Comparison ruins creativity

Competitive environments that encourage comparison can kill creativity and encourage burnout


While driving down Keystone Avenue with a Diet Coke in my left hand and my right on the wheel, wind in my face and enjoying the beginning of fall, a podcast playing with the title “Success Kills Creativity” changed my perspective completely. Somehow Emma Chamberlain so simply described the problem I was facing in a 45-minute “ramble.”

Throughout this car ride, I was at ease, knowing someone else resonated with a problem similar to what I was facing. But, it also helped develop new ideas and mindsets along the way. One being that competitive environments encourage comparison and inevitably kill creativity, encouraging burnout. 

I started off the school year in the right place. I had creative outlets and enjoyed the creative freedom that came along with them. I was taking in the new experiences that came along with after school activities and passions of mine. Somewhere along the way, everything shifted. 

Over the next seven months, I slowly noticed a change in those passions I held so close to my heart. The environment in these places changed into something that was painful to be around and ultimately did lead to burnout. 

Finding the motivation to continue with this was a struggle. I made adjustments along the way that made it tolerable, but the passion for new creative challenges was vacant. And, as I went through my mind in the car ride with this podcast playing, I asked myself, “How did this happen?”

Initially, I wanted to blame others, which is always the immediate reaction, but I took a minute to process the new feelings and realizations I quickly came to terms with. I am the only one that can control my emotions. No one else can do it for me. With that, I abruptly realized it all lied in the hands of comparison. 

Comparison is deeper within us than we think; I was subconsciously doing it. I was devaluing my own accomplishments and milestones by comparing them to other people who were in completely different circumstances than me. Again, ultimately leading me into burnout in one of my most loved outlets, The Journal. 

Whether this comparison comes in forms of social media, friends or opportunities, the effects are still the same. Unfortunately, I’ve slowly been learning these effects in multiple forms of comparison. 

For months, I have been dealing with the same issues about my car. The thoughts of what I would do to fix it consumed my mind daily, and it was all I could think about. I just wanted to be like everyone else with working new vehicles that their parents bought for them, but that’s not my circumstance. 

Last year I had to buy my own car, which humbly, I worked hard to do. Unfortunately, as my dad says, everything mechanic will fail. I learned that lesson quickly. But will comparing my circumstances to others help anything? Not at all. So when I came home and broke down as I talked with my dad, and asked myself why I am not in the same place as other kids, I realized then that thought process is unrealistic. 

As my father and I began to talk, he reminded me that this constant pressure to have everything figured out at such a young age is just a trick from society. Although mechanical issues don’t seem to directly correlate with creativity, what could my mindset have been without this constant urge to compare my situation with others?

What else could I have accomplished? What could have been creative problem-solving ideas in these situations? Even just understanding how privileged it even is to have a car, working or not.  Which, at length, led me to the same conclusion: Comparison ruins creativity. 

Comparing ourselves to others or taking criticism personally is extremely draining and unproductive. After listening to more of the anything goes podcast recently, Chamberlain reminded her listeners that the main goal should always be sustainable.  A lifestyle with constant comparison is not that. 

So, through this painful learning experience, I have taken away that comparing myself, or taking others’ need to compare themselves to me, cannot continue. I learned to remove myself from the situation. I had to learn the hard way that my circumstances aren’t everyone else’s. 

But, even with them not being “ideal,” I am still incredibly blessed to have access to all of these opportunities and resources. I have oxygen in my lungs, access to shelter, food, water, education and freedom. It’s all about shifting the mindset to learn to be grateful for the things we constantly take for granted, regardless of not being the best. That’s what self growth looks like. That’s my self growth.