Trying not to be a hater.
July 13, 2013 6:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I not get mad (or how do I get mad in a more productive way) when people who do what I do only not as well receive more attention?

I do something that's more than a hobby but not quite a job. (I also have a--related--job.) A handful of other people do the same not a job, not a hobby thing. For a few of these people it is actually more like a sometime hobby or lark, meaning that they spend a less time on it and go about it in a less serious manner than I do. Let's pretend it's making food to sell at local events. (Or give away, since this is not about money.) So pretend I'm a personal chef who also makes cupcakes that I sell on the side. My cupcakes are fancy and delicious and I spend a lot of time on them. I love doing this and would do it even if few people bought them because I enjoy it.

But there are these other people who buy some boxed cakes from the supermarket, tie their own bows on, and sell them at the same events. And customers rave about them. They get written up in the local paper, they have a million likes on their Facebook posts about their products, Etc. (Fill in whatever adulation make sense in this analogy.) And this makes me mad! It's partly because I work hard and they don't. It's partly because I do a related thing as a career and these people have unrelated careers (pretend they're teachers or bankers.) It's partly because this little baking gig can actually lead to real professional opportunities that I feel like I deserve more. It's partly just because I'm petty I guess.

Now there are other people who make food who get more attention than I do, and I don't begrudge them at all. These people also work really hard at it, what they produce is also high-quality, and though there's some similarity to what we make their products are not the same as mine. Pretend they make sandwiches or bread. I am happy for them to get attention. My problem lies with the people who sell products very similar to mine but of a notably lesser quality, and even though they have been doing it for far less time than I have they get showered with praise. Meanwhile I only get the occasional compliment. (Though granted my compliments probably come from those who are more informed about baking.) Interestingly the quality bread and sandwiches people always say nice things about my cupcakes, whereas the cheap supermarket cake people do not.

What I've been doing so far is every time I see something that makes me mad, I go do something proactive either for my own career or my cupcakes. So I try to get more clients or I think up a recipe for a new improved flavor of cupcakes to sell next time. This works somewhat but I'd like more ideas. I also try to be friendly towards the supermarket cake people and try to appreciate the value in what they do. (Maybe a lot of people prefer supermarket cake, right?) This also works a little but sometimes when I reach out to them and try to be friendly they don't even respond. That annoys me too, though not as much.

I am aware that you shouldn't worry about other people or compare yourself to them and that I should be happy my own product is good and not stress about other people's business. And I try to do that but temperamentally I'm simply not a Zen person and that's as Zen as I am going to get. So suggestions about just chillaxing are not realistic.

If I were mad or jealous about people whose products I felt were better than mine, I would know what to do. I would feel challenged and work to improve. But this feels different. Has anyone found something that works for them in a situation like this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The way I tend to think about this sort of thing is to say to myself "they're actually doing what I do even better than I do [when (and perhaps only when) measured by the acclaim it receives and success in the marketplace]. How?"

So, I can try to choose to be happy with the level of acclaim I've got because I'm so happy with my product's execution; or I can try to learn from what they're doing differently that's causing their greater success in that respect. If I get those things down, then I should be able to "win" since my product is better.

Or maybe it's just a total fluke or they happen to know people that I don't. In which case I try to console myself by taking the first option.
posted by glhaynes at 6:23 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Or maybe people's ability to discern quality is more lowest common denominator.

The thing is, all you have to do is tune in to a top 40 station to realize that quality does not necessarily equal sales OR popularity.

Maybe you need to tell yourself that the quality of the people who DO appreciate what you do is much higher than the great unwashed masses who nom the supermarket product.

Ultimately you have to please yourself, and be happy with the quality that you put out, and make your goal to be appreciated by the knowledgeable people.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:31 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

I got this way when I was making soap. I used only vegetable oils, organic herbs, essential oils, and herbal teas or spices to color it.

Then the person down the block was making soap out of lard or Crisco and dying it with artificial blue stuff and dumping in some bad chemical fragrance oil and calling it "all natural." Grrrr.

