Thought bubble with light bulb inside via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About Creativity and Competition

Warm weather marks the beginning of rooftop season in New York City, and while there are many spots to enjoy the weather, the Met Cantor Rooftop is still the destination both locals and visitors flock to. We were happy to fall in line, so we headed to the Met to check out the latest installation by Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha. We Come In Peace is timely and thought-provoking, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found it a little anticlimactic. Last year’s installation by Adrian Villar Rojas filled the space beautifully, and the prior year’s installation involved a 30-foot recreation of the facade of the Psycho House. As I wandered onto the relatively empty rooftop on that brisk day, I couldn’t help but think, “Is that it?”

We Come in Peace by Huma Bhabha on the Met Cantor Rooftop in New York City via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
We Come In Peace by Huma Bhabha, Met Cantor Rooftop 2018
White sculpture from Theater of Disappearance by Adrian Villar Rojas on the Met Cantor Rooftop in New York City via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Theater of Disappearance by Adrian Villar Rojas, Met Cantor Rooftop 2017
Replica of Psycho House as part of Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) by Cornelia Parker on the Met Cantor Rooftop in New York City via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) by Cornelia Parker, Met Cantor Rooftop 2016

There’s a sense of guilt that comes with that reaction. Does art have to be jaw-dropping to be impactful? Huma Bhabha said that the barrenness of the installation was essential. And yet, I was expecting more. Would I have felt the same way if I didn’t have the prior years’ installations to compare it to?

The age of information brings with it unlimited access, but it’s a double-edged sword. Well-known photographers can now have their craft replicated using a simple photo app filter. Copycat artists pop up in a flash. Audiences are becoming more and more difficult to please, and artists are forced to push boundaries further and further. As with everything else, finding a truly fresh and unique voice is becoming more and more challenging.

Street art found in the Lower East Side of New York City that reads "Hustle Harder" by Queen Andrea! via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Street art found in the Lower East Side of New York City that reads "Love Yourself" by Jason Naylor via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Hustle Harder and Love Yourself… where do you find balance?

Perhaps on a smaller scale, we face a similar conundrum as bloggers. Blogging is a crowded field and has been declared dead many times over. In order to differentiate oneself, bloggers have to speak louder and act faster. We need to have provocative headlines and stunning photos. We have to offer variable media like podcasts and vlogs. (See our last Mad Chatter post on TL;DR and the death of reading.) Will it ever be enough?

We have a nasty habit of trying to measure all our endeavors, and sometimes we do that against benchmarks set by others and sometimes we do that against benchmarks we set for ourselves. In a TED Talk about success, failure and the drive to keep creating, Elizabeth Gilbert sees success and failure as equally jarring and states the following:

“I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live”.

The phrase “random hurricanes of outcome” particularly resonated with me. I want to get to a space where that’s all success or failure is: a random outcome of doing what I love.

The idea behind our Mad Chatter posts is to start a conversation, so here’s what I’d like to know:

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I wonder if that rings true for you. How does comparing yourself to others affect you? Does it cripple you or motivate you? How do you keep yourself inspired?

– L.

33 thoughts on “Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About Creativity and Competition”

  1. You are truly starting a conversation today! I compare myself to other bloggers all the time, it’s because it’s still something that I feel that I haven’t “mastered” and I have room to grow on because it covers so many facets. As far as other things that I know that I’m good at without a doubt, comparison is just a measure to better myself, for instance, “How can I make these cookies taste like Levain’s?”. I don’t kill myself with it. If I never get there it’s fine, I know I’m still pretty good in my own rite. To keep myself inspired, I do things that I would’ve have loved before the comparison came into view. I’ve always loved photography so if I never use it for my blog it’s cool because I would still do it. Great post as usual!

    1. I love the learning approach you take from it, Trudy! I have to admit that I probably need to find a healthier way to compare myself to other bloggers. I’m really in awe of a lot of what they do, but I always end up feeling like I need to do more. There’s never enough time as it is, and we had to make a conscious decision to try and find balance in this “part-time” (*insert laughing/crying emoji here*) endeavor of ours.

