I've always been a huge fan of sporting events. I don't follow very many teams (except for the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Cubs) but I really enjoy watching professional athletes do what they do on a major stage. They train constantly. Their whole life revolves around their craft. Generally no one questions why they are as obsessed and invested in their careers, because somehow as a general population we understand: this is a huge opportunity and it demands your all. I understand being super invested in this way, but that is a blog for another day.
There has been a rise in the creative community in talking about how comparison and competition is sort of a detriment to the creative process. But as someone who is absolutely invested in constantly moving forward and learning, I have to politely disagree in some cases. I know, I know... I'm causing a stir. Hear me out. It's not what you think.
I wholeheartedly believe in competition. I believe that sometimes it is detrimental, but that sometimes it is beneficial. It's something that I haven't quite been able to rationalize because at first glance it seems to go against everything I hold dear: grace, sisterhood, forgiveness, lifting up your creative brothers and sisters, etc. But I've always known that these ideologies exist peacefully in my mind. I've always believed that some competition is healthy. Yes, I'm human, and comparison and competition get to me on occasion and breed very unproductive results. But in my time as a creative who makes money off of their work, a meager three years, I've realized that the only way I actually get better is by knowing what I'm up against. From this point I can work on making myself better and by doing so help strengthen the entire creative community. I choose to use competition as personal encouragement rather than a daunting measuring stick.
I want to stop right here and totally denounce the kind of competition that makes you look at your fellow creative community member as your enemy. I assure you, they are not. But they may actually be better than you at a lot of things, and that might be something that you should listen to when you're ready. And I cannot stress that last part. You have to be ready to subjectively critique your work + your business practices. Okay, let's carry on.
My breakthrough with all of this was this year at the 2016 summer olympics. Until this moment I didn't really have a physical example of team who competed both as a team and individually at the same time. Sure, in major league sports someone might be nominated as an MVP, but that's just one single player.
The 2016 Women's Gymnastic team was made up of Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian. They competed together as a team, and they all walked away with a gold medal. Simone Biles, as fantastically brilliant as she is, could not have won the team gold medal herself even though she got gold in everything else that she did in Rio. Laurie Hernandez, who earned a Silver medal for her Balance Beam routine, earned a gold medal with her team because of her outstanding work. She was already a fantastic olympic athlete, but she achieved a higher medal when competing with her team. And these women compete in their individual events against their gold-medal winning team mates! How is that not the most difficult form of competition? How is that not a total cop out when you're training? My only possible answer-- being around the athletes that they know are the greatest in the world pushes them to be better. Competing against those athletes and taking a silver or a bronze medal, is still a great success. The only real competing you're doing is with yourself. You drive to make yourself better. You fight to be faster and stronger and you improve yourself.
For me, competition and comparison (even though that word makes me feel cringey), just means pushing yourself to be better because you get to be in community with some of the greatest creatives in the world.
To sum up here's a quote from Simone Biles that I love.
In my experience it is never a mistake to align yourself with the best. Work alongside them, build them up and continue moving forward. That's how we all advance. That's how we work every day to make sure we make our better our best.