Despite knowing better, I sometimes let myself believe that I’m falling behind. I scroll through social media and wallow in the highlight reels of other people’s lives. My stomach gets this hollow anxious feeling as I imagine that I’ve missed my chance to do the work that matters to me. I know better and still I do it. Of course, this is simply more hiding. Comparison gives me permission to give up on my ability to create the change I know I’m capable of creating.
When I come out of one of these sessions of premeditating my almost certain failure, I feel physically unwell. I see it as the cruel and unproductive act that it is and vow never to do it again. Then, mere hours later, I am once again scrolling, comparing, and doubting. Fortunately, the anecdote to this particular anxiety is to get back to work. It’s to begin where I am and go from there. Which is all any of us can ever do.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron shares perhaps the best creative clap back of all time. When prompted to begin where they are, some of her students inevitably protest with, “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?" To which Cameron replies, “Yes, the same age you will be if you don't.” Which, as frustrating as it might be, is inarguably true.
While many creatives don’t prescribe to dated markers of success, we can still wind up comparing ourselves to our peers. From when creative recognition happens to when folx are changing their bodies to reflect their inner truth, the feeling of falling behind can be subtle. It’s easy to dismiss waypoints that you never cared about to begin with. It’s far more difficult to acknowledge what you’re longing for and then see how much work still needs to be done.
In a convocation speech I always come back to, Neil Gaiman shares the piece of advice that Stephen King gave to him when King’s career as a writer was at its apex and Gaiman’s was just picking up speed. It was to enjoy himself. To enjoy the process and the fun of it. Gaiman admits that this is advice he didn’t end up taking and he regrets it. It’s advice that I pushed back against for the entirety of my early creative practice because I was always thinking about what’s next.
One of the reasons I frequently consume the stories about other creators is because they serve as a reminder that we are all working at a cadence that is right for us. What’s more, things are not always what they seem on the surface. People can still be struggling underneath the highlight reel. So get back to work. Have faith that you’ll end up where you need to be when you need to be there. And, if possible, enjoy the process while you can.
So, what makes you feel like you’re falling behind and what doesn’t?