What To Do When You're Falling Behind

It's easy to measure our career in comics according to the milestones we've reached.

Getting back the first pages of art on a project. Convincing a publisher to support our books. Seeing our comic in stores.

But when we evaluate our careers by the external milestones we reach, it's easy to start comparing our progress to other's. That's the problem with trying to use an objective or external or objective measuring stick, versus evaluating our progress by our own internal metrics - like how good we feel about our career, how happy we are with where we are, and how confident we are in the road forward.

With external measurement it's too easy to look at someone else's progress and say, "look how much more quickly they got there" or "look how much better they are doing."

But that doesn't really tell you anything that will help you keep moving your career forward. And it does more harm than anything else.

You need to stop looking at the rate at which other's are progressing and instead learn to be content to move at your own pace.

The Marathon of Making Comics

"But shouldn't I work as hard as possible if I want to achieve my dreams?"

I think today, this question is more common than ever. It's not often vocalized, but it's easy to see in the actions we take.

There's a strong culture around the idea of hustling and of going to whatever lengths are needed to realize your passions and do work you love.

But this answer won't work as well for everyone. Some will be comfortable sacrificing their simple pleasures and dedicating any available time toward building their career.

But you might not. And if you aren't, then trying to live by these principles will only lead you to burn yourself out and grow frustrated against the torrent of advice - some of it coming from me - to work more and waste less time on watching television shows or playing video games.

This advice comes from a good place, but if you need to take time to enjoy these parts of life - even if you could be dedicating that time towards working - then you should feel free to do so. You shouldn't feel pressured to live and work the same way everyone else is.

Trying to run your life at a pace you're not built for - or don't care for - is a great way to burn yourself out. Building a career in comics is a marathon, not a sprint. And in a marathon it's more important to find a steady pace that you can maintain over a long period of time, than to try to be as fast - or faster - than the person next to you.

You shouldn't feel shame for living the life that you want.

There will always be somebody working harder than you. And always somebody not working as hard. Neither of these people deserve success any more or less than you do.

They may reach certain milestones faster, but is that really what success is about? You have to define it for yourself. You have to decide whether being successful in comics, by the common standards, is more important to you than leading a successful life - one in which you're happy, moment-to-moment, rather than working towards a happiness that's always just a little further ahead.

The Never-Ending Journey

There's a cliche, that life is a journey, not a destination. It comes from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And in a journey what's important is not arriving at your destination, but the steps you take along the way. Because when you arrive at your destination, that is when the journey ends.

But when you follow your dreams, you should be embarking on a journey with no end. There is no summit to climb to show that you've conquered your goal. Instead, there is a path. A path with milestones along the edge, that can tell you where you are, but shows no indication of an ending.

Instead these milestones tell you the pace that you're progressing, by the time you take to reach each one. This is how we can begin to compare our career to others and start to worry about how fast we're moving, rather than whether we'll be able to keep going.

For a creator, satisfaction must lie in walking the path at your own pace.

But you can't go at the pace that works for you AND keep up with everyone else. And not necessarily just because they're putting more time in.

Careers are very personal things and creativity even more so. The nature of both of these is that everyone will advance differently. The stories we're drawn to, the time we invest, the luck we chance upon - it all contributes to our pace. With all these variables in play, no two people will advance at the same rate. It's part of why it's so common to say that no two people break into comics the same way.

Instead, being concerned with how fast you're moving relative to everyone else only sets unrealistic pressure on yourself and makes it more difficult for you to stay motivated through the long length of time it takes to build a career in comics.

Sometimes, going at a slower pace in the short-term and failing to keep up is a trade-off for managing to stay in the game in the long-term.

The Deadweight We Carry

Most of us, though, aren't just progressing, free. We have deadweight that we carry with us that slows us down, regardless of how fast we try to move.

Usually, it comes from jealousy.

These are hard to deal with, but overcoming them is extremely important.

For jealousy, I think it takes understanding that comics don't have to be zero-sum game. When everyone's competing for the same number of small jobs writing work-for-hire titles or getting publishing slots for their creator-owned work it's hard to see past that.

But especially now with independent possibilities opening up, that's less and less true.

And besides, the more you make friends with other creators and can take pleasure in their success, the more fun it is to be in comics.

Learning to go at your own pace, like we've discussed, can also help. Looking at your own career breakthroughs and finding ways to help yourself stay motivated through the marathon.

It's not easy. Personally, that's part of the reason why this blog has been great for me. Personally that's why this blog has been great for me. It's been a way to address a part of the industry I feel really strong about and know I can help with, while also giving me something with a shorter turnaround. More immediate gratification. Every week I get a post up. Every week I send out an email. And every week I continue to inch forward on the comic projects with a much longer time horizon.

You should find these things for yourself. Find what motivates you and keeps you going. And look inside, instead of outside, to learn to be content along the journey.