It took a lot of extra effort to let people know why my soap was better than someone else's. If they even cared about artificial dyes or fragrances. I mean, why not buy the junk at the grocery store? Right?

Maybe the key is to get some marketing advice and make yourself into a niche producer. Embrace your niche. Rise above the others and just go for it. I made an awesome cocoa butter soap and it was wicked hard and no fragrance but it was Celiac friendly and had lather and it kicked butt. It kicked the everliving shit out of Ivory or Tone. But I never mentioned them, just had a bunch of marketing materials and fended off old ladies at my booth who wanted to know it it was penuche and did I have divinity fudge, LOL.

Make your product and be proud and kick some butt with it! Smile at your competitors and keep on keeping on with your own thing.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

This is a very common scenario in the photo world. Sometimes you just have to ignore it - I don't think there's a way to not feel annoyed, but you can certainly chose to avoid those people the best you can. Also, when you see a really big example of what's bothering you it may be worth stepping back and looking at your business model. If they've got the success, maybe its really THEM that are doing it right and not you. Not what you want to hear, I'm sure but could very well be true.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:40 PM on July 13, 2013

This is a really left-field sort of answer, but I suggest you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It has a lot of interesting stuff to say about quality.
posted by jon1270 at 6:41 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Part of the secret is doing it because you love it and want to be the best at it that you can possibly be and continually be better at it.* If you love doing it and your passion is the highest quality in and of itself, then what other people are doing and what attention they are getting wont matter. Quality will tell.

Watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi to get an idea.
posted by Kimberly at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that marketing seems to be your answer. You need to market your product as different. You kind of need to call out your box-mix competitors for what they are by directly highlighting the fact that you DO NOT use those corner-cutting tactics. Be specific. "MyBrand Cupcakes: only 10 wholesome ingredients" or "MyBrand Cupcakes: Made with love, not a boxed cake mix." That might help you to get the recognition you feel you deserve. Obviously the public is misinformed about whose product is better, and YOU need to be the one to educate them so they can make a better choice.

As far as your own mental game goes, perhaps writing about it might be therapeutic. What are you doing that you're proud of? Why do you put the effort in that you do? This is your career, what is it about what you do that gives your life meaning and purpose? What is your personal mission statement?
Maybe once you see your passion for what you do in black and white on the page it will help to give you something concrete to hold onto when you're rocked by the waves made by your competitors.
posted by RingerChopChop at 6:54 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You may be missing something essential that they aren't.
There's a lot of examples of the better product ending up a failure in the marketplace, because the competition latched onto something essential that the better product missed.
Beta vs VHS (vhs was a bit cheaper, and could record longer)
Friendster vs Facebook (facebook was exclusive, faster website)
Amiga vs Mac/PC (Mac/PC embraced HW developers)
Mac vs PC (business apps)
Newton vs Palm (cost)
Elvis Costello vs A Taste of Honey for the best new artist grammy (I don't have enough snark left for this one)

So try to figure out just what is resonating with the consumers, and maybe make a separate brand to try it out with your product.
posted by Sophont at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

You remind me of a friend of mine. He's a musician - not his day job, but he went to one of the top schools, has a few CDs out, and really knows his stuff.

He spends a lot of time being pissed about bands like Coldplay. It's not good music, he thinks, and they don't deserve to be famous.

I don't know, maybe he's right. I am fairly musical and have decent enough taste. I've been to his performances - experimental jazz - and man, it goes right over my head. It's certainly possible that he's worked harder than Coldplay, or he has a better grasp of music theory, but I don't get what I want out of his performances. Cause I'm not his audience.

Most of us are probably going to go on listening to bands he things are inferior (to be fair, he doesn't hate all successful musicians). Because what I want from most of my music is something with a beat that cheers me up and that I can dance to. I don't know that this takes anything away from him. He seems to have a passionate, cerebral experience with music that brings him a lot of satisfaction. It will never be something that lots of other people get, but ... does that matter?

