When Comparison Kills Your Creativity

It’s been a bit of a weird week. I hadn’t posted anything on here in a few months because I was feeling in a bit of a creative drought. Then I felt pulled to comment on the whole VMA thing and touched on something pretty big. Over 900,000 hits in five days was completely unexpected — mind-blowing, actually. As soon as I started to see that post go crazy on Facebook and Twitter, I had two simultaneous, and equally frightening, questions pop up in my mind: 1) Why is this happening? and 2) What am I going to do next?

I’m sure I’ll go into the first question on many future posts, but for now we’ve arrived at the answer to the second question. What’s next? For me, it’s an exploration of comparison and creativity. I have been fervently reading through some of Brené Brown’s work and was reading up on this very topic.

As I was doing this, I received an e-mail from a woman named Kayleigh who wanted to share an article that brought up similar issues as my VMA post and, with it, she dropped some pretty incredible insight along the way. She said this:

“It is hard to be anyone in these days since comparison and the pursuit of ‘being worthy’ have become a blood sport.”

I’d never thought of comparison and the pursuit of being worthy as a blood sport, but she’s spot on. Comparison and countless attempts to prove our worth can easily draw blood and wound us. And with creative work, this is especially true. But the thing that’s different with creative work is that so many times our struggle is with self-comparison and attempts to prove our own worthiness to ourselves.

I was listening to an episode of the NPR show On Being where Krista Tippet interviews Brené Brown and a lot of this stuff comes up. Brown describes comparison as the thief of creativity. Comparison is the wet blanket that gets thrown over our creative fires — often of our own doing.

Any time we do anything creative, we put ourselves out there in a very tangible way. We write a play. We paint a portrait. We build something new. And we take a risk. Someone might look at it and reject it. And, in doing so, reject us.

How many times have you read a book and thought, “I’d love to write a book someday, but it’ll never be as good as this.”? Or listened to a song and thought, “You know I’d really like to write a song, but there’s no way to top this one.”?

As soon as we start that comparison game, our creativity starts to take a hit. Brown asserts that this is a primary entrance for shame. A lot of times our sense of self-worth can get tied into what we produce.

The adage goes like this: We’re worth something when we produce something. And not just anything, but something good. What we produce has to be worthwhile in order for us to be worthwhile. Sound familiar?

As a pastor, I feel this all the time around the sermons I write. If the sermon was really good, I think “I’m doing really great at this pastor thing.” If it falls flat, those voices of shame and inadequacy are right around the corner. And they get personal.

So how do we get out of this comparison spiral?

Make things. Build things. Create. Do.

Don’t let comparison get in the way of building what you yearn to build.

I posted a video of Ira Glass giving advice to creative people a while back. And it speaks so well to this conversation around creating outside of comparison. Check out the video here.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/24715531]
Ira was particularly speaking to video producers, but it translates into any area of creativity. Build stuff. Do things. Write stories. Paint paintings. Put yourself out there. Create a HUGE volume of work.

Don’t listen to the comparison demons. Remember that creativity is a journey we’re all on in one way or another. Your creativity belongs to you and only you. So let’s get to it!

Oh, and be sure to check out Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection for so much more good stuff. A lot of the ideas in this post are derived from Guidepost #6 of this book. But the whole book is so worthwhile.


P.S. For those of you who are like me and interested in nerdy studies, check out a paper called The Mindlessness of Social Comparisons and its Effect on Creativity by Harvard professor Ellen Langer, Stanford psychologist Laura Delizonna, and Fordham professor Michael Pirson.

Watch Nicki Minaj Take Down Sexism

You could be the king, but watch the queen conquer.” – Nicki Minaj from Kanye West’s “Monster”

Before starting… let me put out the disclaimer that in the clip below, Nicki Minaj echoes a lot of what many women in the hip-hop world have said before. Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and many others have preceded her in pushing for rights and respect, but I thought this clip was really interesting. Check it out.

I like parts of this video. I dislike others. The part about Donald Trump and other men in power being the “boss” vs. women in power being the “bitch”. Other people have written at length about this. This is the part where I’m the most with her in this video. I think she makes great points about how men and women are treated differently and how traits that are perceived as inherently “masculine” — like something as simple as being assertive — carry negative connotations when women exhibit them. When a woman’s assertive, she’s a bitch. When a man’s assertive, he’s a boss. This is such a common double standard in our culture that it’s ridiculous. If you don’t believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.

But where I cringe in this video is at the very end where she discredits herself and everything that she has just said! She shows that she buys into what culture says about women because when women speak out against this kind of thing, they can often be characterized as stupid, petty, or otherwise weak.

What did you think of the video? Do you think she made a good point? Shoot me a comment and let me know your thoughts.


Are You a Boss or a Leader? (There’s a Difference)

Last fall I started reading a lot of books on leadership. John Maxwell, the Heath brothers, Seth Godin, and a few others have graced my bookshelf. So the question has been raised in my mind about how a leader operates as opposed to simply someone who is in charge. There are a lot of people in this world who are in charge, but they’re not leaders.

So how do you differentiate between a boss and a leader? Here are 11 different trait comparisons to help you!

1. A boss creates fear in a staff. A leader builds confidence.

2. A boss says, “I.” A leader says, “We.”

3. A boss knows how a job should be done. A leader shows how a vocation should be forged.

4. A boss relies on authority. A leader relies on cooperation.

5. A boss drives. A leader leads.

6. A boss fixes blame. A leader solves problems and fixes mistakes.

7. A boss rules over the problem 10% of the community. A leader works alongside the cooperative 90%. (One I need to take to heart).

