Earlier this year, I had an epiphany.
This March I was a couple of months into what I was calling a period of refocusing and discovery for my freelance business. In other words, hitting pause on what I was doing before and desperately trying to figure out what I should be doing next. As a part of my “self-discovery”, I was gingerly feeling my way through a rapidly expanding world of online creative networks and community.
I know I sound a bit like a curmudgeon here, but I had no idea just how much social media was being utilized by the small business and creative entrepreneur community. Facebook groups for business-centric discussion? Networking and developing client leads on Instagram? People will hire you off your pins on Pinterest?! (That one blew my mind a little bit.)
Needless to say, this was all a new and exciting frontier for me, but one I wasn’t sure how to navigate. I knew I needed some kind of community. But the why eluded me. I saw the potential for interesting advice and finding resources I hadn’t yet discovered. But didn’t putting myself out there mean opening myself up to criticism, comparison, and competition?
And oh boy, the talent. I had always been self-assured of my skills as a designer but I had also insulated myself from what was going on in the creative community the past few years. This meant I was discovering a lot of amazing and gifted designers all at once. I saw so many women who were confident in their purpose and what they were delivering. It was scary and disheartening to think that I was now trying to position myself in the same industry and going after the same clients.
It was at this very moment, right before fear, discouragement, and uncertainty could take over, that something interesting happened.
After a couple years of holding out, I decided to finally start a new Instagram account for my business. This was my first time intentionally seeking out accounts within my industry circles to follow, admire, and learn from. My browsing and interactions were aimless, but I didn’t mind. If nothing else, I could always count on my feed to fill up with plenty of pretty pictures and inspiring quotes, until one day, I saw something in my feed that made me stop in my tracks.
It was a simple quote: “Her prosperity does not make me inferior, and I choose to cheer her on because community rises above competition.”
These words were a powerful punch to my gut.
I was at the cusp of making another choice to wall myself off. To protect myself from disappointment and potential failure, but these words told me, No!
I eagerly went to find the source of these words and discovered Natalie’s recently written blog post about overcoming comparison and her earlier post about the loneliness of entrepreneurship. Her words resonated deeply within me, articulating with startling accuracy the depth and tangle of feelings I was wrestling with.
I had already spent many years living a lonely existence as a freelancer, feeling like the rat race would never end. It was all about comparison — was I good enough? Did they hire someone better? That person has been doing this as long as I have but they’re light-years ahead of me. Work was something that was hard fought, to be squirreled away and sheltered away from prying eyes. I was wary of competition snatching my jobs away, because then where would I be? I had bills, a family, and a career to keep afloat. This mindset of scarcity and of fear fueled a productive, but extremely limiting stretch of my career. And I’d ended up hitting a wall anyway.
Her words made me realize I was not alone. It was clear that so many people were feeling the same things and struggling with the same issues. Perhaps, as Natalie said, choosing to cheer on my fellow creatives and rising above competition was worth giving a try, rather than treading the same patterns, alone.
I decided to go for it.
Social media and online community suddenly had a purpose. It was about going outside of my comfort zones and meeting other people. Introducing myself in situations where before, I would have settled into the background to lurk. Making the first move to form a connection. And learning to give, give, give, rather than receive.
Give my time, to listen to others and answer questions.
Give support to my fellow creatives who need an emotional boost.
Give encouragement to the people who were taking risks and finding amazing success.
Give as abundantly as I can.
It’s not always perfect. Sometimes I was busy and forgot to respond to people. Or maybe it’s a bad day and hard to feel generous. But the brilliant thing is that community is not about just me. #communityovercompetition is more than just a hashtag, it’s a movement, and there are so many others out there determined to live it out. So when I’m stumbling, even faltering, I see other women ready to give their time, support, and encouragement to me.
A few months later and that single post has sparked a true movement. And here we are with the Rising Tide Society, continuing to share, support, and encourage one another, both online and in person at Tuesdays Together. I’m grateful that Natalie took the first step in getting her words out there, and that it’s led to such a beautiful convergence of minds and souls.
For those of you who are just discovering these communities for the first time and weighing the risks of putting yourself out there, I want to encourage you to silence those voices of doubt and just do it. There are people out there who are waiting to lift you up, and your voice is waiting to be heard, to be used to lift up others.