biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: How to Escape the Comparison Trap

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from photographer, writer, blogger and all-around artistpreneur Becka Robinson. Becka has a passion for inspiring other creative business owners, so she began her personal blog to candidly share the struggles, lessons and triumphs of creative small-business ownership. In this post, Becka offers valuable tips on avoiding the comparison trap and maintaining a confident outlook on all that you do in business and beyond. Thanks, Becka, for this positive and encouraging advice! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

I’ve never been one of the cool kids. And this fact, to this day, is why I do a lot of the ridiculous things I do. I’m pretty easy to get along with, so I’ve always been a friend of some cool kids, but never really one of them. I’m just on the outside, not really invited to the party but sometimes I get to go by proxy. Do you know the feeling?

For the last year I’ve been intentional about trying to distance myself from that feeling. It’s hard, I’ll be honest, because the internet makes comparisons so stinkin’ easy. Just a click here, a URL there and boom! I can easily find 10 websites that make me feel like I suck, like I’ll always be picked last for kickball. (And I’m actually surprisingly good at kickball. No lie.)

I thought that maybe I’m not the only one dealing with this, so I figured I’d share some tips that I’ve used over the last year to help remove myself from the comparison trap and set myself up for success. Because let’s be honest: If I have no idea what the cool kids are doing, I won’t feel left out.

Step 1. Clean out your RSS and pare it down to the best of the best.

First and foremost, I pared down the places I visited online. There’s no need for me to see what every single one of my peers did this week because, inevitably, I will compare it to what I did, what I accomplished, where I shot, where I was featured, whom I got to collaborate with, etc.

Step 2. Hide the people you don’t actually know from your Facebook feed. You’re wasting time and brainpower trying to keep up with them all.

Second, I hid a BUNCH of people from my Facebook feed. And by a bunch, I mean hundreds. I did not un-friend them; let’s just clarify that from the start. But I now only keep people in my feed whom I actually know in real life and/or work with. It takes me about 5 minutes to catch up on their lives when I open Facebook (instead of the hour or so it took me to read about every single contact I had). And when I’m curious about a particular person, I just look her/him up.

Step 3. Take Twitter with a grain of salt. Everyone wants to appear happy and successful, so they will usually only share the best. Remind yourself that they have bad days/months/seasons, too.

I’ll be honest, I wish there was a way to apply Step 2 to Twitter because Twitter is even more dangerous. Some days it is just one big brag fest and a constant name drop. And everyone’s positivity when I’m having a bad day can be depressing. But Twitter is a necessary and wonderfully addictive evil in my life (kind of like ice cream), and I love that I can communicate with so many people. So I work Twitter to my advantage and filter what I read through the knowledge that everyone is trying to promote themselves in a positive way, just like I am.

Step 4. Find whatever inspires you and start spending more of your time there.

To allow myself a positive form of internet distraction, I started branching out from my own creative genre. I’m a photographer, so to move beyond my niche, I added a bunch of personal, design, fashion and inspiration blogs to my reader. Only about 10% of the sites I follow currently are inside my own industry (just enough to keep me in the loop). I now love my time reading them and come away inspired instead of frustrated.

Step 5. Stop trying to be like your idols, and stop trying to copy the trends. Do what you love whether it’s in style or not, and do a kick-ass job of it.

What fills me with joy? What do I want to do with my time? What do I do really well? What do I think is total rubbish? I’ve been doing more of the first three and cutting out that last one. At the end of the day, I’m never going to truly leave an impact on this world by following the people I think are cooler than myself. I’ve got to keep doing my own thing. Dance to the beat of my own drummer.

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  • Becky had me hooked at her first paragraph! Honestly, it was like she pulled the thoughts and feelings from my head and heart and turned it into something sensical!
    This is so relatable and totally relevant. Thank you Becky for this important (and much needed) reminder. Cheers! xo

  • so true! twitter can be overpoweringly positive sometimes. I have to constantly remind myself that not everyone is having a fantastic time all of the time!

  • so true now that EVERYONE has a facebook, instagram, twitter, blog etc etc. it makes you think you can’t keep up! thanks for the post. i feel the same way, you need to just narrow your favorite tech things down and spend more time on what you really enjoy-life and your craft!

  • What a great post! It is so, so hard for me not to compare, especially since I’m just starting out, but it is such a destructive habit to get into. Thanks for sharing your tips, I can definitely incorporate a few into my daily internet habits.

  • What a great article! Comparing is something I’m constantly struggling with, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Now, off to clear out my rss! :)

  • Did you read my mind?! I needed to read this, I’ve been feeling the same way lately.

