Picture of Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra

How to deal with competitive feelings as an artist

Do you recognize competitive behaviour in yourself or other artists? Learn how to deal with it and develop a well-balanced approach to your career.

Why is there a competition between artists?

Fans, reviewers and peers often create competition by comparing artists. The press “hypes” an artist’s work and adoring fans believe their preferred artist is perfect. The buzz created is contagious and may lead to a sense of scarcity in their colleagues. Artists are often reduced to ‘better or worse than’ in order to sell papers. Just remember, it’s not a competition and there is room for everyone in the creative world.

The issue at the root of artists feeling ‘threatened by the competition’

That advice alone is probably not enough though. What you need to understand when you, or someone around you, feels jealous – is that the person concerned is not being kind enough to themselves. They don’t appreciate their uniqueness or what they have to offer. Thus, internally, they are telling themselves all day, to be more like the artist they admire – and what happens when they run into that artist? Well, they ‘hate’ them of course!

The problem is not really that they ‘hate’ that artist. The problem is that they have berated themselves so long, that it feels as though it’s the rival artist that has made them feel inferior and ashamed and guilty for ‘not being good enough’, simply by existing. In fact, that rival artist hasn’t done anything! They’ve done this to themselves.

The dark side of this syndrome is that in symbolic terms (and it is a very childlike magical ‘wish’ state – much like what a young child feels when troubled by sibling rivalry), they really do wish their rival would ‘go away and die’ because then, they wouldn’t have to feel so awful about themselves. Except by now, you’ve probably guessed what would happen if their rival did disappear for some reason… they’d simply find some other artist’s perfection to beat themselves up with.

When artists are envious and compete

Do you sense that other artists feel threatened by you? Maybe, although they’re friendly, something feels off to you? Maybe that person isn’t aware of their competitive behaviour but it leaks out in the way they talk to you or about you, and slowly, they chip away at your confidence. Back-handed compliments, making you feel inept, or just giving you the cold shoulder are passive-aggressive behaviours you might encounter. Identify this competitive behaviour and you’ll understand why some comments feel off to you. Acknowledging what’s happening to yourself always helps. Often the artist has insecurities themselves and wants you to feel bad, so they’ll feel good.

I’ve experienced everything from someone trying to ruin my evening by spilling tea down my clothes at an event (fortunately it didn’t work) to a ‘friend’ who was ‘never around’ (she’d go AWOL for months) when I was releasing an album so that she didn’t have to acknowledge that it was good. Female singers are particularly prone to this syndrome and it’s a great shame as it can leave us feeling very isolated. But we have to ‘be the change’ we want to see – however difficult that feels.

How to respond to competitive passive-aggressive behaviour

The way you respond to competitive behaviour is important. Keep your cool – and although it’s never pleasant to be at the end of such behaviour, don’t take it personally. Nor should you attempt to respond with an equally passive-aggressive comment about their work. Focus on the positive when you answer. “I’m so happy that you really like my new album”. Or, if you feel you must, repeat the question back to them. This can be a good way to let them hear how rudely their question was framed. Show them that you’re not rattled and if you can manage it, be kind. Acting maturely and taking the higher road lifts your fellow artists up and makes them reconsider how they communicate.

What to do if you feel jealous

It’s ok to admit to yourself that you’re jealous of another artist’s success or talents. And here’s a cure. Sit down and make lists or mind maps which remind you what is unique about your artistic vision. What is your unique selling proposition (USP)? What are your skills, your talents, your achievements, your assets? Is there another person in all the world who has the same artist approach as you? If you’ve been true to yourself (rather than trying to emulate others) then the answer will always be – absolutely not! (And if you have been emulating others, it’s time to start ‘finding your own voice’.) No one can bring what you bring to the world, in terms of artistic vision. No one could write the same songs, sing the same way, paint the same pictures, write the same jokes, the same books – in short, no one can see the world as you see it. You cannot take up another’s place in the world – and more importantly, no one can take up yours….

Encourage artists to stop being in competition

You can also diffuse your jealousy by choosing to become inspired – and refusing to act on your feelings. Consider telling the artist what you love about their work. Offer them help, insights, advice or contacts. It’s in the interests of publishers, agents and record companies for us to compete. Artists have more to gain from sharing than from competing – especially in these days of austerity when funding and opportunities are scarcer. I’m not saying that won’t be challenging. Sometimes it will hurt to make that sacrifice. But we are stronger together. Let’s support and value each other with kindness and emotional honesty and make the genre we’re in, a nicer place to be.

If you need help dealing with the kinds of issues that creative people face, Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation to find out if I’m the right artist career coach for you.


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