Don't Compete – Collaborate

This week's guest post is written by art nude model, singer/songwriter, and author Shelayne Nicole.  You can check out more of her work on her website (www.shelaynenicole.com) or follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/shelaynenicoleofficial).  

photo by Richard Rasner

photo by Richard Rasner

So I have this very unfortunate double bind in my head, and it goes something like this:

I’ve always had a very difficult time finding people I connect with.  I am an only child who was bullied in school, who is equal parts art and science, who can’t tolerate the idea of an office job, who is covered in scars, who has enormous world-changing ambitions, and whose volume and energy often overwhelm people.  I often feel like I have spent my entire life trying to find someone like me.

On the other hand, I have a bad habit of coveting my uniqueness as the only thing that makes me valuable or interesting.  Throughout my life, the things that have repeatedly earned me praise are my intelligence, my creativity, my self-awareness, and my fearless stage personality.  These are the very things that make it difficult for me to connect to other people, but I cling to them desperately, worrying that if I am not “special,” that I will have nothing to offer, and then no one will pay attention to me.  Accordingly, when I hear about someone who is also intelligent, creative, self-aware, or shamelessly extroverted, my default reaction isn’t the optimism of “maybe we will connect!”  It’s the fear of “other people will connect to this person instead of to me.”  I walk around feeling like I’m competing for a very limited amount of love in the world, and that other unique people are going to steal the love I could have had.  

Recently, I’ve realized how counterproductive this mentality is, so I’ve been trying to change my inner dialogue.  “Don’t compete,” I try to tell myself.  “Collaborate!”  This is especially important for me as a model, singer, actress, and author, since collaboration is essential to create art, and since networking is essential to create an artistic career.

I had the perfect chance to practice this when a friend first introduced me to Katja’s blog.  I had just started my own blog, thinking that being an articulate naked model was profoundly “special” and destined to earn me the adoration of millions.  WELL.  Here comes this link to a vastly more accomplished model who also happens to be an extremely competent, self-aware writer.  My heart sunk as I went through her website.  “You rotten bitch!” I thought.  She was definitely my competition and I was definitely losing.  FML.

This isn’t a potential enemy, this is a potential friend.

But then I thought, “This person is talented, mature, and honest, and uses proper grammar.  That doesn’t make her a bitch; that makes her awesome!  This isn’t a potential enemy, this is a potential friend.”  So I took off my crazy pants and sent her a message proposing tea and hangouts.

You can probably guess by the fact that I’m writing a guest post on her website that things went pretty well.  It turns out that 1.) we get along great, which makes sense because 2.) we are basically the same person.  In addition to the blogs and naked modeling, we are also both musicians, novelists, nature-lovers, romantics, academic overachievers who are nonetheless thrilled to be done with school, and alumni from the same university.  An examination of our more vulnerable blog entries reveals many of the same fears and struggles.  When we went out for breakfast, we ordered the same meal.  We even wear the same bra size.  Pretty much the only difference is that Katja is an appropriately model-esque 5’10” while I have the approximate stature of a hobbit.

Not only did I gain a wonderful new friend by squashing my insecure sense of competition, I gained a much-needed mentor in the world of modeling.  Before I met Katja, I’d never heard of the concept of a traveling model.  Now, it’s become a key component of my vision for my career.  I may even get to travel with Katja next year, splitting expenses and sharing professional contacts.  How freaking amazing is that?  

The moral of the story is pretty obvious: if you feel like an island, build bridges.  Sometimes I still wear crazy pants and get intimidated when there are other talented people afoot, but I am increasingly able to ignore my dysfunctional autopilot settings and foster hope instead of despair.  After all, these are the people whose love and friendship I thought I was competing for.  These are my kind of people, and as it turns out, there is plenty of love to go around.