If you’re a Christian, and a blogger, and you’ve spent any time at all on the Internet over the past few years, you know who Jon Acuff is. In addition to being an uber-successful blogger, and author, he’s a man who’s wise beyond his years. In addition to his penchant for pithy insight into church culture, he drops bombs like:
“Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
Now we’re not talking about Japanese hot dog-eating champion Takeru Kobayashi here–although the principle applies. Just as Kobayashi trained to get where he was, so must we who are bloggers, artists, creatives. Just as it would be unwise for a beginning contestant in the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest to expect to achieve Kobayashi levels of success, so those of us who are starting out on this creative path can’t expect to instantly achieve Acuffian levels of success.
It doesn’t work that way.
Yet we all seem to do it.
What do we do? We compare. We compare ourselves to those who are further along the road we want to walk. We do this oftentimes without knowing what those people had to do to get where they are. For instance, look at Jon Acuff: he wrote two, or three, other blogs before Stuff Christians Like took off. He had put in a monumental amount of effort in relative obscurity before he was a hit. Though SCL did strike like lightning, there were years of practice behind it. (Even now, as successful as he is as writer and speaker, Mr. Acuff works for the Dave Ramsey organization in Nashville).
Our problem is that we see these seeming overnight successes, and want to replicate them. But again it doesn’t work that way. Look, for instance, at an author like Tosca Lee: there were years and years of writing things that never saw the light of day before her book, Demon: A Memoir hit print. In the interim, she continued to work for Gallup as a traveling consultant as she pursued her dream of being a full-time writer.
It’s my understanding that it was only within the last two-and-a-half years–after having published two books of her own–that she was finally able to quit her day job in pursuit of her dream job. (Now in her case, and to be fair, she did co-author a trilogy with the ultra-successful Ted Dekker, but that opportunity didn’t come about until she had been working for years and years on her own. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Dekker became aware of her work, and when her novels Demon and Havah were reprinted, Mr. Dekker was asked to make an endorsement. Conversations then ensued, and the Books of Mortals were born).
But there were years and years of work before she got to that point.
I can’t say with any certainty, but being that they are human, I would venture to guess that both Mr. Acuff and Ms. Lee from time-to-time look to those who are more successful than they are in their respective fields, and compare themselves. In Acuff’s case, for the sake of argument, let’s say he compares himself to someone like Michael Hyatt. As successful as Jon is, Hyatt has a larger following. Never mind the fact that Mr. Hyatt was the CEO of Thomas Nelson, and has been plugging away for years.
Or in the case of Ms. Lee, lets say–again for the sake of argument–that she looks to someone like Neil Gaiman, and wonders why she hasn’t yet achieved that level of success. But again, Gaiman has been working for how long, and in how many fields?
Allow me to be entirely blunt here: I chose the writers I did because they are people I have looked at, have compared myself to. I mean who in the Christian blogging world wouldn’t want to be Jon Acuff? Or who, as a Christian novelist, wouldn’t want to be a Tosca Lee?
It’s when I get my eyes off of who I am, and the work that I’m about, that I run into trouble. When I start comparing myself to others whose work I admire, and bemoan my lack of success, I kill my creativity.
And dishonor the God who put the spark within my heart.
Whether you, or me, such comparisons only lead to despair. Let us each be the best we that we can be.
Have you ever compared yourself to someone you viewed as more successful than you?