how to let other people’s accomplishments overshadow your own: a guide to discouragement


One: Always doubt your progress.


Throw your backpack down at the door and collapse onto the couch. At dinner, your mother will ask you how you did on your math test. You’ll lie and tell her an 86, because she never checks anyways, and because it’s ten percent higher than what you really scored. But mostly because you know your sister got a 96 and twenty percent is just a little too much. Always remember: even though your mark was 52 last term, the improvement is nothing compared to your sister’s consistently high math marks since you two were in the first grade.


And don’t forget about yesterday- you had that presentation. The history of women in Greek Theatre. You stood in front of everyone and said everything the way you said it into the mirror, with the right intonations. You enunciated the words the way your drama teacher told you to. You can only hope she is proud. Everyone else in that class saw right through you. They know you’re not usually this composed, so they deduced your teacher had to have coached you. They probably feel sorry you, which is the worst feeling anyone could feel for someone else. It’s worse than hatred. If everyone hated you they wouldn’t expect anything. Say it over to yourself as you pour yourself some more water. Your mother says she’s proud of you, but would she say that if she knew the truth?


Two: Ignore the fact that people only share their successes.


Open Instagram. This is the first thing you must do every morning, and every night before you to bed. Admire the beauties and talented artists of your generation. Clairo made a hit song at just eighteen. Your friend from middle school published an entire poetry anthology in grade eleven. Digest it. Your one published short story and 24 followers on Bandcamp could never compare. No one has unshaped nails and a pile of failed math tests sitting under their beds like you do. What about the three rejections from literary journals you’ve gotten in the last month? Let thoughts like these follow you around for the rest of the day. Let them use your fingers to delete the story ideas you’ve been working on. I’ll guide you. Put your microphone on the highest shelf- you won’t be needing it for a while. Good. There can only be one lo-fi goddess: Clairo.


You think you can escape it by deleting Instagram, so you do that. But real life isn’t any safer. You’ll realize this when your sister comes home an announces her new paid internship at a cosmetics laboratory. You didn’t even know she applied for that. If only you were good at science- maybe you’d actually get a job someday. The people that have succeeded with their art are just lucky. They didn’t have help. They didn’t work hard. They never, ever faced any failure. Ever. Not even a broken guitar string. That reminds you- you need to buy more guitar strings on your way home tomorrow, if you can afford it. Yours are broken.


Three: The bad outweighs the good, so don’t get all happy on me.


Listen: sometimes you may start to feel proud of yourself. Remember the time you got that email from the literary journal saying your story won third prize? You jumped out of your seat and ran into the living room to tell your mother the good news. She teared up because things like that are a big deal to her. She hugged you and kissed your forehead only because she knew you always dreamed of being published. Oh, how mothers humour you. She tells your aunt about it, and she smiles. It’s a stiff smile, she’d rather you not spend time on art. You expected this. This is normal. Your aunt is the only honest person you know.


Later, when your story really is published, sitting in front of you in a slimly bound journal, you can’t help but quiver. This is a natural reaction, but don’t get too excited. Read the story, let’s see how it really sounds. You’re going to find three typos. Heavy grammatical errors you missed when you were editing. Well of course you did. They just didn’t edit your story. You met the editor at the book launch, a tall girl with a purple blazer. Her smile was kind and wide and her spine stood straight up without effort. It was only third place, they had no obligations to polish anything. All of that was on you. And you failed. You toss the book under your bed along with the math tests and consider it over with, and it is over with for the next little while. You must always accept your failures.


But you’ll be inspired again, that’s what you’ve always been—the inspired type. There aren’t too many too many like you these days, especially at your age with your naïve determination. That kind of notion can get to your head, make you think you’re special. Just know it won’t last forever. ✉


piece by: hadiyyah kuma

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