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Conquering the Comparison Trap

Nikki and Laura discuss the dreaded imposter syndrome and comparison trap. In a world where we live so much of our lives on social media, how do we combat the feeling of comparing our lives and work to others who seem so much further along than we are? How do we stop feeling like imposters in the work that we do?

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Topics discussed

  • Comparing ourselves to others on social media (1:00)
  • Nikki’s story about getting hired by IBM (1:23)
  • Laura’s comparisons to artists she admires (5:34)
  • Nikki’s story about The Jealous Curator (7:01)
  • Getting past what blocks you and taking action (9:42)
  • Actionable steps you can take to combat comparison (11:38)
  • Celebrate your progress (12:47)
  • Engage with your community (14:43)
  • Feedback and criticism (15:26)
  • What Nikki and Laura are going to do to combat comparison trap and imposter syndrome (19:13)
Van Gogh

Laura

0:07
Hi, this is Laura.

Nikki

0:08
And this is Nikki with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way, and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:17
We are artists who believes strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps, and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:31
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

0:37
So Nikki, what are we going to talk about today?

Nikki

0:39
Oh, we have a good one today… we’re going to talk about the dreaded imposter syndrome and comparison traps.

Laura

0:49
Those are good ones.

Nikki

0:50
So we’ve talked before about getting in our own way. Imposter syndrome is definitely a big way that we do that.

Laura

1:00
We do. In a world where we live so much of our lives on social media, it is so easy to get caught up in the comparison trap and in looking at our own work versus someone else’s work and thinking that we’re not good enough, thinking that our work is never going to be at the same level as the people that we admire. It’s definitely a trap that we get into.

Nikki

1:23
It is, and I know that I felt imposter syndrome before social media was even a thing and we even had a name for it. I started working in web design way back in the mid 90s. I started working for IBM doing web design at the very beginning of the web. And I was hired to do web design, to do HTML for IBM, working on client websites. And I literally had read a book on HTML and had built exactly one website. And IBM hired me in their coding department to do HTML for websites, for things like, you know, the Motorola online shop… and talk about imposter syndrome!

Laura

2:23
So you felt super experienced at the time?

Nikki

2:26
Oh, yeah, I had built one website. Literally, I taught myself enough HTML to promote my own graphic design and illustration. And I taught myself enough HTML to build my own website. So I started listing HTML as a skill on – there were these job boards, and I was trying to get design jobs. And so I started listing HTML, because I taught myself a little bit and I got contacted by a contracting company looking to place somebody with IBM for a 30 day temp job doing HTML. And I was like, well, okay, why not? And after a 10 minute phone interview – because this was 1997 and nobody even knew how to spell HTML at that point – and I was like… I can spell it!

Laura

3:18
I think I did my first website in 1996 or 1997.

Nikki

3:23
That’s about when I started too, but I started listing that as something I knew, in ’97. And I got hired, and you want to talk about imposter syndrome! Because I got placed in the technical department with a bunch of hard-core coders. And I’m not one of them. But I knew how to do a little bit of HTML, and I got a job. And I was like, wow, this is some imposter syndrome, without even knowing the term for it.

Laura

3:56
So how did you handle that if you’re in a room full of what you might call experts, and you’re the newbie in the field, and you’ve gotten this job, and now you’re here to prove yourself and you’re feeling like, “I don’t even know how to prove myself because I’m so far beneath the rest of the people in this room”. How did you combat that?

Nikki

4:14
Well, the term “fake it till you make it” has some validity. I mean, I knew how to do HTML. So I just did it. And I proved myself.

Laura

4:29
Yeah, it’s showing up and doing the work. You know, Vincent van Gogh has a great quote that says, “If you hear a voice within saying that you’re not a painter, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Nikki

4:44
Exactly.

Laura

4:47
So you just have to do the thing. Like whatever the thing is that you think that you can’t do. You have to just start and do it and you’re gonna to learn along the way you don’t have to be an expert yet. You just need enough skills to get by and complete your job to your employer specifications, I guess in this case, of IBM.

Nikki

5:05
That’s so true. And just the simple fact that you’re doing it means you’re actually not an imposter. If you think, “oh my gosh, I am such an imposter. They think I can code and I don’t know what I’m talking about.” But then you realize, you know what, I actually can do it, and I’m gonna do it. And if there’s something I can’t do, I’m gonna figure it out as I go along. And you just do it.