    You are so spot on about Twitter- it can be overwhelming. But I love it at the same time! There’s a saying I try (trying really hard!) to remember when I look at blogs/tweets: don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. It’s so important to remember that, since you’re never going to see a whole timeline of tweets about failures and struggles :) Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Love it! Fact of living in a vibrant connected community. Isolation is sometimes, a good space to think. To be.

  • Thanks for the article, Becka (and your blog is awesome!). I’m also a big fan of Twitter–but it can be depressing when everyone else appears to be so successful. I also think these negative feelings make people fearful of trying something new (for example, starting/sharing a personal project or creating a new blog), which is where Step 5 comes in. Thanks again for the tips!

  • Thank you for sharing this with us. I am definitely guilty of comparing myself to others and cannot seem to get pass how talented others are.

  • My friend passed on a great quote the other day, not sure where she got it from. That we compare everyone else’s ‘show reel’ with our ‘behind the scenes’ on FB and Twitter, blogs etc. This is a great post. I had one of those comparison days yesterday. Not a good place to be.

  • Becka, this post is so on point. I’ve just recently launched a handmade business and it almost unbearable some days when I see what others out there are doing and compare myself. I’ve tried to channel as much of it as possible into inspiration and motivation, but it’s hard weeding out the disappointment and self judgement first. It’s a great idea to focus on true inspiration and let your comparisons fall to the wayside. Thanks again for the great article. I definitely needed it!

  • Great tips and so true, you have to be completely true to your own vision and to work at your own pace. Each person has their own journey in life, and there is no giant scorecard in the sky (although the internet can feel this way, but who knows if it will even exist in another 20 years). I have thought a lot about the comparisons to others that lead us to feel dissatisfied with our own lives. If you compare yourself to a subsistence farmer anywhere in the world, then you are living like a queen and should be grateful and happy every day. But if you compare yourself to someone like Steve Jobs, you feel like a sad little nobody.

    I once worked for an incredibly successful, somewhat famous woman who was not a happy person. I realized that she didn’t compare herself to me and see how good she had it and all she had accomplished. Instead she was obsessed with the small number of people who were more successful than she was. It really made me think about being happy about what I have accomplished, and grateful that I am able to work on my craft at all.

  • Great advice! It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by what others are doing. I have to remind myself everyday to focus on my goals and remember what I’m good at. In the end it only helps to make my work stronger. Thanks for sharing!

  • The Biz Ladies Series is one of my favorites- even though I am in a different line of work altogether. This was one of the best posts- practical and sincere. And one of the post descriptions of my relationship to the cool kids ever. Thanks!

  • This is such a great post – I definitely find myself overwhelmed from Twitter and blog-surfing at times, so I turn it off and focus on my own thoughts – sometimes I really feel like a little kid watching too much tv. I esp. agree with #4 because trying new things and interdisciplinary ideas are the things that set my gears in motion.

  • I had to read this because I wasnt sure what the comparison trap was!!! I pare down my reader every 6 months or so and it feels SO good! Some blogs can be frustrating!!!

  • Re: Step 3, you CAN filter Twitter! You can do it by lists. I created a private list of my fave peeps. This narrow feed is what I most often use. You can create many lists if you’d like!

  • Truth and wisdom! Steps 4 and 5 are especially AWESOME. By coincidence, last week I started to fill my own reader with blogs I found inspiring, like painting or writing blogs — all things I dabble (or hope to dabble) in but none of which is my primary “thing.” Food blogging is my main hobby, but except for the occasional awesome recipe, stunning photo, or rare insight, most of what I see is imitation; it all tends to stress me more than inspire me. What’s interesting, though, is that by paying less attention to the food bloggers and more attention to my own outlets for inspiration (ahem, Step 4), Step 5 has become a lot easier and natural.

  • Thanks for the tips! When you are starting out in the online social media world it feels like everyone has got it all figured out except you. I love that you used the ‘cool kids’ illustration because the internet can totally feel like high school all over again if you let it. I found this quote on Becka’s blog

    “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

    *Steve Furtick
    Too true. Thanks for the great content d*s and Becka!

  • Like Sarah I think 4 & 5 are golden rules for creatives. The whole post hit on things that can almost make you feel defeated at times living the creative life. Thank you for letting us all know we are not alone and for the wonderful tips.

  • This is a great post, so many things I can identify with in my day to day! Just an FYI, the link to Becka’s photography site has an extra “d” in “studio” so it is broken.

