Asking Not Asking #13: Comparing Myself
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I previously worked as a designer in-house, but decided to go out on my own about 3 years ago. Sometimes it seems like the grass is greener on the other side and as I build my business as a freelance designer, I struggle to not doubt myself. When I get discouraged, I think about going back to working for someone else full-time, even though I’m not sure I’d be satisfied doing that, but it would make things easier financially.
Sometimes I’m proud of where I’m at and other times I feel so behind, like all of my friends and peers are further along because they make more money or they have jobs at well-known agencies. I’m in my late twenties and I want to feel like I’m making progress. Starting a business feels like starting over.
I know that being an entrepreneur comes with its good days and bad, but if I knew how hard it was going to be I don’t know if I would have done it. How do I know I’m on the right track and is there a point when I should throw in the towel? I want to stop comparing myself to others and make progress so I can build something I’m proud of.
Thanks for your help!
Dear Comparing Myself,
I’ll say it once more. Stop. Press stop on the script that plays over and over in your head, “So-and-so earns more money than me,” or “She works for my dream company,” or, “I’ll never catch up to him. He’s so successful.” Now, pull out the tape, destroy it, and throw it in the trash. It’s not serving you or your goals. You need a new script. Are you ready?
Take out a piece of paper and write down: 1) Three things you are grateful for about your work 2) Three opportunities that exist for you right now 3) And three reasons why you believe in yourself. If you’re feeling bold, tape that piece of paper next to your desk or bed—somewhere you’ll see it on a daily basis.
Forgive yourself for playing the comparison game. You don’t have to beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself, but agree that you won’t play the game moving forward. There is enough for all of us, and I want you to operate your business and make decisions out of a mentality of generosity, not scarcity.
You can focus on what you don’t have that you think others do, but there are two sides to every situation: the part we see and the part we don’t. It might seem like others are ahead, they might actually make more money than you, you might see them as more successful, and maybe they are further along because they’ve been working longer than you. But if you focus on these things, you’ll never be able to build the business you’re capable of building. And more than that, you don’t know the full story. You don’t know how your friends and peers feel, unless they have told you. Maybe they feel behind, maybe they are not happy even with all that money, and maybe they look at you and see your situation as something they aspire to.
Regardless of where we’re at in our careers and how much money we make or the titles we hold or the successes we’ve had, most of us still feel like we’re not enough, like we’ve somehow failed or are failing, or like others are ahead of us. It’s normal to have these feelings. Feel them, but don’t allow yourself to get mired in them. On a practical note, I’d highly recommend that you talk with others about their experiences building a business because it’s likely that they’ve experienced similar feelings. As an entrepreneur, knowing you’re not alone in the challenges you face can energize you and help you move forward because it normalizes your experience.
Community is life-changing. Honest dialogue with others who have gone through it, or are in it now, could be what you need to muster up the courage to continue moving forward. Are there people you respect as business owners who you could reach out to? Consider making a list of at least 5 people and emailing them to set up an informational meeting. Make it easy for them to say yes. Offer to go to them, keep it brief (30 minutes), and pay for coffee or lunch. Or offer to make it a phone call instead. Be prepared with questions that can help you reflect on your path and gain insight into your situation.
Informational meetings are one way to do it. Another option is to join or start a mastermind group. I’m part of a mastermind for women entrepreneurs and we meet every month with the aim of exploring a different topic. Sometimes one of us presents our work and current opportunities and challenges and the group offers insights, resources, and possible connections. Being part of the mastermind has expanded my perspective, introduced me to amazing women business owners, and helped me realize that I’m doing okay—it’s a process and we’re all in different parts of it.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing fellow entrepreneur, Jen Poyant, at On Air Fest, a podcast festival held at Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Jen was formerly at New York Public Radio and served as Executive Producer of well-loved shows like Note to Self and 2 Dope Queens. Basically, she’s awesome! About a year ago, she left her steady job in public radio to start her own production company, Stable Genius, along with her long-time creative collaborator, Manoush Zomorodi, who hosted Note to Self. Jen and Manoush decided to document the process of starting a business on their podcast, Zig Zag, which covers journalism and tech. It’s an interesting look behind the scenes at what really happens when we take the leap into the unknown.
Have you heard of the Gartner Hype Cycle? I talked with Jen about it yesterday because Season 3 of Zig Zag is all about the life cycle of an idea, which brings me to your question of how you know if you’re on the right track or should throw in the towel. The Gartner Hype Cycle has 5 stages: 1) Innovation Trigger 2) Peak of Expectations 3) Trough of Disillusionment 4) Slope of Enlightenment 5) Plateau of Productivity. The cycle was created to assess the promise of emerging technologies, but we can more broadly apply it to our work and lives, which is what Jen and I chatted about yesterday at On Air.
It sounds like you’re in the Trough of Disillusionment. In the beginning, you were energized and excited. The potential seemed limitless. Now you’re wondering, “Was this a good idea? What was I thinking?” It’s harder than you thought and you are reassessing. You are feeling discouraged. It’s tempting to want to find the quickest way out or look for a shortcut.
Forget how you thought this was going to go. Let go of your expectations for where you should be. Take a look at where you actually are. Go back to the list I asked you to make earlier and look at the opportunities that exist for you right now. What would it look like to explore those opportunities and build something you are proud of? What would success look like for you? And what is a reasonable timeline for you to grow your business? No one gets to define your path except for you, so stop letting them.
No, if you knew how hard it would be, maybe you wouldn’t have done it. But everything we choose in life is hard, just in different ways. Building a business has its own challenges, just as working for someone else does. Both scenarios offer opportunities as well. You could certainly go back to full-time work if you wanted and there would be nothing wrong with that. But my guess is there’s a reason you left, and it might be helpful to revisit that reason. Remember why you took this leap in the first place and let that be your foundation as you move forward into the future that awaits you.
To going your own way,
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Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
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