      I agree 100% with the comment about staying true to the things you love! There are posts that we sometimes do knowing that no one will respond to it, but it’s something we really love and want to share. Like many other bloggers, it’s taken us some time to find a path, and it’s still changing every day. But it’s so easy to lose your voice trying to appeal to everyone. We’re not immune, but we’re trying to be more conscious about it.

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, as always, Trudy! And by the way, have you found a way to make your cookies taste like Levain’s? And do you need any taste testers? 😉

      1. You know what?im working on almond butter cookies at the moment. And I’ll always share. I can relate to the comparison, there are a number of bloggers that I admire and I don’t know if I will ever be that good. And I’m in the same boat with writing things that “flop”. Trying to find my unique voice is hard while writing in your niché. I don’t know how well I am doing and I’ve gone back and deleted things that me think I was nuts to publish. For me it will always be a work in progress. And I’m laughing a good belly laugh about the part time comment!

        1. Almond butter cookies? Yes, please! 😉

          You know what? I’ve wanted to go back and delete SO MANY POSTS, but Justin won’t allow it. He thinks it’s nice to see our trajectory, while I just squirm and pray that no one finds them! I actually think you have a really distinct voice and enjoy your posts, so keep on keeping on, girl! As for the old posts, someday maybe I’ll go back and rewrite a few… in my spare time! (Cue the laughter)

          1. Justin is right Lyn; I am like you when I look back at some of my first ones. It is great that we do look back at past posts. As it shows how much we have improved in our writing and I feel I have still so much to learn about blogging.

          2. I know you’re right, Suz, but it’s still difficult not to judge yourself by what’s out there! I’m sure if we’re still blogging in two years I’m going to look back on some of our current posts and cringe 😉 All part of the process, I suppose!

          3. I have them on private in case I ever change my mind to make them public again. The ones that I deleted were more of chain posts with blogger awards and such. It kind of looks like I am all over the place with those and are just a way to tag other people. I guess it is a good way to network but not if I want a niche. I do feel like I have grown but some days … it totally feels like I’m making it up as I go along in the worst way. Next time we plan a meeting, I’ll do my best to bring you some cookies!

        2. Trudy, I think every blogger is unique even if they are all writing about the same thing. Each person has a different perspective on a place an experience or just life in general. I find that blogging is like penpals in a public arena. The blogs I do not appreciate are the ones that do not reply to comments, are empty and keep posting posts that are so obviously into stats than writing. Rave over 🙂

          1. Truly what is the point if not responding to comments? I took awhile to respond to some early ones cuz I didn’t know they were there. I’m always thrilled when anybody reads AND comments, it’s so rare!

          2. I couldn’t agree more, Cynthia! I definitely feel comments can provide so much more depth to a discussion as is the case with all of you here. I feel privileged to respond!

  2. I am not one for comparing myself to others. We are sort of not in the “norm” shall we say, as we have no kids, no jobs, early retirees and we housesit fulltime with no house back “home” NZ 🙂 Enjoyable post and one that can be discussed even further as Trudy below stated.

    1. Thank you so much, Suz! I imagine being in such a unique space can have its own sets of benefits and challenges! You have incredible variety in your posts and I’m curious how you choose what to blog about. Do other bloggers give you ideas?

      I actually quite enjoy that bloggers all have unique circumstances and perspectives, which is why we can approach a destination in so many different ways. I’ve found that supplementing the usual travel guides with travel blogs really helps me get a more thorough sense of a place. It’s been quite eye-opening 🙂

      1. Firstly, I write about the animals we care for their families. Then the places we visit during and in between housesits. I now include our motorhoming years as it was a big part of our lives before housesitting. My blog is all about our travels and life in general. To break up the housesitting, I am now doing interviews with artists whom I love to support and I enjoy all forms of art. We see art all different areas of our travel. Do you find I blog about too much? Or do you think it gels together? Most of the time I think of things to blog through our experiences.