8. A boss eventually causes resentment to grow. A leader fosters growing enthusiasm.

9. A boss makes work drudgery. A leader makes work interesting.

10. A boss sees problems as disasters that will destroy the company. A leader sees problems as opportunities to be overcome and learn from.

11. A boss says, “Go!” A leader says, “Let’s go!”

[For what it’s worth, I found this list from this blog. Check it out if you’d like!]

What sticks out to you about this list? What experiences do you have with bosses or leaders? Feel free to share them in the comments section!


Living the Questions: Who Told You [That You Were Naked]?

“Adam said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,
because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ God said,
‘Who told you that you were naked?'”
– Genesis 3:10-11

One of the things that’s so key to understanding this question, is that for the majority of human history, nakedness had nothing to do with shame. It’s a pretty common reading of this to think that Adam felt shame, which is why he hid. But actually, it has everything to do with vulnerability, not shame.

A few years back, when I was spending my summers working at Bible camp, our most intense nights of worship were always on Thursday nights. We had spent the week together, had gotten to know each other, and felt an incredibly strong bond. It was an incredibly authentic time. We had become immensely vulnerable with one another.

When was the last time you opened yourself up to let someone else in?

A lot of times we throw up our defenses in the face of vulnerability. What’s the old saying? It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt. Whenever we’re afraid of being found out, exposed for who we really are (whatever that means), we put up defenses and act differently from how we might otherwise naturally act. But here’s the thing…


We were created unaware of our vulnerability — our nakedness. But there’s something in our brain chemistry — or perhaps the way we’re socialized — that gives us a sense of shame. Religious communities call it sin or brokenness, but it’s a feeling everyone experiences regardless of religious affiliation. The problem with our thinking is that we assume vulnerability is a weakness. When in fact vulnerability is one of the only ways that we can make real and authentic connections with people.

We can all tell when people are being inauthentic. We all have finely tuned B.S. meters, some more than others. As soon as we sense someone is not being genuine. It’s incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, to feel a genuine connection with someone when you don’t actually know the person you’re talking to — the real person. That’s what makes my experiences in intentional communities (like summer camp) so memorable. There aren’t many people who can be that exhausted, and still put up a front. So community is formed.

The bottom line is the world is all about genuine connections. If there’s one thing that moving to a brand new community has taught me, it’s that life isn’t a worth a whole lot without connections. Without connections, we miss out on being in relationship — both individual and communal.

The point is to let yourself be seen (and heard)

Be yourself. Be human. Nobody’s perfect 100% of the time. And if someone was, they’d be hated by everyone else. Be vulnerable.

Share your challenges.

Share your struggles.

Share the things that scare the hell out of you.

And then watch what happens.

You’ll be more relaxed. You’ll be more confident. You’ll be more… you.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam chose to hide his vulnerability. I’m saying, choose different from Adam.

Choose to be open. To show your true colors. To be more you. It’s the only thing worth doing.


How to Make 2012 Your Year of Focus

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex… But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs

My New Years resolution is all about focus. I was reading a bit in the Gospel of John about Jesus being the vine and us as the branches. I think what’s so interesting about that way of talking about the relationship between the two is that it’s only in pruning the branches that they can grow. This works for you, individually. It can work for your ministry, business, website.

Focus is all about finding some of the branches in our life that we can prune back in order to focus on some of the more important and significant branches of our life. When we truly examine and take a look at what really matters, we can re-focus and enable us to grow far past where they are now.

Here are four steps to re-gaining your focus and have your best year yet! (Not in a Joel Osteen kind of way… gross)

1. Don’t multi-task. Is it really better to get a lot of things done poorly than a few things done well?  Multi-tasking doesn’t work. It only offers distraction. If you’re going to do something, do that until it’s done. Then move on. Multi-tasking is inefficient, stressful and pretty disrespectful if one of the tasks you’re doing is speaking to someone. Don’t do it.

2. Group e-mail check times to twice per day (3 times max). There is nothing that kills the momentum of a productive period of time than getting online and checking e-mail or Facebook. On my better days, I check e-mail once right when I get to the office to get back to anything urgent, once just after lunch and once more just before I leave the office. If you can group the times you check e-mail and other non-productive tasks, that opens up your day immensely to do #3.

3. Pick 2 or 3 primary tasks to do each day. This goes along with #1. At the start of the day, list everything that must be done in the next week. Then pick 2 or 3 things that you can do that day and focus on doing those. These are the things that have to get done at all costs. Your day is successful if you complete these few things.

4. Take periodic breaks and reward yourself. After you finish one of your tasks on the day, or when you get to a good break point, stand up and take a little break. Go for a walk. Re-fill the coffee. Whenever I’m out at our Gold Canyon campus working on a sermon I’ll head out to the fountain and look out at the foothills. Take a few deep breaths and just clear my head.

Get these things done each day and that will free up your afternoons and evenings not to worry about e-mail or the tasks that got left undone. But to take a walk. Go to a movie. Grill out. Take up a new hobby.

With these steps, you’ll get more done in a day or week than you ever have before. You’ll prune back the branches so that you can grow beyond your wildest imagination.

What are some things that help you focus? What are some of the things that make you procrastinate? Share them in the comments section so we can all get a wider picture at just how many things distract us from our focus.


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