Competing with Myself for Validation

Last night, I realized something about myself that I’d like to share with you. It’s a fact that I never even considered true of myself, until a stress induced breakdown threw the reality in my face. (Heh, look at me, sounding all serious and stuff) Hopefully someone out there will find some comfort in this post. (shoutout to anyone coming here from Twitter and Facebook! 😀 )
Y’all aint alone in this scary and competitive world. If you would, allow me to tell you my little story.


I tend to ramble in posts like these- really badly! So I’ll think back to Composition I my first semester and try to keep a central point to each paragraph.

So, I didn’t realize it until last night, but I have a problem that’s been holding me back more than I’ve seen. It hurt my productivity, my work ethic (in an ironic sense, but we’ll get there in a sec), my inspiration, but worst of all, it hurt my creativity. I’d go as far as to say damaged, even. Set me back a ways.
See, since I started my road to being a game developer, I’ve been hammered with outside stresses unlike anything I’ve known before. Several times a day, I think to myself, “am I using my tuition money to its fullest potential”, “am I being productive enough today”, “am I making good enough grades”, “is my work ethic good enough in this class”, “am I good enough to post this on Twtter,” “is thing good enough to add this to my portfolio, Skirmish, or my website”– you get the picture. Lots of “am I good enough’s”. But never- never-, any “I’m satisfied with this”. Maybe it was some unseen side effect of the way I was brought up, or maybe it was all of this gosh-darn competition that constantly surrounds me, but I learned something about myself. </dramatic storytelling>

I never feel like I’m good enough at anything.

Now, okay. Hold your thoughts. Family, friends, people that know me are shaking their heads to this right now- and I get it! It’s silly! I’ve been in university for a full year and and I don’t feel like I deserve to be. Like no matter what I make or how long I study, this mindset tells me that my performance is still going to be just average. I feel like if I haven’t taken literally every opportunity in the day to improve my skills, I’m wasting my time. In an environment where success comes from standing out, this is detrimental.

That brings us to now. Okay, so here’s a Brannan that’s been in college for a year. He’s failed a class with a 69.4, lost his scholarship, and his pride is damaged is such a way only personal redemption can repair. Here’s a Brannan that, without him knowing, is never satisfied with anything he does. An 89 on a trigonometry assignment? Well, that should have been a 90. When he sees his own creative work, he does nothing but compare it to others. “This pixel art portrait is 100×100…but this other one on Google Images is 1000×1000….and animated. I’m not that good.” My creative life was just comparing myself to people better than me. And that, my friends, is the true enemy of creativity.

Last night, I was on a Skype call with my long distance girlfriend. She told me that, at her university hundreds of miles away, she showed her friends one of my games and that they were having a blast playing it. She began to shower me with compliments about my pixel art, my design, my work ethic, all such nice words- and then I started to cry.
Like, blubbering, voice cracking, jagged breathing cry.
At first, I didn’t know why. But the more I thought about it, and the more saline escaped my eyes, it clicked in my head. I spat out these words:
“No one ever tells me that I do a good job, Megan.”
But then I thought about that. Hang on, why did I just say that? It felt so nice and refreshing to hear such nice compliments from her, so it must be that I never get any validation from others, right? Isn’t that why I work so hard? To impress people that never tell me anything? To get better so people will notice me? To feel needed and impressive?

Amidst these racing thoughts, she asked me, “Brannan, when was the last time you felt proud of something you made?”  Let me tell you friends, that blew it. Opened up all of the doors and then some. I haven’t felt truly confident in anything I’ve made in a long time. Where I’ve succeeded in surrounding myself with people and artists that inspire me (another shoutout to Stevis, EarlyMelon, and my brother, Alan), I’ve failed in using them as positive influences on my own work. For my entire journey so far as a game developer, its only ever been:
This could be better.
I should have worked harder.
This isn’t as good as the other one I saw.
I can do better than this.
Shoot, I even compared myself harshly to seniors and graduate students.

People compliment me all the time. I need only look at the likes I get on social media, and of course, everyone close to me that gives me unending support and encouragement. But none of it ever rang with me,
because I never validated myself,  first.

To my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my fellow game developers:
Be proud of your work. Validate yourself. Working with the sole intention of impressing others and putting yourself above the rest is the enemy of your creativity. It’s a selfish mindset to have, and a destructive one.
Today, I woke up refreshed. I gave myself time to relax today, and its felt damn good. I finished my next pixel art piece, “Treasured Island”. I forced myself to finish it. I wasn’t about to let it gather dust in my hard drive because it wasn’t good enough. I finished it, posted it, and it’s been doing very well! For once, the compliments I’m receiving feel earned. This time around, I know I did a good job. I know it’s not the best out there, but I love it because it’s mine. I made it. And it’s documented evidence of my growth as a pixel artist, and that makes me proud of myself.

And pride, earned pride, is among the greatest feelings in the world. In a way, it’s humbling.

Today, someone saw my portfolio page here and asked me if I was an artist. Before now, I would have told them no. I probably would have shown them other, much better pixel art on my phone. I would have downplayed their compliment of calling me an artist to begin with. But no, today I told them yes, I am an artist.

And I’m learning.

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