Laura

5:34
And I think a lot of people have skewed viewpoints, because we do admire a lot of people. I know in the art world, for example, I have a lot of people that I admire that are steps ahead of me in their careers. People like Kelly Rae Roberts, or Flora Bowley, or Laura Horn or Tracy Verdugo. Those are just a few names of people that I admire their work and what they’ve done. And also their ability to create communities where they have online classes and offerings. And so sometimes we look at something and we see where they’re at, and also maybe how quickly we think they accelerated. But what we don’t realize is that many of these were, “overnight successes” that took 10 years. They were not overnight successes.

Nikki

6:24
They probably started before they were ready. And they just put it out there.

Laura

6:29
I think it’s having that ability to push something forward, even when you don’t have everything figured out yet. And all of the greatest entrepreneurs out there and the people that have offerings like B-School, Marie Forleo, you know, some of those those high profile business entrepreneurship programs will tell you always start before you’re ready. And that’s a really tough one for me, because I always want to have it figured out before I get started.

Nikki

6:57
Because we’re perfectionists.

Laura

6:58
We’re recovering perfectionists, we’re working on it.

Nikki

7:01
We’re working on it. Yes, absolutely. So I have a great example of somebody like this. I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Jealous Curator. Her name is Danielle Krysa.

Laura

7:15
No, I’m not.

Nikki

7:16
So Danielle Krysa, who works under the name The Jealous Curator – she studied art in college, she started to, and she was told by one of her professors, “You should never paint again.”

Laura

7:34
No way.

Nikki

7:36
And she took that to heart. And she stopped painting. She changed her major. And she studied graphic design. And she started a career as a graphic designer, and did well with that. But she wanted to be a painter, she wanted to be an artist. So at some point down the road, she started a blog that was artists that she was jealous of. She took that professor’s awful comment that she should never paint again to heart. And she didn’t paint again. But she was fascinated with art. So she started a blog about artists that she was jealous of. “I wish I could be this person, I wish I could be this person.” And so she would interview artists about their journeys and about their work. And it would just be people I wish I was like. And she actually grew quite a huge following as the Jealous Curator. She was curating these artists that she was jealous of. And she was asked to actually curate real shows, in galleries in the real world. And she started putting together books of artists that she was curating, that she was jealous of. And eventually, after doing that for quite a while, she started doing her own work again and she started doing little collages with a little bit of paint and just like dipping her toes into it. And now many years later, after this fame she gained from The Jealous Curator, she has her own body of work that she’s had her own shows and her own great success with. So she started off with this fear of comparison and imposter syndrome. And then it took her so long to get into doing her own work, but now she’s fully doing it and she’s got a career of her own because she just stopped letting that fear get in her way.

Laura

9:42
Okay, so it sounds like it took her a little while, but I like that she didn’t let the fear ultimately stop her from starting her own art career and doing the things that she loved. And I think that’s something that we do let ourselves get stopped by… not even just a fear of not being good enough, but even fear about things like our age, like, “Am I too old to be doing this?”

Nikki

10:06
Are you looking at me when you say that?

Laura

10:10
Or replace the words too old with whatever it is that’s blocking you. We also talked in a past episode about having a fixed versus a growth mindset. And I think that growth mindset is so important when it comes to this comparison trap that we get in.

Nikki

10:26
Yes.

Laura

10:27
And realizing that everybody started somewhere. And everybody started with zero followers, right? Like everybody started with a blank canvas at some point, put a brush in their hands. Everybody’s story and their path is uniquely different. And I think embracing our own path and what that looks like and the fact that it may not look identical to someone else’s, is important.

So there’s no perfect formula to follow to have a successful business. But the main difference between people who succeed and those that don’t, is that the people who succeed consistently took action on their goals. And that’s kind of it. They showed up again and again. And they were able to get past all of those things that show up… you know that little voice that’s in your head that tells you all these things that you shouldn’t listen to?

Nikki

11:16
Oh, I know that voice. I know that voice…

Laura

11:19
It’s the devil on the shoulder or whatever you want to call it.

Nikki

11:22
Oh, I think is it Brene Brown? Or is it Liz Gilbert that talks about that the backseat driver… we’ll have to look that up and put in the show notes. But the only way to combat that is to really just fucking start.

Laura

11:38
Exactly. You know, we’re saying that you need to get started, we’re saying that we shouldn’t compare. What are some actionable steps that people can do to get past that? Because it’s one thing to say it, but it’s a whole other thing to actually do it?