        1. I definitely think it gels together because the thing that connects all of it is YOU, Suz! 🙂 I think each piece shows us a different side of you, which is a nice way to connect with readers. I like that you’ve also tried to capture parts of your past, something we’ve yet to consider or explore!

          1. Not sure if Suz will see your comment, Cynthia, but if you click on each person’s name it should link to their site if they provided one! 🙂

  3. Forgot to write the art is fantastic, and no I don’t think it has to be jaw dropping to have us reflecting on what the artist is trying to express. Again, what an amazing city you live to explore!!

    1. I think that statement is true at its core, Suz. But I do feel everyone is responding more and more to art that is also “photogenic” (read: Instagrammable), which I definitely have mixed feelings about. We go to galleries and see some really thought-provoking stuff, but the bright, colorful exhibits continue to get the most press.

      But we do feel fortunate that this city continues to challenge us in every way! 😉

  4. Great post! I always get extra excited when I see a Mad Chatter email land in my inbox 🙂 I think you make several great points – “random hurricanes of outcome” is really the only way to describe the results of your efforts, though I do think there is something to be said for consistent effort put into a vision to which you are completely sold out. If you have ever read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, he talks about how the mind is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used (along with consistency in your actions) to bring about whatever seed you plant in it. However, detaching yourself from the outcome of what is ultimately a ‘random hurricane’ will lead to less suffering down the road. So maybe it’s a combination of both.

    I think I sometimes suffer from “impostor syndrome” when I look at other bloggers – assuming that everybody else is smarter, more social, more successful, more capable than I am – which ultimately just hinders any sort of real creativity. I think I’ve found some ways to overcome that unfounded fear, but it’s a work in progress!

    1. You’re too kind, Lauren! First of all, thank you for the reading recommendation! I have a fondness for non-fiction, but I have to admit I haven’t explored the inspirational/motivational genre enough and this will give me a great starting point. I think many will argue that you need to be invested in an outcome to push yourself forward, but I found some poetry in the idea of not being a slave to it. And I sometimes question if hard work truly has a straight line to success like we are all made to believe. What happens if you’re told success is entirely random? Would you give up what you’re doing? It’s definitely something that made the gears in my head turn. I think you’re absolutely right, though – finding a middle ground will be the key.

      As for impostor syndrome: the struggle is REAL. I marvel at the bloggers who manage to balance having full-time jobs, producing content, maintaining a consistent social media presence, etc. It can certainly make me feel like a failure. I’m still working on this one!

      I’ve found that one of my biggest creative challenges is putting out content I’m not 100% proud of, but I think stumbling and falling is an essential part of the process. I’ve pushed myself to do it more with temporary content (like Instagram Stories), and I think it’s helped. But there’s definitely room for growth here too, and I really would love to hear how my fellow bloggers tackle it!

      1. Think and Grow Rich, while a ‘cheesy’ title that might give some the wrong impression (it did for me until my dad wholeheartedly recommended it) is a great book and one that speaks to you in a different way every time you read it! Hill wrote it back in the era of the Great Depression and it inspired many people to go on and lead successful lives, despite their immediate life situation. If you end up reading it, I would love to know your thoughts! I’m actually in the process of re-reading it as we speak 🙂

        I do agree that it is tricky to find a balance – because the other side of detaching yourself from outcome is Nihilism a la Kundera (somehow my conversations always lead me back to Unbearable Lightness….). I guess I try to look at it as “if I fail this one time, I’ll try again/try something else until I DON’T fail…because something is bound to stick eventually.” I think that’s where the motivational practices of Napoleon Hill come in hand!

        Also, you are the LAST person who should feel like a blogging or social media failure – if anything, you guys inspire ME to be a more consistent, better blogger – and I don’t even come close to having the warm, personable social media presence that you do. So keep on keepin’ on!

        1. As always, you are way too kind, Lauren! It’s a constant struggle, and we’ve definitely fallen short on more than one occasion. But I keep hoping we’ll get better at it, bit by bit. (And we love what you do, as you well know!)

          I love Unbearable Lightness of Being. Looking forward to reading Think and Grow Rich, and then discussing it!

