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For a long time, a film-making friend of mine had an online bio that read, “In 2 years, I will be an absolute failure.” At that time, he was nearing 30. Many of the filmmakers he admired had been in their 20s when they first met with success. He constantly compared himself to Orson Welles, who made Citizen Kane when he was 25 years old. As you can imagine, this friend was also constantly (and clinically) depressed.

The creative life is difficult to navigate. There are always stories of those striking gold in their youth. And there are also the stories of creatives who died penniless, never seeing their work admired by anyone.

I’ve come to realize 2 things over the last week. First, we need competition. And second, creativity is not a competitive sport.

They sound contradictory, but let me explain.

Last week, my son entered his art into a local fair. He was excited but nervous. We had told him that the art would be judged, and perhaps he might win a ribbon. He only wanted to put in his very best art in that case.

When we went to the fair to see if he had won, we noticed that every single piece of art had a ribbon. They had awarded prizes to all of them. The boy was still excited that he had won a ribbon, but the prize lost value in his eyes because everyone won. What did it matter that he put in his best possible work when others put in scribbles and still won?

I think competition is good. It makes us work harder and strive for excellence. Whatever our craft, that desire to be recognized for quality work is in all of us. In that way, I don’t necessarily think competition is bad.

On the other hand, creativity is not a competitive sport. There are no bench-warmers in the creative world. You’re either making art in some form, or you’re not.

There is no limit to the number of creative people in the world. There’s no one out there saying, “We’re sorry, the quota for creatives is filled. You can’t write that novel/paint that painting/take that photograph/sing that song.” The beginning of all art happens inside. Just because someone out there, with an entirely different background and set of circumstances from you, is successful at one form of creativity, it does not exclude you from expressing yourself also.

Yes, there are highly successful artists out there. Some are household names. Don’t compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to you. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you doing quality work? Are you challenging yourself?

Here’s an idea: Is there an online or local contest you’ve seen lately? Submit your work. If you don’t have a piece ready, get out there and create, so you’ll be prepared for the next one. Let me know what you plan to do, so I can cheer you on!