Criticism and Competition: The "Why" of It All

Over the last several days, I've not been conscious of my "no criticism" challenge. Not surprisingly this struck me last night while I was criticizing something (though Jeff told me he thought it was more of a constructive criticism conversation, naming the difficulties of a particular situation).

My last goal I gave myself was to look inward and attemptto understand why I am critical so often. There are different reasons why I criticize, and it depends on who and what I am criticizing as to my motivations, I think. Today I want to look into the clearest motivation I often have: to make myself feel better, to practice self-pity. 

Here's where I need to be very transparent (I hand-write most of my blogposts before they end up here, and there's a place in the first draft where I chastise myself for being vague. I knew I needed to get very specific and confessional in this post.)

It's not uncommon for me to criticize other musicians and songwriters. When I do this, criticizing their work, their art, I know where that comes from. I have insecurities and questions related to my own art. Why am I doing something so difficult and, sometimes, seemingly meaningless? Am I a good songwriter? Should my goal be to be well-known? Have a career? Be content to just write meaningful songs no matter what else happens? All of the above? 

When I see another artist being successful (or what I have decided is my own standard of "successful") - or to be very specific to a common scenario - when I see another songwriter make a cool, high-quality music video, the inner monologue goes something like this:

How do they have money to make a video like that?
Must be nice to have friends who will do that for cheap or free. 
I don't have money to make videos like that. (woe is me.)
How am I supposed to promote myself without good videos?
[This isn't fair.]
Why do they deserve that more than me?
My stuff must not be as good.
Maybe I should quit.

And so on and so on.

As I write this down, I realize this is all in a spirit of competition and not celebration and support. Not only are my thoughts too often centered on my own success, but it distances me from like-minded people from whom I can learn, who could be a part of my community. Criticism is a wall, a gulf, a chasm. It separates me from reality. I'm only imagining reality with my distant criticism. Sure, some things I may see or say might be factual (a person may have a best friend who is a filmmaker and volunteers to make a killer music video), but as a whole, my criticism is never painting a picture of reality. I'm spinning a tale in my head, a tale woven from the threads of criticism. 

Wow. I dislike seeing this in myself. 

It's good to say it, though.

So, today, I'm going to introduce you to a couple of musicians and songwriters who I have chosen to know and celebrate, a perspective I want to have when seeing the successes of other artists. May you, too, choose to celebrate those you've been criticizing. 

This is my friend, Joy Ike, who travels often, works hard and is always happy to share advice
with me about life as a working songwriter and musician.

Brandon Kinder (middle), of The Wealthy West and The Rocketboys, playing at Loflin Yard in a songwriter's round.
Brandon just moved to Memphis from Austin. We've become friends, and I love his music.
 He, too, is happy to share and support. I'm glad to know him. 

And me. I'm choosing to celebrate me today, too. May I also be an artist who chooses to support and celebrate other artists.
Following along in the challenge? Here's what you can think about for the next week:

When is criticism constructive?
How can you practice this?
In what situations is it appropriate and with whom is it safe to practice constructive criticism?

Happy celebrating!

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