  • Thanks everyone! I’m so glad that this is something that so many of us can talk about and encourage each other on. And thanks to Design*Sponge for allowing me this amazing platform to share. @Betz, thanks for the tip!

  • Cannot even TELL you how much this resonates with me, and how thankful I am to read it – today- when I’m about to embark on something new, exciting, but still very scary.
    Thank you for your simple but oh-so-wise input.

  • I LOVE this post! It’s so easy to get down on yourself after a quick trip around blog world. Thanks for posting this Becka! Your words are always inspiring :)

  • Excellent post! I have a habit of doing this as well. It seems that there are so many people excelling and doing amazing work in my field. I often wonder if I’ll ever get “there.” These tips are great in reminding me that I’m great too and bring a unique perspective to the table and I need to spend more time embracing and fostering that and less time obsessing over the kids at the cool table in the lunch room. :) Thanks!

  • Great advice. I use Twitter lists to pare that back – I still follow hundreds of people for when I have time to read everything, but also have a list of people I know in real life or people who are really want to hear about so that if I just want to read a quick update, I can do.

  • I liked this a lot. I’ve often wondered why I can’t stand to read blogs in my own niche … now I know why. I hope to avoid being a show-offy, annoying internet presence, myself.

  • This was such an inspiring post. Your words made it easier to accept how I’VE been feeling. The internet can be a wonderful thing, but too much inspiration at my fingertips and I get bogged downand start to feel that I am not talented enough and don’t have the desired resources necessary to be “a cool kid”. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s nice to know I’m not alone!

    All we can do is improve ourselves the way we want to and the rest will take care of itself. You’re wonderful!

  • Thank you so much for this post! This kind of honesty is exactly why I love reading the Biz Ladies column so much — it’s refreshing to know you’re not the only one out there sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the need to compare. I generally tend to look at things from a more aspirational point of view, but I definitely have those days where I forget that I don’t have a staff of 100 people so of course I can’t keep up!

    Thanks again so much for this post!

  • I absolutely love this post (although Becka, I already follow you so you know I love all your posts!) — and it actually reminds me of another one I read recently that talks about compartmentalizing your life. When you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, it’s so easy to let your business (specifically, I think, your internet life) be completely inseparable from the rest of your life. But that means a huge amount of highs and lows — I believe that the person who wrote the original post said that “you’re only as good or bad as your last success or failure” — and that’s a dangerous mindset when you’re in it for the long term. It’s easy to get stuck in your head and down on yourself. But when you allow yourself to be a whole person, where your business is only a component of you, it’s easier to manage the ups and downs.

  • Thank you for this post. We all need to hear this! It seriously doesn’t matter what business you’re in, when I open blogs/websites, I see so much repetition. One shop trying to copy someone’s ideas but just tweaked a little, what would otherwise be a mundane blog topic becomes a similar topic on 20 other follower blogs within days of the original post. Blogging seems to be a competition of who can have the most tragic daily story, or the constant giveaways for larger “follower” numbers on FB, Twitter or any other social network. Status and importance are now based on these numbers. Quantity supersedes quality of work. I am not innocent..our shop has been involved on other blogs with giveaways in hopes for increased sales. People are always wanting something for nothing. How sad! They drop you the second the winner is announced.

    You have to decide to “stay true to yourself” as commented above. Do what’s best for your business, concentrate on your own path and quit being distracted by others successes. Once again thanks for your honesty. Clearing my RSS feed comes next!

  • Thanks for the post, this is something I have struggled with this many times, I’m a graphic designer and its so easy to see the work from some of the best people in the world.

    Refreshing to hear other people have a similar problem with this.

  • Thanks for this post, it really puts things in perspective. I’m a newbie blogger and it’s good to keep this in mind.

  • great post! and re: twitter – I enjoy my experience on there so much more since I started using tweetdeck and columns. I separate the people I follow into lists/columns: photographers/photo resources/ friends /ottawa (my town)/ etc. etc. so that I don’t get overwhelmed with all the tweets all the time.

  • I totally relate with everything Becka said. I’ve been implementing these things in my life over the last 6 months and it is BEYOND helpful. It’s so good to just focus on what I can do better as opposed to what other people are doing better or worse than me. Frankly, I don’t give a d@mn, my dear! :-)

  • I really like the idea of only showing the feed of your friends, i’ll have to find out how to do that. I’m a busy mum and find myself caught up reading things about people I never see!!

  • Such great advise! Although I like to know what my competition is doing (I am an online retailer), I spend too much time worrying about what they are charging and what they are doing vs. just being who I am! Much thanks. You wrote a lot of what I’m thinking.

