you are likely just pushing the boundaries. Embrace the excitement for a positive instead of letting it implode into anxiety. Your work is different because it is yours and not anyone else’s. Own your differences, embrace their uniqueness, and become more confident in your work — clients will respond.

Be fair

You are going to set yourself up for disappointment if you are not being fair in your comparisons. Let’s say you just finished the first mockup of a website and you were given 10 hours to design the homepage by your freelance client. It wouldn’t be uncommon to take a peek at websites in the same industry to give yourself a benchmark for your design’s quality. Except instead you only find examples of work that look amazingly polished and are being highly acclaimed by the community. Making this comparison is dangerous to your process because you have set yourself up for failure. The two projects weren’t comparable in scope. What you may be looking at could have had more hours to work with, or a larger design team to review the project. Checking out what the industry has produced is a great idea to build inspiration or gauge the current design climate, but be wary before you judge yourself too harshly.

Ease up on yourself

Considerably easier said than done, aim to have more confidence in your own work. Comparing your work in progress to another creative’s finished product can compound your thoughts to second guess yourself and lead you down a negative path. Give yourself some credit and reflect on the success you have, not the failures your perceive.

Ask for help

Asking for help doesn’t come easy, especially when the product is so personal, but recognizing your own shortcomings, in a healthy and organized manner, will let you put more energy into the areas your shine in. Quality feedback can be an awesome learning opportunity. Activities like portfolio reviews can be a great chance to move your work forward by asking the right questions and exploring your strengths and weaknesses.

Belong to a community

The comparison trap often happens inside our own heads when we internalize the conversation and neglect to open up the dialogue to others. If possible, cultivate a community that you can share ideas with, or ask for honest feedback. Hearing new opinions and fresh perspectives can open up new opportunities for improvement. Remember to not to just create a team of sycophants, you want to be part of a community that you can participate in, and receive thoughtful feedback instead of unquestioned praise.

Acknowledge other creatives’ successes

If you find work that you love or inspires you, let the creative know! Sharing your appreciation is a great way to be part of the community that you find so inspiring. If I am especially interested in a project, I may even reach out directly to that creative with any questions. I find people have been overwhelmingly open to sharing and talking about their work.

Be positive

Throughout all, staying positive is the most powerful tool you have to combat the comparison trap. Having a positive outlook will let you be more receptive to fresh ideas and criticism, giving you a better chance to adapt and improve your work. Be inspired, be challenged, and be positive.
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Marshall Taylor

True North Creative is fonts and designs created and cared for by Marshall Taylor. Fun to make and fun to use. Thanks for the support!

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