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Comparison Critic

When I was in school, I attended the Grace Hopper conference, which was subtitled “A Celebration of Women in Computing”. There were panels on work-life balance (which was more about work-family balance and didn’t discuss things like how to find time for yourself which I think is highly undervalued), dealing with sexism in the workplace, and how to get more women interested in computer science (which: see previous panel on sexism). There were also two dance parties, which is two more than you generally see at most academic/tech conferences, and really I wish you would see them more because they were awesome. Of course that might be because it was almost entirely women.

Anyway. I also learned about imposter syndrome (where you feel like you’re totally faking it and at any time someone is going to figure it out, which describes most of my existence as a programmer and  grad student.)  I also attended an interesting panel on internal critics. One of the critics was referred to as the comparison critic, and plays a big part in imposter syndrome but also, as I’m learning, absolutely sucks your creative energy.

The Comparison Critic is that internal voice that says things like “Wow, that person does X so much better than you do!” or “You will never be as good as that!” I’m not super fond of Comparison Critic, but she sure gets a lot of air time in my head.

I’ve felt really constrained lately in my creativity and quilting, and in doing some reflection, realized that I’ve let Comparison Critic talk me into a creative corner. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that I make something new, and different, and don’t follow a pattern, and don’t do the thing that someone else is doing, or if I do, make sure it’s somehow unique, and gosh, why can’t you make it as good as so and so’s and maybe you should just not bother.

No wonder I don’t want to make anything! I spend a lot of time looking at flickr, instagram and pinterest, but instead of being inspired, I’m just overwhelmed. How will I ever be that good? How can I possibly make something cool and new and different when it’s all been done before?

I’m coming to realize that Comparison Critic can just shut her mouth, because all of that is total nonsense. There is room for all of us to make beautiful things, and there is no contest we’re all secretly taking part in. Everyone has their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses which is part of their own creative journey, tailored just for them. Instead of looking at everyone else’s journey, I should be focusing on my own!

So I sat down with my graph paper and thought, “If I didn’t care about what anyone else has made, what would I design?”

At first there was a long, scary silence. Punctuated by thoughts like: “Oh god, I can’t design without looking at other people’s stuff!”, and  “NOOoooooooooo!”, and  “I’m so screwed!” (My inner voices are a little on the dramatic side.)


But I kept sitting and suddenly out of nowhere a voice popped into my head and simply said “It would have circles.” So I started drawing circles. And at first I hated everything I drew, but I kept drawing and shushing my Comparison Critic. Instead, I tried to point out things I liked and how to improve what I didn’t. And in the end I had a couple ideas I’d be willing to work with. They need more development, and yah they look like stuff other people have done, but that’s okay. Will they ever be made into quilts? I don’t know. But it was just so freeing to sit and create with an encouraging voice in my head instead of a discouraging one.


This post brought to you by my sketch for the Dragon Quilt of Doom (which my dog kindly laid/drooled on) followed by a full evening spent reading Maureen Cracknell’s blog and swooning over her sketch stitching.

Sorry for the long, introspective post. I promise to post something more light-hearted soon!


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