  • This was exactly what I needed. I too often fall into the comparison trap… Which is unfair to myself since it just bums me out that I don’t feel as successful as some of my peers. Thanks for the inspirational post!

  • This is such a great post. It’s so easy to feel small in such a sea of blogs, etc. Thank you for reminding me why I do it.

  • Fantastic post. This is exactly the sort of thing that I have been talking about with some of my fellow bloggers. Thank you for putting this message out there.

  • Not 30 minutes ago I turned the key in my door asking myself if it is just me – or do other people flip-flop between loving what I am trying to do and wondering if I am just fooling myself – waiting for the world yo also me with a reality check! You hit the nail on the head – high school thinking!!! After all these years and true successes…there it is if I let it in. Thank you.

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom! I always find that social networking makes me feel bad about myself, because I spend so much time online lurking my acquaintances who are living fabulous lives in New York and Paris. Your post gave me insight as to how stupid that is! Thanks for reminding us to keep our focus on what makes us happy, rather than what the Internet tells us to do.

  • Such a great post! As always! I once read ” stop following a blog/ someone’s work if it don’t makes you happy”. Sounds logic but made me think twice!
    And well, THIS column is generally so great and helpful! woooouaah!
    You should do another book just with the tips of the “biz Ladies” column!

  • You can purge the noise on Twitter by using lists. Make a list of the people you can actually remember and that you want to actually read. Then use Hootsuite (or similar tool) to create a stream for that list.

    Also, I use FlipBoard on my iPad to follow Twitter Lists, Friend lists on Facebook and select RSS feeds that I really enjoy following. I turn to this regularly for enjoyment. When I have more time and am in the right mindset, I’ll ‘work’ my way through all the other stuff I want to stay up-to-date on via google reader rss feeds etc.

  • Brilliant Advice! And you’ve just prompted me to sort out my Google Reader, which was long overdue. I’ve not been totally ruthless – yet- but I have stopped following the feeds I think I “should” be reading but never do (and then feel guilty as a result!) Next up I’m going to take advice from Christelle (comment above) and stop following anything that doesn’t make me happy!

    Next up that Facebook feed…

  • It’s simple,it’s easy and still we all get caught in this ‘web’ sometimes. Our ego tricks our real self by a constant comparison with others….It’s hard to shake off, but I do believe it can be very liberating if you get it. So note to self! Read this post once in a while. Great job Becka!

  • THANKS SO MUCH. I can’t believe you’ve written about something I’m going through just this week… I’ve had a major blog/internet/lurking overdose and I’m completely drained from comparing myself to what everyone else is doing. It can really put a damper on the creative juices and I need to stop that now… thanks again for this hugely honest and real article.

  • Thank you for such an honest post! I have had similar conversations with other designers over the last month, and just yesterday had a large class discussion about this topic with my design students. One thing I always try to remember is that when things looks so glossy and polished, something off in the distance might be a total mess. No one has it together all the time. Also, just as we admire/idolize the work/press/accomplishments of others, there is often someone looking at our own work thinking the exact same thing.

  • I DO know that feeling!! Wonderful post at the perfect time. Much appreciated! You might consider keeping a running list of your accomplishments that you can review every now and then. Just when I start thinking I can’t do something or wish I could be like someone else, I usually get some sort of reminder that, “hell yeah, I can do this!” It just sometimes has to come from within. Thanks for reminding us all that we aren’t alone.

  • Thanks for this list Becka – so helpful to know that others out there also struggle with this. I probably waste more hours of my day catching up on other blogs, facebook and twitter than actually writing or creating my own blog posts. I need to remember this for sure!

  • This post is amazing! I’m new to your blog but i just gad to leave a comment. I found my own voice when i finally stopped trying to fit in. The comparison trap is so deadly. I’ve noticed that many who say “i’m not creative” are really saying “i’m not like so & so”. Nate berkus said something on his show that flows with your thoughts perfectly:”trends are designed to make you feel bad about yourself”. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  • This post completely resonates with me. When I’m doing my own thing, working on projects and my blog, I’m completely happy. But when I try to catch up on Twitter, FB, my RSS – I feel completely drained and anxious because others seem to be so much more succesful. That said, you can learn from how others do, so a measured approach is probably the best thing – which is the hardest. Great tips to help you along though.

  • This is great. 70 comments? Even more great to know how this resonates with so many people and me! ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ This is one of my fave quotes (dunno who said it). thanks!