Perhaps some of that might tie in to your situation to some degree. Now there may be things that you can do to market yourself a little better - if the other cupcake makers are all putting pretty sprinkles on theirs, and you don't, maybe find a way to incorporate some colorful frosting. Maybe have a sign "hand-made from scratch". Maybe offer free samples. Talk to people about what they want from their cupcakes and see if there's a way for you to bridge the gap between your technical skill and whatever it is that signals to *them* "oh, this is a special cupcake." And perhaps be ready to educate people, not in a condescending way but in a way that let's yoru passion come through.

Good luck! I have been in your shoes, or somewhat close to your shoes, and it's very frustrating.
posted by bunderful at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

i agree with getting some advertising, marketing and social media tips to expand your customer base. also, how is your packaging? your presentation does make a difference. when i'm buying a product for the very first time and several items look to be the same quality i admit i will be swayed by better-looking packaging.

question: do you charge more than the other guy for your product? if so, then it may be that people are more willing to pay the lesser amount for a product that isn't quite as good as yours. if that is the case your markets are not really the same. they are more mass market and you are more upscale. apples and oranges.
posted by wildflower at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2013

Some people do prefer supermarket cake, or cake-mix cake. It's got a particular softness and familiarity that's really nice if that's what you grew up loving.

However, those of us who are totally over supermarket cake (also - cake mix often contains propylene glycol -- I didn't know that until I turned up allergic) are desperate to be able to find you and your high-quality, thoughtful, creative cupcakes. I am sooo tired of cupcakes that are 50% frosting - sure, they look whimsical the first few times you see one, but so what?

Unfortunately, appearance is an easy way to find things, so visible whimsy is what a lot of people who maybe don't know how to think deeply about cupcakes (texture, flavor, crumb, gluten, organic vs. not organic dairy products [big effect on flavor], the right amount of salt) think of first to differentiate themselves, and it's easy to sell.

However, you have something more interesting going on, so your challence is: communication.

Experiment with different cupcake names, package designs, mottoes for your business, five-word explanations of what makes you different. Ask every poetry-oriented friend who understands (take the time to explain) to help you out. Don't just say you use only fresh flour; explain the effect this has on flavor. Don't just say you invent new flavors all the time - tell why that's good. Do you come up with some really good flavors? Mention them as examples in your new brochure -- but make sure you name the flavors well.

Package your stuff simply but very well. Find a slightly different color of brown paper, if everybody wraps in brown paper.

Invest just a little in marketing -- but don't expect someone else to figure out what's special about you, you figure it out and figure out how to explain it in words or some other way -- and increase your prices if necessary (this is also a kind of communication).

In short:

- Make it easier for the right customers to find you;
- Don't worry about customers who don't appreciate you. They may come after you become more well known.
posted by amtho at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm not trying to out you, but I have a hard time believing this is NOT about music, because this shows all the hallmarks of it. But regardless of whether I'm right or wrong - I tried to help a friend with a web site project back in the late '90s. Back in those days, if you knew what you were doing and you were trying to help someone learn how to maintain their own site (which was nearly impossible anyway), you made it as simple as possible, so that a) it would load and b) they had a hope in hades to learn how to get into the HTML file, type in new content, save, upload and get out without jacking up the site.

So I built this guy a nice elegant site with a lot of photos (that was his main purpose, to showcase a lot of photographs and articles he'd written).

And one night I came by and he said - "I want you to see this site, because it looks a lot fancier than mine."

And it was covered with blinking text and little animated gif files. I kind of wanted to vomit.

So - you can make up your mind about something that's kind of a hobby with perhaps a money/pro side to it. Do you want:

Love from the masses - give people the crap they want and smile.
Money - give people as much of what they want, at the best rate possible.
Critical success among those in the know - be prepared to give up one or both of those two above.

And watch this video a lot... "You'll never change the world; not in a million years"
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:09 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your product might be the most amazing thing on Earth, but it's impossible for me to know that until I try it. And if you take the attitude that the product ought to speak for itself- and therefore you choose not to engage in the empty and petty hustle of marketing- then you will be steamrollered by people who know how to market, because I will bother to try their products and maybe won't have even heard of yours.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:22 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Use these people as case studies. So Person A sells a similar, though much more shoddily made, cupcake than you and is twice as successful. Go spend a day in their shop. Look at the way they talk to their customers. Look at the way they manage their staff. Examine the design of their marketing, their packaging, their location. In your eagerness to be a bitter beaver about their success, you may be missing some crucial details that you could use to elevate your own product and craft.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:23 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am aware that you shouldn't worry about other people or compare yourself to them and that I should be happy my own product is good and not stress about other people's business. And I try to do that but temperamentally I'm simply not a Zen person and that's as Zen as I am going to get. So suggestions about just chillaxing are not realistic.

