Comparing yourself with others
This is an edited transcript of Episode 007 of Design, In Confidence, mindfulness & design podcast with Stefano Bellucci Sessa’s learnings on creative confidence, emotional intelligence, and mental health.
This blog is NOT about “How to stop comparing yourself with others”
I tried. I didn’t manage to do it.
I accept that I’ll always do it.
But I want to share how I’ve learnt how to control it.
It has helped me not only to avoid anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem, but also to mindfully use comparison (when needed) to my advantage.
If you wanna mindfully design how to compare yourself with others, keep reading.
The design process of comparison
I could approach comparisons from many aspects(e.g. regret, perfectionism, competition, envy) but I’m going to focus on its “design process”.
Everything is designed.
Everybody compares themselves with others.
Not everyone mindfully designs how to compare themselves with others.
We do it on autopilot, not mindfully.
When I mindfully pay attention to how I do it, I feel like Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho” (note: without the killing).
I look up people’s profiles like he does with business cards, and I can hear a voice in my head:
“Oh, look at that.”
“They’ve worked there.”
“They have done this project here.”
“Oh my God. They even have trademark. ”
Of course, I always exaggerate.
I don’t kill people.
If you have to take something from this blog: you should not kill people either.
If you do feel that after reading, talk to someone.
I’m just a designer, not a psychologist*.
(*healthy example of comparison)
So let’s look at how designers compare themselves with other designers.
The wrong design questions
As a designer, even more than other people, I look for problems to solve (in myself) and inspiration (in others).
If you are like me, you might look for problems to solve by asking yourself:
How might I be better?
And then find inspiration in others with the question:
Who looks better than me?
In terms of the design process, that’s kind of okay…but:
- “Looks” – You don’t see everything about other people.
Be realistic about it, so they can be mindful about it.
- What’s missing here are the 4 questions for a better comparison process
Let’s look at them.
#1. What does “better” mean to you?
Without this question, you will become “better” in ways you don’t want to become.
I struggled a lot in my life by comparing myself with:
- Designers winning awards
- Friends working for Google or Microsoft
- Designers with case studies with the latest tech for early adopters
(e.g. blockchain, VR, or artificial intelligence)
Then, I realised that…. I don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong – I do recognize these as strengths and accomplishments.
But there is a difference between “admiration” and comparison.
Admire people good at what they do.
But don’t compare yourself with them, if they are good at what you don’t want to do and become.
What helps me understand what ‘better’ means to me, is the second question.
#2. What is the best version of yourself?
Instead of looking at the appearance of others, look within you.
That’s the only place where you have a full picture.
There, you will find strengths and blockers.
Your strengths are the solutions you already have.
Your blockers show how your potential misused or untapped.
For example, it took me a long time to recognise “drawing” as my potential. Something I could excel in.
I was misusing it by “making things look pretty” (something I don’t care about) instead of more functional or inspiring.
It was an untapped potential because I was worrying too much about making mistakes.
What helped me resolve this, is the third question.
#3. Who can you learn a list of one of these specific things from?
This powerful and reframing question brings 3 main benefits:
- From comparing with anyone to with those you want to learn from.
(e.g If you want to design apps instead of commercials, you don’t compare yourself with winners of advertising awards)
- From seeing people as better than you as a whole to better at something.
(e.g someone better at interaction design, might not be as good as you in teamwork or research, or just you as… a person!)
- From focusing on the best in your field to anyone great at something.
I really like the third one.
For example, you might want to improve in “empathy”, “asking questions”, “organizing information”, or “thinking outside the box”.
Instead of being inspired by designers that are “only” good at those things, you might find inspiration those that are great at them – for example a doctor, a friend, a family member, the barista in your neighbourhood, or a fictional character.
Clowns, improvisers, children, and memes improved my ability to draw in the way I wanted to.
And I have many other sources of inspiration.
Like my family, my partner, an astronaut (Chris Hadfield), politicians I don’t share the values of, the baker in my neighbourhood, or Doctor Who.
Be inspired by those who don’t have your job — they might be great at something you would like to be better at.
Of course, I learn from designers too.
But I focus on the specific thing I want to learn from them.
I admire them, without putting them on a pedestal.
This opens me up to collaboration so that I:
- Know who to ask for help from
- Know who might need help with something I am good at
And I can do the latter, thanks to the fourth question.
4. How are you better than before?
Before comparing yourself with others, compare yourself with your previous selves. This also creates 3 benefits:
- You get a real sense of accomplishment.
On your progress, not others.
- You become aware of what helped you learn and grow.
- By remembering how you used to struggle, you can recognise those who are struggling in similar ways.
By joining the second and third points, you can know what might help others because it previously helped you.
And if you see others struggling in ways that you haven’t, take a moment and acknowledge it. Be grateful – probably you had a privilege they didn’t have.
And then try to help them.
Compare like a designer, not like a psycho
- Understand when you admire someone
- Understand whether you should compare yourself with them, and why
- Don’t judge or get frustrated – identify what to learn or teach others
- Collaborate, instead of competing
- (Don’t kill them*)
(*which I remind you, it’s the main takeaway from this blog)
Comparing starts with acknowledging your strength and potential – so you see how much you can already give others. No matter how better they might be and look.
I’m making this podcast (and blogs) thinking that many would be better than me at it.
I look up to them. Learn. But in the meantime, I share what I already can give. Hoping it will be useful to some.
And let me know if it does.
Leave a comment and share.
Let me know if and how this helps you build your confidence.
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If you got this far, I’m sure you’re a great listener — which I thank you for.
And now, it’s time to listen to your thoughts.
And remember to thank yourself, for the time you spent to learn, and grow.