  • I’m so glad someone has said all of this, thankyou! I related to much of it, thanks for sharing. Really wonderful.

  • Such a great post! My husband and I are musicians and make our living that way as a family. We are constantly looking for ways to grow our business and I’m currently working on getting a blog up and running for better interaction with our supporters and community. Just getting the thing designed has me fighting the urge to compare! I love the idea of paring down to just “the best of the best”. I think that’s a concept that would benefit many areas of life. Thanks Becka!

  • Your post made me realise that sometimes we compare ourselves with too many people at the same time. X is doing awesome work, Y is making good business development, Z has lost weight! And then we expect ourselves to achieve ALL those things. Simultaneously. Maybe it is a better idea to take things one at a time and put that focus back into our own lives. Great post :)

  • Awesome post! SO true – sometimes you need to block out what everyone else is doing and do what you feel is right or what you’re good at. Sometimes I have a hard time focusing on what I’m doing instead of what everyone else is doing.

    Thanks for this!

  • It’s Friday the 13th and I considerate it lucky. I also agree and understanding
    truly in my mind and heart how were sometimes do that comparison thing
    I do painted wine bottles and was feeling rather upset .
    thank you for your thoughts and words I really needed that …

  • For biz starters, designers, artists whatever, this rings true for all. Excellent post. Thanks!

  • As a new business – this is something I’m really struggling with and at time can actually cause by creativity to crash! Why try? I’ll never me that good… I’m going to take this advice and put it into practice. Thanks for sharing x

  • Ha! Right after the first paragraph I stopped and re-read it out loud to my husband saying “it’s like she’s talking about me”.
    Thank you for this post, I didn’t know Becka. I will now definitely check out her blog, good stuff! Cheers :)

  • Thank you for this. I needed to be reminded that I have to stick to what I feel is inspiring and not worry about the rest of the world. This was a great read for a Sunday morning.

  • These Biz Lady posts are always great, but especially when they speak to human nature as this one does. (I actually found a little metal box with the Biz Lady on it at a thrift store and have it in my studio/office as a reminder of these posts.) Comparisons are always a killer….they either bring you down or worse, make you too comfortable where you are (when you find you’re doing “better” than someone else)….I didn’t see much here on the latter aspect but it’s just as harmful.

  • This is exactly what I needed to hear! I was pretty down on Friday about my shop and the things I was creating. But it is good to know that everyone gets that way sometimes and I can be proactive at preventing that feeling from happening as frequently as it does.

  • Thank you. Hit home right away. Everything she said from the the first paragraph to the final tip is so true and that’s how I’ve been keeping sane for the past few months. (I actually unfriended all the unnecessary prople on fb.) Reading this post makes me realize that it’s normal; what I am feeling.
    I’ve also realised that when I spend less time, online, gawking at what others have accomplished, my work tends to be more original.
    Thank you again for this candid and uplifting post. The number of comments says it all.

  • Good to know I’m not the only one that compares myself to everyone else! You always hear about a select group of wonderful creatives doing wonderful things, and don’t really realise that there’s way more people out there just like yourself! Not to mention all the down days the wonderful creatives had before they hit their stellar idea! It’s all a matter of perspective.

  • It is so familiar to everyone but only a few are brave to share. Thanks for the honest writing, it made my day.

  • Remember when life was just comparing yourself to your inner circle of friends, people you knew? With social media suddenly we’re comparing ourselves to random twitter feeds, facebook friend number 311, someone we barely know, assuming their life is better. Why is is hard to remember people don’t share the rough drafts only the final version?

  • Well done Becka! And as for Twitter, how I handle it is by making lists. I created a list of “pals” that are the people who’s twitter feeds I actually care about. Much like how you’re handling your Facebook wall. It works perfect!

  • You are so kind to share this with us – and I so needed to read this. Having just started my biz its so easy to compare myself to others and of course it ends badly. I did read that Comparison is the thief of joy and I try to remind myself of the same but its easier said than done. Maybe if I remember your article I will do better. Thank you again.

  • Thank you so much for this! The fear of comparison has actually stopped me from moving forward, this kind of thinking gives me some courage to work on getting out there.

  • Thank you :) I really needed this too. I have been stalling and procrastinating due to the fear of being compared to everyone else, and not measuring up. I have already re-read this post twice and I am saving it for reminders whenever I need it. Thanks again.

  • The only bad thing about this post is that I just found it now! I’ve been doing this all year (comparing and despairing) and it’s contributed to lots of sullen brooding and surly moods.Thank you for these wise and practical tips!

  • My brother suggested I would possibly like this blog.

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