We all have experience with competition. We look at our peers’ work and we evaluate if we’re better or if they’re better and then we act accordingly. Competition is good because it forces any self-respecting creative professional to always sharpen their creative edge which is ultimately great for the creative industries in general because we’ll always be producing better and better work.

Some of you might be thinking, “I didn’t really want to become a [insert profession here] to be competitive. I just want to be creative and make a living doing it.” While that’s a noble and decent thing to say, it’s ultimately naïve and misguided. Those who make a living doing something they love are afforded that ability because they’re really good at what they do; because they’re always at the top of client’s minds; they’re at the top of industry leaders’ minds. They are the first option amidst a sea of incredibly talented and creative people. You don’t get to that point without someone else coming in at 2nd place.

There will always be times when we think we’re on top of our game and suddenly, someone with fresh ideas, a new perspective, and a more attractive portfolio sneaks up on you and you find yourself in damage control mode just trying to catch up to a new pace.

Then there are times when you’re just starting out in a new environment or when you’re just getting your feet wet and being competitive isn’t really on your mind yet. All you want is to just be included in the conversation.

I think being competitive and staying competitive is one and the same thing. The moment you make a commitment to put name in the hat, it is a commitment to always be on top of your game; to always be excellent. If you stop or if you become complacent, you’ve already lost your edge.

These are just a few insights I’ve come to struggle with in my work as a creative professional and working to remain competitive. I’d like to share my thoughts with all of you.

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Being good starts with believing you can be good

The first step to being competitive is the belief that you can even be a contender. A lot of people will want to work in the same industry as you. Photographers, illustrators, designers, etc. are all putting their name in the hat to be considered in certain talent pools. More often then not, you will have the same career paths until someone decides to set himself or herself apart.

But it always starts with knowing and deciding that you can be a contender. The step after that is working towards it.

You’re not unique

Believe it or not, your art teacher was wrong. You are not special.

The moment you start thinking you’re a “unique snowflake” is the same moment all the other unique snowflakes pile up on you.  At the end of the day, you’re all still snowflakes. And in the vast expanse of creative talent pools, you will all look the same in one homogenous mass of snow.

Set yourself apart with something truly unique. For instance, if you’re an illustrator, do something that only you can do. Create a truly unique perspective. If you’re a Photo editor, come up with a workflow that only you can do. But the trick is to always work better.

Always examine the status quo and always work to be above it. You will achieve nothing new if you don’t take a risk to do something new. You’ll notice that those who weren’t foolish enough to rest on their laurels are the ones who actually go on to do greater and greater things.

Be likable

We’ve said this before on Design Instruct and I’ll say it again now: “Never underestimate the value of being likable.”

Being likable doesn’t mean that you have to act fake or betray your true personality. Being likable is about interpersonal relationships and making people still want to work with you despite your personality flaws.

Think about it this way: if you’re difficult to work with, no one will want to work with you even if you do amazing work.  Always respect other people’s opinions about you because ultimately, it’s the people around you and the industry you work in that will allow you to keep working.

When you have good relationships with the right people, then being competitive and staying competitive gets easier because of the network of people who will be ready to support your work when the need comes for it.

At the end of the day it’s still all work. And work means having to work with others and interact with others. If there’s one thing that will keep you from getting what you want out of your career as a creative professional, you do not want it to be the spite of others.

Let go of your ideas

We all have ideas. As creative professionals, we want to see ourselves as innovators and the creators of fresh perspectives. However, very few of us share ideas and knowledge because we want to claim them as our own until we’re ready to do something about them.

I used to be very protective over my ideas because I was always afraid that someone might steal them. The downside about being protective over your ideas is that you will often be so protective over them that you won’t do anything to execute them anyway.

I’ve learned that if you have an idea, either let go of them (i.e. share them or display them) and move on or execute them and make that idea truly yours.

By letting go of your ideas, you free up your mind to create new ones making the work that you actually do always fresh and always on the cutting edge.

If people recognize that you’re always coming up with great ideas, then that makes you competitive. You’ll always have something new to share and in the creative industries where innovation is at a premium, where being fresh is not only valued but a prerequisite, new ideas will always give you an edge.

Fail and learn

If you think about losing or failing as the end of the road, you’ll never get anywhere in your career. We all fail. We all lose. Someone will always be better than us, younger, smarter,  and more skilled.

What matters is not how you lose but how you get back up from your defeat. This is trite advice. It’s been said before. But it’s effective.

We will all be defeated one day. You’ll be on top of your game. You’ll be recognized for your work. You’ll have the respect of your peers. But along with a rise, you will always have a fall. And dealing with failure, dealing with losses, is where your true competitive spirit matters.

When you feel defeated or when someone else gets an edge on you remember this one thing: Life moves in one direction. Forward. It will not wait for you to get better. It will not wait for you to improve. There is no reset button; no do-overs. There is only getting back up and learning from failure so that you’ll know how to win the next one.

Your thoughts

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Isaac is the Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Design Instruct. He has experience in various design and art related fields including design, illustration, and photography. He's in charge of making sure that Design Instruct publishes high quality content that professional designers and digital artists demand and expect. Get in touch via email and on Twitter as @designinstruct or @IAMTHEGUBE.