You know what you need to do, but refuse to do it. Realistic or not, it is what needs to be done. Until you do it, you will continue to seethe.

I have talked about anger before. It is possible to be angry for the right reasons, but we are much more often angry for the wrong reasons. Two of the top wrong reasons are pride and self-pity. You have both of those here, I am afraid.

I will not say that I have subdued my own anger - far from it, I am ashamed to say. I have found that fasting helps. You also may wish to refer to the writings of St. John Cassian on this subject.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:27 PM on July 13, 2013

You may be missing something essential that they aren't.
I will second this answer. Also These Birds of a Feather above.

Perhaps it is the package size, samples offered, attention to detailed presentation. Or the seller themselves; is the person engaging, do they inspire customer loyalty, or do they have a story to tell about being a third-generation cupcake seller? Now I'm dying to know what product you're selling, by the way. Detach yourself from the situation to remove the emotional angle; look at the situation as a business school case study or something.

There is a chance the deciding factor on whose item to purchase has nothing to do with the product; at the farmer's market I choose to buy from
- baker who I know has only been in Canada for two years and has huge business loans, a new baby on the way, and his wife there selling every week. Not the third generation commercial baker who has a random sullen teenager manning the table and product in a major grocery chain.
- hobby beekeeper who is actually a chemical engineer (but wanting to move into beekeeping as a full-time occupation), because other honey dude who has raised bees for forty years is a grumpy asshole and I don't want to go to his booth and hand him money when he's a jerk.

Obviously you need to sort things out to be comfortable with the way things are, but on the other hand I think it is best to not be totally Zen about business dealings.
posted by variella at 7:39 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you should just ride it out. If these people aren't putting their heart and soul into it the way you are, I can't see them sticking with it for a long time. Do the best you can and pat yourself on the back.

This is kind of a Jeanie vs. Ferris Bueller situation. Your upset because someone is getting away with something and you're not.
posted by 1smartcookie at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think I am one of those people that you hate because I find myself on the receiving end of this attitude a lot.

The thing is, being a crowd-pleasing idiot requires more work than you think. You have to spend a lot of time observing the customer so that you can identify exactly what THEY want -- in the case of the cupcakes, they want sugar and a bow. Buying store-bought cupcakes & decorating them looks easy - but the real work was in identifying the "sugar+bow" formula for success.

People will want what they want, not what you think they should want. You may be more serious about your cupcakes and spend more time on them than your competitors, but so what? If the point of the exercise is to produce a product that your customers want, then your competitors are doing it better than you are.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:35 PM on July 13, 2013 [19 favorites]

Here's some good news I just thought of:

It would seem to be a lot easier for you to do what your competitors do than for them to learn what you do. If (maybe a big if, maybe not) you can incorporate what makes them successful into your own work, you'll have an advantage, especially if, as you say, it would be more difficult for them to learn what you know.
posted by amtho at 11:42 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I see this as an axiom of Sturgeon's Law. If 90% of everything is crap, than 90% of people must really like crap. Just because yours is better/more sophisticated/more whatever doesn't mean that people will like it. (And I say this with sympathy toward your plight)

Take beer for instance. I am a beer snob. I take them seriously. However, most people I know settle for Bud lite (fucking philistines!). In fact, most of them would think that my Stone Brewery Arrogant Bastard Ale is awful. I can rant about no-palate-having motherfuckers all I want. The fact is, I'm the odd man out. So, do what you do because you love it. Not because you expect validation for your artistry/skill.
posted by anansi at 1:50 AM on July 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

If you're the sort of person who cares about craft above all else, there's nothing you can do to compete with the people at the top of your field. The various art markets doesn't care how good your work is. They care about marketing, and unless that's important to you, or you're one of a lucky chosen few, you will never see "success" in those terms.

You can control the quality of your own work, but you can't control market recognition. It's probably better not to base your self-worth on something that's outside your power.

Easier said than done, of course.
posted by tsmo at 6:31 AM on July 14, 2013

>and these people have unrelated careers

I think the thread has covered the whole ‘popular taste (is crap)’ quite well, but you might also consider: who do these people know? How long have these people been established in this town? If they are like teachers and bankers, they know everyone. They have spent years building up contacts. Are you the new kid in town by comparison?

You've got to move from thinking of these people to thinking of your people. Who buys your stuff now? How will you bring more people in? How can you increase production while remaining happy enough with your product's quality? Let go of envy for the success of others; it's energy wasted.
posted by scruss at 7:02 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, it's the disparity in attention and praise that gets you mad. Which makes it interesting that you don't mention efforts at greater self-promotion (aside from trying to get more clients; but that's different from general branding, name recognition, networking, and attention-seeking). Maybe you do try to do some of this, and just have not mentioned it; and it has not been terribly effective.

Maybe you are great at your craft, but not so great at self-promotion. It sounds to me like you may even have something of an aversion to self-promotion. You could expend more time and energy on the promotion end of things (perhaps even enlist someone who's good at that stuff to help you), and maybe that will bring more of the attention you seek. But how much additional attention is 'enough'? If you get more, will you still chafe at (inferior) others' continued success?

You mention channeling the energy of your anger into your career and your sideline, which is good, in that it is turning that energy to productive uses. But it also serves to keep your attention focused on this area where you are feeling unjustly slighted. Maybe part of the answer lies in stepping away from this arena a little bit more; it might help you gain better perspective and lessen those feelings. So take that energy and, I don't know, go work out; or volunteer someplace; or just come up with fun ideas for spending more time with family and friends. These are the sorts of things that help me let go of feelings that are not doing me any good; perhaps you'll find them helpful as well.
posted by fikri at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2013

Part of the reason they're getting attention and you're not is probably precisely because you are a (in your analogy) a professional chef and they are bankers and teachers. Professional chef has sideline selling cupcakes is dog bites man. Professional teacher has a sideline selling cupcakes is, if not exactly man bites dog, more human interesty as a story. The middle class career change toward old fashioned, homey or artisany things is a narrative right now, so those teachers who are making a business out of cupcakes fits the narrative, but a chef doing the same thing doesn't really.

It's also possible that they're just playing the PR game harder and smarter than you are. You may be showing up every weekend at the market and delivering the best cupcakes available, but if they're sending out the best press releases on Tuesday, they're still the ones getting the attention.

So, I'd say from a 'what can you do?' perspective, your best bet is to spend your time not improving your baking (which is already head and shoulders above the competition) but focusing on figuring out what the other differentiators are for you and them. Are they doing more PR? Do some PR. Are they making their cupcakes more attractive by tying ribbons around them? Buy nicer ribbons. Do they have a more attractive narrative? Craft your own narrative. ("You'd think that after a long hard week making beef bourguignon and risotto alla milanese in the estate homes around Lake Moneybucks, a personal chef like Anonymous de Metafilter would want nothing more than to sit back, relax and maybe order in a pizza. Instead she devotes her time and well-honed culinary skill to a decidedly less glamourous, but more fun (and more personally satisfying pursuit) -- cupcakes!")
posted by jacquilynne at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

In more practical terms than my last response, I'd like to add that for someone who is craft oriented there are three typical responses to the failure of the market to reward (or even support) their passion:

1. Denial: Pretending what they want can be achieved by what they're doing.
2. Rage: Griping, depression, etc.
3. Selling out: Reorganizing their work around what the market rewards.

If none of these seems like it would make you happy, then you may need to change your relationship to your passion. Meditation, therapy, and looking for community—the people you can talk to who share your passion but are looking for option #4, which often means avoiding the market entirely—may help.
posted by tsmo at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2013

Life is not fair. People aren't always reasonable or discerning. Not everyone shares your tastes. Being angry about this can make you miserable.

People respond to O, that's so cuuuute! Maybe some people are in the market for decorations. Maybe you're making banana chocolate cupcakes, and people want strawberry. Make a nice signboard with your ingredients, explaining what makes your cupcakes higher quality, maybe even saying authentic home-made. Consider using cuter paper cupcake wrappers, and making your cupcakes more decorative. Assess the way the other sellers market - samples, friendly service, price.
posted by theora55 at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not trying to out you, but I have a hard time believing this is NOT about music, because this shows all the hallmarks of it.

I'm both a musician and a photographer, and my answer to both of these suggestions is yes. That's why we can't conclude the OP is talking about music, but more importantly for the OP, it's why so many of us empathize with what's being described. This scenario is common. And for a lot of us, irrespective of discipline (baking, music, photos, soap), it's gratingly annoying. I hear ya, OP.

One thing that works for me to is borrow Disney's principle of focusing on individual customers. The person in the next booth might have more satisfied customers buying his soap, but my customers might be more satisfied.

I also try to look at various ways his grass may not be greener. For instance, if costs change and he's forced to raise his prices, how will his customers react? Mine might be more willing to shrug and accept the increase, instead of scattering to other vendors. If he needs to move his booth to a different location, will his customers follow? All of us are vulnerable to somebody new undercutting or outdoing us, but does his position make him more vulnerable than I am?
posted by cribcage at 10:10 AM on July 14, 2013

Every time I have these feelings I have to remind myself that I'm in the 'Cupcake *business*', not the 'Cupcake museum'. If I'm unhappy with my standing in the marketplace I try to be honest with myself, what can I improve on the 'business' side of the cupcake business. It may or may not make a difference but at least I've done what I can instead of cursing the silly people who choose the inferior product over mine. It may require a hard look at your self, and maybe even asking a friend/coach/friendly competitor for some honest feedback. On the whole package - product, materials and your delivery. Am I approachable/nice guy/gal to hang with? That right there goes pretty far in all fields. Is my product something people want? And then you have to ask yourself hard questions about whether you care or not.

It's a very, very rare and lucky bird who is completely oblivious to outside recognition for their art. And the most bitter craftsmen/women I know are the ones that care about recognition from the marketplace but refuse to admit they do to themselves. I've wasted too many of my days there.

And just to beat the marketplace vs. art horse a little bit more, keep this in mind, from someone who was very contemptuous of the commercial success he achieved:
"No matter how carefully and assiduously and how deeply you bury shit, the American public will find it and buy it in large quantity, It’s true, absolutely true." Artie Shaw
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:57 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could it be the charisma of the person selling the product? Like Elizabeth Bennett singing and playing the piano forte: she was never very good at it, but she had such a great personality that she was often asked to perform.
posted by Neekee at 2:41 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say you would do this even if you weren't getting paid for it, but I think that's part of your problem. It sounds like your product is superior quality, and your prices need to reflect it. (Believe it or not, sales often increase when you increase your prices - people often associate low prices with low quality.)

I think you need to:

1) Raise your prices
2) Improve your packaging
posted by Pademelon at 3:14 PM on July 14, 2013

In some areas of my life, I am you, and it makes me crazy. But in one area of my life--my job--I am your competition. I will also use an extended analogy to demonstrate!

(Let's say) I work as a web designer for a big pharmaceutical company. We have a lot of products, so we have a lot of product and/or symptom web sites going up all the time. There are two of us in the company who do web design and we both collaborate with colleagues. I do all the anti-anxiety meds, she does all the erectile dysfunction meds. Our colleagues divide up their work alphabetically, though, so everyone feeds both of us work.

The other designer has been doing this a lot longer than I have. She's been with the company 25 years, and took extensive post-secondary training. I've been with the company 5 years, and am self-taught. I have excellent taste and spend a lot of time on the internet, and it's clear to me that her work is better than mine. Despite this, people love working with me and praise my work to me and to others all the time. I get Webby awards and my sites go viral. Her clearly (to me) superior work gets far less recognition and people try to get around working with her to direct their work to me whenever they can--say by arguing that their ED drug also makes people feel better, so really I should handle it because it alleviates anxiety.

Although she's pretty tight-lipped, it is occasionally obvious that my colleague resents the hell out of this, which makes me feel bad. And it gives me a massive dose of imposter syndrome. I've never really known why people prefer me. But then, I got sick a while back and was off for a little while. When I came back to work after, I had a fresh perspective and it gave me some insight into the difference. The other designer is super unfriendly and really hard to work with! Because she's more knowledgeable about web design, she uses jargon our colleagues don't understand, whereas I just say things plainly. Her default answer to things is usually a no, whereas I'm usually up for trying anything. Her no is often based on solid web principles and so leads to solid (though somewhat conservative) web sites that have everything a web site should have. And sometimes my saying yes leads us down a garden path that isn't so hot with web sites that don't function as well as they could or are hard to navigate, but once in a while it leads to something totally offbeat and original and exciting. She's worked with PharmaCo forever so has all this institutional memory that she brings into everything--she's very knowledgeable but also really bitter. I'm newer and fresher and less familiar with the rules, so, again, more willing to just blue sky it. And she seems irritated whenever people stop by her office with questions, whereas I'm usually happy to take a minute away from the work (which I find really hard) to chat with someone.

So, I don't know if it's helpful to you to think about how your inferior competition feels, but I'll give you some sense of my feeling about this. I know that I am the inferior web designer where I work, and it stresses me out. It makes me feel bad, and I take every opportunity to point out the strengths of the other designer to people (not within earshot of her, I'm not sucking up). I also work really, really hard--to the point of burnout. I don't know how it looks to her--maybe she thinks I'm just making shit up and flying by the seat of my pants, while she is building thoughtful websites with sound design principles. But honestly, I think I actually sweat more because I'm just not as talented as she is. And maybe she thinks I think I'm hot shit and she's crap, which also isn't true, but there's no real way for me to go over to her and say "Look, we both know you're the better web designer, don't worry about these morons, they don't know anything." Don't be so sure that your competition doesn't realize that your product is better than yours.

In terms of advice, I guess I'd echo what others are saying. Likely the difference between you and your competition has nothing to do with quality, but with some other intangibles. The more convinced you are that you are superior to your competition, though, the more likely you are to get bitter, and nobody wants a bitter cupcake, you know? So rather than directing your energies towards improving your product even more (thereby widening the quality gap even more, and likely increasing your anger) you need to work on the parts of your business that are weaker. If you have a colleague from your related job whom you trust to be honest but kind, maybe you could ask them to evaluate you compared to your competitors and offer some suggestions.
posted by La Marquise Marionette de Chaussette at 7:34 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the long run, a lot of life is about learning to deal with stuff like this and keep from becoming bitter and ugly. Now that I'm old I see so many times in my past that just ticked me off something terrible because things were so damn unfair - I'd worked so hard and someone else got the benefits and I got shown the door, etc. I broke my neck to be a good wife and he threw me under the bus, etc. (again). There are about a thousand of these just in my own background.

A lot of how disappointed we are or aren't depends on our expectations going in; that's something I've found to be a good guide to my own reactions - was I more offended/hurt because I expected too much in the first place, or was the whole thing just completely unfair period (meaning I'm justified in being perturbed)? Even if I'm right and I've been mistreated, I can only whine for a little while and then I have to move on - the ability to let go and move on is a mandatory lesson that gets easier with practice.

You won't be remembered by your loved ones for your cupcakes or for your ability to outshine your competition, but instead by how you deal with the ups and downs of life. In fact, your own self-esteem will come not through nice cupcakes nor through one-upping the other guy, but instead by keepiing your sense of humor and finding a way to be comfortable wherever you are at the moment.

I LOVE cupcakes and have great admiration for those who can make those delicious little things.
posted by aryma at 10:12 PM on July 14, 2013

It's partly because this little baking gig can actually lead to real professional opportunities that I feel like I deserve more.

Befriend the most successful of them, join forces with them, and turn their successes into your successes. