Writing by Lula Bornhak // Image by Brooke van der Linden
My eyes are glued to the tiny display in my hand. I rewatch the Instagram story, again and again. My all time favorite photographer just shot a commercial for one of the biggest brands in the world. And I’m sitting here in my tiny room, after a long day working in a badly paid job and suddenly feeling this tightness in my chest while looking at her announcement post.
The movie in my mind starts rolling.
It’s a showreel of all the amazing things that the person I look up to has accomplished. It speeds faster and faster, starts to feature different characters, other people that I admire, and presents their victories. I get dizzy.
Without my permission, my mind compares their glorious looking lives to my own. The scene shows me in a classroom in high school, at age 15, while the next shot presents one of my role models at the same age, already an editor-in-chief of her own magazine. Me working in a restaurant, them being featured by one of the biggest brands worldwide. Me struggling to find out what I would like to do with my life, them already listed in Forbes 30 under 30…
I feel empty and the cravings set in. Cravings for their creativity. Cravings for their fame. Cravings for their accomplishments.
All of the things that I was proud of, all of the precious trophies that I collected and carefully stored in a corner of my mind vanish into nothingness. What seemed like a trophy of gold looks like a children’s toy; made out of plastic, immature and fake.
Usually, I love being a fangirl. I love to get excited about other people’s work. I love to analyze their creative process and to learn from them.
But there comes a point where I can get lost in their work. Where I lose the bigger picture. My mind starts to draw this giant, unrealistic painting of my role models, presents them as perfect human beings. No flaws, no problems, no struggles, succeeding effortlessly. And even though I know that this is not the case, it tricks me every time. When I look at this picture in my mind, I feel so much admiration for these people, but at the same time it makes me paralyzed, unable to continue with my own work.
The best description for such a feeling might be “paralyzing fangirling.”It is a type of fangirling in which we subconsciously compare ourselves to our idols and thereby start feeling like we are never going to be as good as them. The extended version of fangirling, where the positive boost that we get when we observe our idols turns into disapproval of ourselves. Instead of feeling inspired, uplifted, or motivated, we stop appreciating our own creativity and our work. The comparison with our idols kills all of the amazing ideas that are burning inside of us, with the simple reason that they are “not as good” as those of the people we admire, and therefore not worth pursuing.
Initially, comparison was highly effective for the human species, because through comparing our own abilities to those of others, we could evaluate which social groups to join and which to attack. It was a key tool for surviving in the wilderness. But nowadays, it is quite unlikely to find ourselves in the wild trying to keep our species alive in that same capacity, and this part of our brains has lost its healthy balance. We fall into this trap where we compare ourselves only to people who are more fortunate than we are. And through that, we not only lose the fun of having role models and learning from them, but we also put ourselves down, because it seems as if our lives are not as spectacular as theirs.
I have spent enough time struggling with this particular problem for all of us. Because I would like to save you time dwelling on this issue, I wrote down some tips and tricks that I collected along the way that hopefully can help you to get out of this paralyzing-fangirl state.
1. Focus On The Whole Story
Even though it is very hard to do, always keep in mind that the person who seems to have it all also has their own private struggles. I know that this is obvious, but I still think that it is a very important thing to consider when dealing with paralyzing fangirling. Everybody has their own problems that their social media feed won’t show. I was convinced the one photographer whom I mentioned before had everything, but then I read that she suffers from heavy depression and often dislikes her own art.
2. Support Instead Of Compete
Instead of beating yourself up because other people seem like they’ve accomplished more, try to mentally cheer them on and be happy for them. The energy of support is so much more soothing than that of comparison and competition. When other people do well, it also shows us what’s possible. Get excited by the opportunities that are available and be thankful for the people who revealed to you what’s achievable. Just because someone else has done something great doesn’t mean you can’t too!
3. Transform Your Negative Energy Into Positive
As you know, discouraging feelings such as anger, frustration, and envy are quite powerful. When you observe these kind of feelings arising in you, instead of letting them push you down to the ground try to redirect their forceful energy into motivating yourself to achieve what you are dreaming of. I so often hated myself for being envious of the life of my role models that I got caught up in this vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and then dwelling on the fact that I was so self-destructive. I was trying to delete my negative thoughts by suppressing and ignoring them, but it is a physical law that energy can never be destroyed, only transformed into a different kind of energy. The same goes with your negative thoughts. You cannot pretend that they are not spooking around in your mind, because someday they will catch up with you. Instead, be thankful when they appear, because you can use them as a reminder to motivate yourself to make a change in your current life.
4. Be Grateful
How often do you compare yourself to your idols?
Different question: when was the last time that you compared yourself with someone less fortunate and realized how blessed your were?
The mindset of constantly wanting more is quite common in our world. It whispers into our ears that our lives are not meaningful until we have that awesome job or that certain number in our bank account. I think that sometimes having a goal can be quite motivating and can push us further than we could ever imagine. But as you know, we humans like to exaggerate. We drown in these thoughts of always wanting more and forget to appreciate what we already have. When you direct your energy onto the things you are lacking, the negative mindset will become more and more powerful, because you are feeding it with your precious thoughts. That means even more reasons to be unhappy with your life will appear. In my view, the only lifebelt that keeps us from sinking in this ocean of discomfort is practicing gratitude. When I think about all the blessings in my life, it feels as if fresh air is suddenly streaming through my chest, making me able to breathe again. Practicing gratitude will shift your view of life and will make you attract much more magic and beauty into your world.
5. Remember Your Strengths
Only focusing on the strengths of others can make us forget about our own amazing abilities. Everybody is blessed with different skills that are all valuable. Believe in yourself and embrace your strengths. The next time you feel like a nobody when comparing yourself to people you admire, think about the qualities that you love about yourself. You are as fantastic as the person you are looking up to! Remind your brain about that.
6. Bonus Magic Trick
This is a little magic trick for your mind, since it often finds it super funny to bring our attention to something that we are actively trying not to think about. When I found this piece of advice, I had to smile because it is super simple, but so effective.
Here it goes:
The next time your brain wants to go back to its old comparing mindset, trick it by simply comparing yourself to the person you were a couple of years ago. Notice how much knowledge you have gained, how many obstacles you have overcome, and what amazing things you have accomplished since then. In my view, this approach is much healthier and more effective than comparing yourself to a totally different person. Everybody has a different skillset, lives under different circumstances, and has a different background. These are all important aspects to consider. So the only person you should compare yourself to is to your younger self. Because in the end, the only realistic goal is not to be better than somebody completely different from you, but to be better than the person you were yesterday.
I know that all of this is easier said than done. The comparing mindset is so ingrained in our brains that it is quite hard to unlearn. One week you will be rocking these new thinking methods and you will feel great, and the following days your mind will start repeating those old comparing patterns again, and that’s okay! This is a lifelong process that needs time and patience. Be gentle with yourself.[share]