          1. That’s too kind, Cynthia! Meeting people like you through the blog has inspired us in so many ways, so I’m sending the love right back! ❤️

  5. Wow, good post and a lot to think about.
    Knowing “where I rightfully live,” is a whole subject on its own. For me this means not comparing myself to others but learning from others and being inspired by them. Only I live where I rightfully live. It is my space and if I am happy with it, I’m okay.

    Competition: For me competition is good because it spurs me to reach and stretch my boundaries. I think that means knowing “where you live” while exploring the peripherals.

    Speaking of art, I am infrequently aligned with art critics. I like art that is meaningful, or pleasing, or challenging. I don’t “get” a lot of the contemporary art that seems to be “random hurricanes” without a message. – JAM

    1. I love that the statement from Elizabeth Gilbert resonated with us in so many ways, JAM! I think that’s definitely a great point, being secure in who you are and what you do is such an essential part of the journey. I think that also allows us to embrace all the positive things competition has to offer, such as you have. There’s a lot I can learn from that message, I appreciate the insight.

      Art is so subjective, but I tend to respond to pieces that pay out in the initial reaction (something more visceral, like how does it make me feel?) and then again when I’ve had some time to think about it (the message/meaning that you spoke to). I’ve never responded to critics either, mainly because I don’t particularly enjoy someone telling me what I “should” think about something. But I think art is always evolving and subject to trends too, which can be interesting from a historical aspect but can also be somewhat challenging for an artist, I imagine! It’s interesting to hear your perspective, JAM. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Keeping myself inspired hasn’t been much of a problem through the years – I’m endlessly curious (as I think you are) and I get excited pretty easily, about “ordinary” things. As you know, nature is the endless inspiration for me, so I put myself close to nature as much as possible.
    The comparison trap though has been hard sometimes, but lately, it seems that age helps put traps like that into perspective. It’s not about better/worse, good/bad, more than/less than, it’s about valuing difference. I value the work I see others doing (some of it anyway) and I can learn from it. That’s where comparison is useful. For example, I perceive that a fellow blogger’s technique is better – let’s say more advanced – than mine, so I work to get there myself. If negative thoughts intrude along the way, they’re not about the work, they’re likely about something else, something that, when investigated closely, can be seen for what it is – a mirage of sorts – and it will pass. And as for needing to be louder or more extreme than the next person to attract attention, well that’s an obvious dead end.

    1. Nature is definitely an endless source of inspiration, Lynn! The city is more of a fickle muse 😉

      Being able to take a step back and detach oneself from negative thoughts is a particularly difficult challenge! I don’t necessarily find myself falling prey to the better/worse scenario–in that case I agree that “valuing difference” helps tremendously. But I find the idea of having to consistently strive to learn more overwhelming, like I’m running after a train that’s getting further and further away from me. I think setting boundaries has helped, but it’s still a constant fight!

  7. Hi Lynn, joining this discussion a bit late, per my usual. 🙁 I think if I engaged in much comparison I’d be so depressed I’d never blog again—which would only be a little less than I do now, lol!

    Really, as a blogger, all I ever wanted to do was have my own thing, something creative that was just mine, with the effort spent purely on something I care about. I would have created something, regardless of whether or not anyone read it. And if I touched or helped even one person in some small way, made them laugh or consider something differently, that would be worth it. Not that I’m always able to stay in that mindset, but my expectations are pretty small.

    My difficulty seems to be in making my own creation enough of a priority to spend time on it and blog consistently. Love these conversations, thanks for starting them!

    1. Hi Cynthia, there’s no time limit on responses so thanks for joining in! 😉

      I love the way you approach your blog, and for the most part we started this blog with the same thing in mind: just to carve out a tiny bit of personal space on the web. We’ve tried to keep it fluid and true to us, but I think it’s difficult not to fall prey to moments of comparison when you see what’s out there! Sometimes competition inspires us to do better, but sometimes it just gets the better of us. It’s definitely something I’m working on!

      I can definitely tell you that your blog has made me smile and laugh, so mission accomplished! 🙂

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