The poison of competition.
I remember when I was a brand new mom. Oh man, I was having a devil of a time.
Personally, I was splintered in a drastically unrecognizable way. I couldn’t recognize any rational thoughts from the irrational kind (which were abundant). Enemies were everywhere. And my already tender but now officially racked nervous system was just like: nope. It was all utter chaos.
I remember visiting my therapist, Barb, who was the kindest, most patient, and most compassionate person I have ever met. She helped me process all of the new-mom grenades that were going off, and it felt so good to have a place to be Not-OK. And, after a while, I began to reclaim some semblance of myself.
But as I regained my footing, I started divulging the looming issues that were bubbling up just behind my Mommy Stuff. It was waiting there like a tidal wave: singing was literally driving me crazy.
Poor Barb. She had no idea what to do or say other than nod and scribble in that therapist-y way. I could tell this was definitely outside of her typical milieu.
I am a little ashamed to mention that I thought there should be some kind of special classical music-specific therapist who could help me navigate the battlefield of my profession, to help me feel better about my voice, and to help me become more successful.
I can practically taste the poisonous thoughts and feelings I had about my singing, about feeling unseen, unappreciated, and inferior, and concerned about my “level” of success compared to others at that time.
That was one huge, angsty tidal wave of bitterness, frustration, and helplessness. There was no room, in my “creative” pursuit, for artistry, connection, or expansion.
The Poison of Comparison
Comparison is a natural by-product of competition. If we are pitted against one another to attain the same scarce resources, then I am going to compare myself to you.
This may all operate at a very subtle level of awareness, but it is a prevalent energy woven into the fabric of contemporary arts organizations and institutions; a strand of late capitalism culture that we cannot help but meet, even in the hallowed halls of the Creative Arts.
Comparison begs to know:
Are you ahead of me, or are you behind?
Are you better than me, or am I better than you?
Are you more:
than me, or am I than you?
This is utter madness, right? When we lay it out here, in black and white, there is no way that we would actively choose to participate in this game.
But this, I believe, is what is at the root of so much of our discomfort and unease within the arts. In order to remain on this battlefield, you must figure out how to: 1) stay alive and 2) get ahead.
Not everyone minds “fighting.” Not everyone may find themselves in a fight for their soul, or even recognize that there’s a battlefield. Or wanting to run off into the wilderness until they can regroup and catch their breath.
Or, like me, hide out in a cave until they figure out what the hell is the source of all this chaos, and then transmuting the lessons into some useful solution.
But I know there are a number of musicians, artists, and other creatives who cannot abide the fighting.
They feel stuck, confused, unhappy, isolated, empty, and possibly hopeless. They may even feel like a failure for not being able to game the system, be tough enough, or keep up. They feel like they don’t have a place, or that the place they have landed is not High Enough.
They are the Artist-Magician-Wizard-Thinker-Visionary. They are the sensitive folks who will never feel at home on the battlefield. This goes against their very nature.
I call this person the Highly-Sensitive Creative (HSC).
Why are the Artist-Magicians struggling so much? Why does the HSC feel so downtrodden and confused?
Because competition is the antithesis of innovation.
Innovation, invention, and creativity are the hallmarks of the Artist-Magician. Not climbing to the top of whatever ladder of achievement, humbly pushing down someone else who may be threatening their grip.
When we are (consciously or unconsciously) caught up in the drama of competition, we cut ourselves off from the inherent creative currents that move through us, and that ultimately shape our lives.
When we feel forced to compete, we are unable to innovate.
The Antidote to Competition
Yet, when the Artist-Magician is given permission to disengage from fighting, there is a reappearance of the portal to the creative field of potential.
The creative energy which was spent in trying to do what everyone else is doing (i.e. competing) is then re-directed to shape life, art, and work in a novel way.
That is, we can innovate our very own journey of the creative Self. (No matter what else might be happening on the battlefield.)
Competition closes doors. Innovation opens doors.
So here’s a question…
If you had your own version of the kindly and unflinching Barb, who would listen to your every artistic and/or creative frustration, what would you say? Get them out in the open.
Then ask yourself:
If I no longer needed to fight, compete, or strive, what does my heart call me to express, to create, or to experience in this lifetime?
If you are an Artist-Magician, or a Highly-Sensitive Creative, and still fighting on the battlefield, or possibly wandering around in the wilderness, I want you to reconsider your position.
This is your journey of the Creative Self. You can choose whether or not you wish to remain and fight, or choose a different way that works better for you, even if you do not yet know what that might be.
If you choose to honor your own pathway, do not worry that you failed at fighting.
But recognize that you are wise enough to know that your creative spirit is available for so very much more.
And that, my friend, is very much worth fighting for.