I did the one thing a creative should never do!

Last week I made the worst mistake an artist/crafter/creative could ever make. We don’t talk enough about this kind of thing, but we need to.

Far too many creative people have given up and lost their way, too many ideas haven’t come to fruition because of this one mistake. But I’m here to put my hand up and say I did it. I did the one thing you should never do.

I compared myself to another creative.

It’s okay to look at a well known artist and admire their work. It’s useful to look at the career of a successful creative and get ideas for your own career path. It’s good to look at similar styles of work, even to have a go at copying their work to see how close you come or do one of the many instagram challenges to “draw this in your own style”.

But the one thing you should never, ever, do (and I really mean it) is compare yourself to another creative.

I saw a fellow creative, checked out their Etsy page, looked at other work they did and slowly the damaging thoughts entered my head…

  • Why do I not have as many Instagram followers?
  • Why do I not have as much paid opportunities (although how do I know they’re paid and not volunteering)?
  • Why doesn’t my Etsy shop look as cohesive as theirs?
  • Why does their work look so much brighter, bolder?…
  • Why?
  • Why?

And once you allow the Why questions into the party, the ‘if only’s’ accompany them like a plus 1 to a wedding.

  • If only I could have afforded the teaching course, I could’ve taken that job opportunity
  • If only I’d have been able to secure funding for the MA course in Art Psychotherapy
  • If only I’d have realised my passion for creativity when I was younger
  • If only I’d have chosen embroidery or weaving instead of knitting at Uni
  • If only my mental health…
  • If only…
  • If only…

And then the full force of damage happened.

I cried, then I started feeling angry at myself, then I started feeling I was a failure.

I expose this horrifying tale as a warning to others. Comparing yourself to other creatives is harmful to your health. Do not do it.

And then, after a time of hitting a low, I remembered some advice I heard from Harry Potter.

“Play to your strengths Harry”

Professor Moody (well, okay, Potter fans may argue it wasn’t technically Moody)

And here’s why you shouldn’t do what I did.

I don’t know the journey of another creative, I don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to where they are. I don’t know their connections, their training, the hours they put in, the finances they might have.

But I know mine.

I know that as a child I actually was creative, but I also know I was often in a dark place that squashed my confidence.

I know that financially I am not able to invest in big items, even something as simple as a printer so I can print my own cards is beyond my finances, so a lot of what I do is done slowly.

I am not a mixed media artist, I don’t like to work messy – I know, I was even comparing myself to someone who doesn’t work in the same media as me, How crazy is that?

But I also have to recognise my strengths.

I’m a textile artist, that is my strength.

Yes, I draw and use procreate, I’m good at textile design, I have fabric that sells online. I have crochet patterns that sell, I have awards for my knitting skills (and some quite prestigious awards too!).

I liked what the other creative was doing, but I could never recreate their artwork. And even if I did, I would not be satisfied.

And so, in the end, I stopped trying. Instead of continuing with the drawing I had started that set me off on the why questions and into this black hole, I put down the pencil and picked up the sewing needle. And I made this…

I am the light of the world

Apologies for the photo and the un-ironed fabric (I do know better).

It looks nothing like the other creatives work, it’s not supposed to. It looks like mine.

And I’m proud of it.

But here’s the other problem, If that creative person knew I felt this way, that their positive work led to a dark moment for me, they’d be upset. In the same way, if one person from our Wednesday evening sketching group felt ‘less-than’ because I, or someone else, was seen as a better doodler, I’d be upset with it.

But more than that, God doesn’t want this for us.

You might have heard that old pastors story or the phrase, ‘God doesn’t want another Billy Graham’.

It suggests the world has one Billy Graham and doesn’t need another carbon copy. Each of us have our own unique paths, experiences and plans. This talk about the pathway we hear in church should really be more like a map full of roads wide and narrow all leading to the one destination.

Yeah, we all have moments when we think ‘the world doesn’t need another me’!

I like to imagine, God isn’t saying it like that (which can often become a negative phrase), rather, He’s looking at the world and wondering what else it needs, and thinking, I know exactly what is needed. Then off He goes and makes ‘me!’

It’s actually rather incredible when you think about it.

God looked at the world and decided what it really needed, wasn’t another one of me, but one of you!

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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