Designing Happiness: Why Your Greatest Competitor Should Be Your Past Self

However, the key to not just surviving but thriving in this competitive environment lies in a simple yet profound shift in mindset: measure your success against your past self, not others.

Designing Happiness: Why Your Greatest Competitor Should Be Your Past Self
Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Imagine standing in a gallery, surrounded by the most stunning graphic design posters you've ever seen. Each piece is more captivating than the last, and you can't help but feel a twinge of envy. Imagine if those designs were all created by you a year from now. How would that shift your perspective?

This scenario illustrates a powerful truth in the world of freelancing and creative design: the most fulfilling and effective competition is not with others but with your own past achievements.

In a field as dynamic and visually driven as graphic design, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing your work to that of your peers. Exceptional work floods social media and design platforms, setting an often intimidating standard.

"However, the key to not just surviving but thriving in this competitive environment lies in a simple yet profound shift in mindset: measure your success against your past self, not others."

This approach transforms the way we perceive our journey as freelancers and designers. It's not about outdoing your colleague's latest project or envying the creativity of a competitor.

Instead, it's about looking back at your own work, recognising how far you've come, and setting goals to surpass your own benchmarks. This is the essence of designing happiness in our careers—a continuous, self-referential improvement that keeps us motivated and genuinely satisfied with our progress.

In this post, we'll explore why competing with your past self is the most effective form of competition for personal and professional growth. We'll delve into how this mindset fosters a healthier work environment, encourages continuous learning, and ultimately leads to a more fulfilling career in design.

Problems with Comparing Yourself to Other Designers

It's tempting to scope out the latest work of designers you admire and use it as a measuring stick for your own abilities. However, while healthy doses of inspiration are beneficial, obsessive comparing can be problematic in several ways:

Can Be Demotivating Rather Than Inspirational

Seeing other designers execute at a high level you haven't reached yet makes it feel like no matter how hard you work, you'll always lag behind. Rather than feel motivated to match their prowess, you simply feel discouraged, doubting if you have what it takes.

Leads to Frustration and Dissatisfaction

When you expect your work to immediately measure up to that of designers who have been honing their craft longer, you'll constantly feel like a failure. By holding your skills to unrealistic standards, you'll likely end up frustrated that your work doesn't stack up, undervaluing your own progress.

Fosters Antagonism and Toxicity

Envy often breeds resentment, and comparing yourself to other creatives frequently leads to bitterness. Rather than appreciation for their abilities, you feel antagonised. This dynamic ripples through the broader community, fostering unhealthy competitiveness and toxicity rather than camaraderie.

"The reality is that relentless comparison rarely motivates improvement. It stunts it by wearing down self-confidence and fostering unrealistic expectations. If you want true growth, the benchmarks for your work can't be based on others. They need to come from within."

Shift Your Focus to Competing Against Your Past Self

Rather than endlessly judging your work against others, the most constructive form of competition is with your former self. Define your own metrics for improvement based on your journey so far.

Celebrate how much your skills have developed over time. Dig up old pieces you were once proud of and compare them to your latest work. Recognise what you’ve fine-tuned and mastered since then. Appreciate how much more comfortable you now feel in your creative medium.

Let this act as inspiration, showing just how much progress is possible, not a demotivating diagnosis revealing permanent flaws. Find encouragement in seeing tangible growth rather than feeling stalled out and spiritually defeated by unattainable pinnacles of mastery.

Use those old drafts as a constructive benchmark to showcase how far you’ve come in executing initial ideas. Don't seek flaws, but rather growth indicators. Everything we create represents that phase in our personal timeline. Our only true competition is against these prior versions of ourselves.

With this shifted mindset, over time, you’ll surprise yourself with how much your skills transform what may have once felt like limitations. But frame this as exciting potential rather than underwhelming inadequacy. You’re rooting for yourself to ascend new heights.

Tips for Competing Against Your Former Self

Once you've committed to self-competition, how do you put this mind-shift into action? Here are some tangible ways to challenge your past creative limits:

Set aside an older project that you felt proud of finishing at the time. Now armed with new knowledge and abilities, redesign it from scratch as if for a different audience. Don't copy direct elements, but recreate them, leveraging expanded stylistic choices and compositional freedom.

Resist self-limiting beliefs about what’s possible for “someone like you." Compete directly against those past inhibitions by pushing self-imposed boundaries. Show yourself how much creative flexibility you’ve cultivated.

Revisit old concepts that may have lacked proper execution before. Breathe new life into previous ideas without fully achieving fruition. Build upon that earlier spark by finally giving it the runway it deserves. Rectify lagging skills from the past to elucidate your modern abilities.

Leverage all those unfinished drafts and idle sketches as evidence of how much further along the creative process you can now get. Recognise the distance between your previous preparation phase and your now-fully realised end products. Continue to inch closer to mastering your craft.

Benefits of Self-Competition

When you shift your viewpoint inward and compete against previous versions of yourself rather than others, you unlock all sorts of creative expansion and career benefits:

It creates a positive cycle of continuous improvement rather than a static assessment of ability. By perpetually working to outdo your former skills, you embed consistent growth into your mindset. There is no final plateau—only a forward ascent to motivate.

You remove the conditioned creative limitations your mind places on itself when judged publicly. The need to perform relative to others stunts risk-taking. But self-competition liberates you to tap into unused creative reserves with no external consequences.

It fosters a healthier relationship with constructive feedback, both internal and external. Criticism helps us better our craft when it is decoupled from self-worth and instead tied to progress markers. We hear it as fuel to keep challenging past paradigms.

"By shifting to self-referential metrics, we can finally focus on the joy of creating rather than the agony of comparing. Our work becomes a representation of time, not permanence. There are no failures, only more rungs on the ladder as we continually transcend our own potential."

Conclusion: Make Yourself Your Own Competition

Comparing ourselves to others often provides an unhealthy and unrealistic portrayal of success in this age of curation and virality. But you have permission to tune out the highlight reel and set your own definitions of creative achievement based on your personal journey.

When you shift to competing against earlier versions of yourself, you replace demotivating defeat with the thrill of measurable growth. Suddenly, your benchmark is your ever-ascending potential unfolding over time, not static platitudes dictating what you should be capable of.

It removes self-imposed limitations on creative risk while spurring innovation. By focusing inward, you gain the freedom to tap into fuller expression without fear of external judgment. Your audience becomes your former self.

So as you continue moving forward, resist the magnetic pull to measure your work against others. Instead, I often revisit old pieces and drafts with fresh eyes. Marvel at the visible progress made tangible. Use it as inspiration to fuel your next challenge against yourself.

"The most powerful competitor you’ll ever face is your past paradigm of perceived ability. It’s time to show your former self how much you’ve grown. I dare you to start today. Surprise yourself with what you can now envision and execute with fresh skills. Compete against you."

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