Outcome Independence: Harnessing your Ego!

I was asked to create a playmat for a local magic event and I decided it was a great opportunity to take something from sketch to completion! I'm pretty happy with how it turned out!

Anyway, onto the topic at hand:

The end product of what you start with is rarely—if ever—what you initially set out to do. Creating anything, even non-artistic things, is always an organic process by virtue of the many variables that interact with what you’re doing. It’s rarely linear.  As such, it is important to develop a refined mindset of outcome independence in your creative endeavors, artistic or not.

In order to do this, you must harness your ego.

As I understand it, your ego is essentially how you view yourself—the sum of your abilities, personality, memories, and your own subjective judgment of yourself against the rest of the world. It’s your sense of self-worth, your self-esteem, or self-importance. It is never solid, always changing and fluctuating from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. It is at work when you feel a sense of great accomplishment or failure, and it can be a guide toward success if you use it right.

I think there’s a light and a shadow side to ego, like anything. Sometimes ego can be the gas that lets you produce great work. With more confidence in your abilities and higher self-worth, you can approach the puzzle before you with a bit more boldness and confidence. Other times ego can be the thing that holds you back, the thing that punches you down into depression and lethargy.

As a fairly competitive individual my ego often gets wrapped up in the work I’m doing—I want to be better so that I can stand out among my peers and chase the high that is public recognition. When I spend 2 hours on something and the end result looks bad in my view, it can feel like those 2 hours were wasted. Then I see other artists streaming online and notice how quickly they seem to spin gold in the same amount of time, and I’m just crushed. This builds frustration, which ends up leading to block, which starts a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to escape. On the other hand, sometimes when I’m in flow I’ll produce something that I can compare to my previous work and realize that I have learned and accomplished much since the beginning, and I’m only further inspired and driven to continue.

Did you notice a difference in those two examples? In one I was comparing myself to others, and in the other I was comparing myself to myself. When you compare the work that you’ve done against others, particularly those you admire, you’ll always be at a disadvantage, because you consider them better than you. This is OK so long as you realize and understand that you are not them, and your work will never be their work. 

Kurt Cobain said “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are”

Those you admire probably haven’t had the struggles, pitfalls, and challenges you’ve faced, and furthermore, they may have had opportunities, mentors, and circumstances of providence that are just part of the unfair nature of life. Life sucks, except when it doesn’t.

In my previous video I mentioned a differing mindset when looking at others’ work, and it boils down to reframing the comparison between yourself and others in a way that allows for improvement.

Here’s a metaphor that I use to do this: Imagine yourself as a mountain climber, and you’ve just reached the top of a mountain. That feeling of achievement fades when you notice another larger mountain and, worse, another hiker atop it before you. Maybe they started at the same time as you, maybe they started a week ago, or perhaps hours after you did.  You can’t know! Maybe they drove halfway up or had a sherpa carrying their bags, maybe they’ve been hiking since they were 2 and do little else. Maybe they’ve done it over several years, 100 feet at a time, exploring the mountain horizontally before moving upward. Or maybe it’s only a trick in perspective and their mountain is actually the same height as yours or lower. Again, who knows!

What you do know is that it is possible to get up that mountain, and having climbed one mountain already, you have at least some of the ability to do it yourself. Perhaps that other hiker has left blazes for others to assist in their ascent! In this situation ask yourself, is it more productive to define your self-worth in the context of the unknown variables that allowed the other hiker to reach that other summit? Or is it better to define your self-worth by where you were yesterday, a path you know?

Admiring other artists is healthy because it lets you see where to go and helps you set new goals to achieve. Comparing your work to theirs without compromising your self-worth helps to define the pathway from where you are to where you want to be.  Then, comparing your work to where you were in the past shows you just how much you’ve achieved and boosts your ego. If you can’t see a difference in your own work from a day ago, move to a week, a month, a year, or ten years until you see improvement. Like a mountain ridge, the path isn’t always straigh t upward, and sometimes you have to move down to find the path to the summit.

Compare yourself to others to determine what needs improvement. Set goals but not expectations; sometimes the path to the summit leads to a hidden waterfall or a different mountain entirely. When you’ve lost motivation or drive look to the past and the path you’ve traveled to see how far you’ve come and revel in your accomplishments.

When you practice this you begin to be less dependent on achieving precisely what others have done, and in doing so you’ll find yourself a lot farther up the path than you would imagine.  This is what I mean by outcome independence. It’s not being totally detached from whether or not you accomplished something, because failure is critical for success. It is instead recognizing that when you do fail, it’s not the end of the world but an opportunity to learn how to succeed.





Bryce Homick is a freelance concept artist with over 10 years of experience in the videogame industry. For business inquiries please click here.