Everyone has known that one person who seems to be good at everything; specifically, the person that is better than you at everything. It even seems like the things that you’re especially good at are the things they are especially better at. If you don’t know that person now, you probably did when you were a kid, and it probably brought a whole host of emotions out of you.
When I was younger, I used to get angry and jealous of that person.
I loved drawing cartoons as a kid, and I was sort of good at it. Good enough to get noticed for it, anyway. Then I made friends with a kid who was particularly advanced at art. I was OK at copying a drawing from a comic book, but he could conjure up his own images that looked ready to be printed by Marvel. When he was around, I felt like he stole my thunder. I felt like he took away the one thing that made me stand out. Although I certainly admired his natural skill, I was also jealous.
I started playing guitar in middle school, and I was OK at it. As I began establishing myself among my peers as a musician, I took pride in my new artistic identity. I knew another kid who was younger and better at guitar than me. He played in a band that was more popular than mine, and he got all sorts of attention for his talents. I liked him as a person, but there was a part of me that was angry that I couldn’t be as cool as he was. As a result, I would find reasons why he wasn’t better than me and ended up closing myself off from enjoying his talents.
When I got a little older, I stopped being angry and instead wanted to join forces with that person.
Any time I met someone who I thought was better than me, I wanted them to be on my side. Part of that was to try to create something great with them; but an even bigger part was to try to keep them from competing with me. As soon as I met a great musician or songwriter, I wanted to be in a band with them. It was even part of the reason I wanted to be in Shaimus; I knew the songs that band would have written would be good enough that I wished I was a part of it.
So I joined, partly because I wanted to grow, and partly because I wanted to be a part of something good rather than have something else great in the world that I didn't contribute to.
Now I don’t really think much about what that person’s talents mean to myself.
I finally came to the realization that it doesn’t matter who makes great art, it just matters that it is made. If another artist writes an incredible song, I used to say, “I wish I had written that.” Now I just say, “I’m so grateful this song exists and somebody made it.” I still take pride in being a part of something great when I can, but there is so much amazing stuff out there that I never could have come up with myself. Instead of wishing I made it, I just feel lucky to experience it.
I still love collaborating with people I think are extremely talented, but it’s for the love of creating, not to keep them from doing something good without me. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, and even though it’s not wrong to feel it, it is wrong to let emotions negatively affect your actions; I used to let it keep me from being receptive and open to great things that were going on right around me. Looking back, I realize I don’t ever want to let myself do that again. Why let bitterness force myself to miss out on something when I could embrace it and enjoy life even more?
Most of us never stop and think that we might be “that person” to someone else.
This never crosses our minds because we’re too busy seeing what other people do better to see what we do well ourselves. Letting this keep us from doing our best is a complete waste—of talent, time, and energy.
Most of us have to come to terms with the fact that we’ll probably never be the best at what we do. The odds are stacked heavily against us because there’s only one “best,” and even then it's usually subjective. I could practice my guitar scales all day, but I still probably won’t be as technically proficient as Steve Vai or Paul Gilbert. I could devote the rest of my life to curling, yet I probably will never be as good as… uh… whoever the last guy was who won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics for curling.
There’s always going to be someone who’s better than you. Someone’s already done it, thought of it, come up with it. Even those times you come up with something brilliant, you might think that there’s probably someone else out there who could do it better.
But art and life are both individual things, and we should all come to the realization that the one thing we can be the best at is being authentically ourselves (and even that takes some practice). So stop concerning yourself with being better. Making the best of what you have makes you the best at what you do. And what you create is just as good as what anyone else does.