Nikki

11:52
Yes, it is. And one thing that you can do is just remind yourself that, yes, there are many, many people – especially if you’re looking at Instagram – that are so much farther down the path than you are… that can freeze you up from even wanting to try because why should I do it when there’s so many people who are doing it so much better than we are? But there are also people who are not as far along as you who are looking at you as that expert or that person saying, “Wow, I want to be like that!”

Laura

12:29
You’re absolutely right. When we don’t see that, you know, half the time, we’re not understanding that other people view us in the way that we view other people. And those people that we admire are doing the exact same thing. And they’re having imposter syndrome on their own as well. I mean, it’s not like imposter syndrome ever just goes away.

There’s different ways to handle that. I think one way is, rather than comparing yourself against the artists that you admire on Instagram, for example, what if you look back at what you’ve accomplished, and look at the way that your work has changed in the last one year, two years, even three years? And really give yourself a little bit of grace and celebrate how far you’ve come. I know if I look back even a year ago, a lot of the work that I can produce now is way better than what I could a year ago. And it may not be at the level that in my head I want it to be. But the fact that I have done that, I have to stop and say, okay, wow, I’ve come this far. And so now I can just keep progressing, keep learning, keep practicing, keep doing the work, and see where it takes me and not spend so much time focusing on someone else’s work. That could even mean taking a little break from social media, you know, maybe it’s a little bit of a healthy thing to say, for the next week or the next month, or even if it’s just one day…

Nikki

13:55
A month? An entire month?

Okay, so yes, I would agree taking a break from social media can help. But on the other hand, I would also say, lean in to social media and the people who are commenting, and liking what you post. So we’re looking at the people that we’re liking all their posts, because we think they’re so much further down the road than we are. But look at the people who are commenting, and who are enjoying what you post and really engage with them. And see that they appreciate where you are now and see if there’s something you can offer them.

Laura

14:43
Definitely. I think engaging with the community that you have is so important, as you said, they’re the people that appreciate and are on your journey with you. And really engaging with them can be a really positive thing. So social media can be a double-edged sword, right? There’s the good points and the bad points of it. But overall, I think there really is a benefit for us as creatives to be able to engage with people on the platform.

I think when you do that, though, you have to take it with a grain of salt. So you’re going to have those people that are supporting you and following along and cheering you on. And there are going to be those that don’t. There’ll be those that might be trolling, there might be some that give you some really awesome, constructive feedback that you can apply to your work.

Nikki

15:26
Right. But as I like to say, and I can’t remember where I heard this original quote, “Don’t take criticism from somebody you wouldn’t ask advice from.” And yeah, spend some time with the people who support your creativity and encourage your work. And if you haven’t, listen to our last episode, where we talk about accountability groups. It’ll give you a lot more energy and keep you going, and just help you along your path.

Laura

15:56
Brené Brown actually has a really great quote where she talks about this. And she says that, “When we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback that we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Nikki

16:18
I love that quote.

Laura

16:24
Well, it’s a lot like what you just said…”Don’t take criticism from someone that you wouldn’t ask advice from.” I think that this falls in line with that. If somebody is going to be very critical of what you’re putting out in the world, but they’re not opening themselves up with vulnerability, then you can’t listen to that and take that close to heart because they’re not in the arena with you.

Nikki

16:47
Right, if you don’t have anything to add from your own experience, you don’t have anything to add.

Laura

16:54
And it doesn’t mean you can only have positive feedback from people. That’s not what I’m saying. You should actually have healthy debates with people and be willing to accept some constructive criticism and some feedback that will help you, but just be careful about who you’re opening that up to.

Nikki

17:12
And don’t let that constructive, or sometimes not so constructive criticism, keep you from showing up and doing the work.

Laura

17:21
Doing the work is really what keeps you moving forward to not feel like an imposter. It’s the fake it till you make it.

Nikki

17:29
There is there is real truth in that.

So what are our key takeaways with this?

Laura

17:35
So I think we have three key takeaways. I think the first takeaway is to write down a list of all that you’ve accomplished on your path so far, and celebrate what you’ve done. I mean, really give yourself a pat on the back. And you know, maybe give yourself a little reward. Maybe it’s going out to get a foot massage or…

Nikki

17:55
That sounds great right now

Laura

17:57
… a bar of awesome chocolate, or both of them at the same time.

Nikki

18:00
And don’t forget the healing powers of bourbon.

Laura

18:04
And if you live in Kentucky, like Nikki, then you might want some bourbon as well.

Nikki

18:09
Yes. So, I agree with that so much. We so often beat ourselves up about the things that we haven’t done, but we don’t take the time to celebrate what we’ve actually accomplished. And if you just kind of make note of what you’ve accomplished over the past year, I think you’ll find that you’ve gone a lot further than you thought.

Laura

18:32
Absolutely.

Nikki

18:34
Another thing to remember is that the people that you admire, the people that you may feel jealous of, compare yourself to, they feel the same way. Nobody is immune to imposter syndrome. They may be further down their path, they may have accomplished more, but the feeling remains, it really does not go away.

Laura

18:55
And number three, like Brené Brown says, is to get in the arena, show up, do the work. And if you do that… you aren’t an imposter. In doing your own work, you’re going to progress, you will get better, and instead of comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to where you were a year ago.

Nikki

19:13
That is such great advice. So what are we going to do in the next few weeks to combat imposter syndrome and comparison trap?

Laura

19:25
Such a good question. It’s so much easier to talk about it when you’re not talking about yourself, right?

Nikki

19:33
Oh yeah.

Laura

19:33
You have to turn it around and say okay, we gotta be real, we have to be accountable. What are we going to do to face this challenge that we have? And so for me, I think it is really getting out there and showing my work even in the face of thinking there may be crickets there may be nobody listening that consistently showing up and putting my work out there. I will be showing it regularly on Instagram. I’m also I’m going to be putting out a course in the next month.

Nikki

20:04
Yay.

LAURA

20:05
So I am working on that. So then I can’t be an imposter syndrome anymore for that area I’ve again, in online courses. I’ve taught on Zoom for a really long time, but in getting out there with Skillshare classes and producing more work in that way. I’m going to consistently show up and do it. And then I’m going to silence that voice or not silence it, but at least make it a little bit quieter.

Nikki

20:30
Just tell it where it needs to go.

Laura

20:36
Thank you for sharing and buh-bye.

So there’s a great book called Show Your Work from Austin Kleon. And those of you who don’t know Austin, he is a wonderful artist and he writes great books for creatives. They’re short, they’re very quick reads. He has a famous one called Steal Like an Artist, but the one that I love for this topic is called Show Your Work. And it just gives you a little bit of the kick in the pants some days that you need to say, okay, I can go out there and do this.

Nikki

21:09
Yes, he’s also got a great weekly email newsletter that you should take a look at, we’ll put that in the show notes, too.

Laura

21:18
So Nikki, what are you going to do to combat your comparison trap and your imposter syndrome?

Nikki

21:24
Oh, I think the only thing I can do to combat these things is to just keep moving forward. I have a handful of projects that I’m desperate to make progress on. And it’s super easy to let this fear of not being as good as other people, and not knowing enough, keep you from making progress. So like we talked about in our last episode, one of the best things to do is to just break down your plans into bite-sized steps and just keep making progress forward. So it kind of goes into the whole concept of, of not being attached to the results just getting into the process. So I know the steps I need to take to make this forward momentum and I just need to stick to it.

Laura

22:18
And I have to ask what reward are you giving yourself in the end?

Nikki

22:22
Oh, well, there’s always chocolate, there’s bourbon…

Laura

22:29
There’s a recurring theme here. I would want to reward myself with travel. If we weren’t in a pandemic, I would be flying someplace fabulous. and enjoying a nice weekend somewhere.

Nikki

22:41
Oh, that sounds great. Laura, let’s plan for when it feels safe to travel again, for us to meet in some great locale. I don’t know if we’ve really mentioned the fact that you’re in Texas, and I’m in Kentucky. And although we spent a couple days together planning this whole podcast endeavor together, we are 1000 miles away from each other. When it feels safe to travel again, we need to plan one of those big celebrations.

Laura

23:14
Sounds awesome. Let’s do it.

Nikki

23:17
Let’s do it.

Laura

23:19
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, we’d love for you to subscribe, leave us a review and join us in the Facebook group. We’d love to hear what your challenges are as it relates to imposter syndrome and the comparison trap. And visit startistsociety.com to learn more about the podcast and read the show notes. Don’t forget on social media, you can use the hashtag #StartistSociety.

Nikki

23:41
We’ll see you next week.

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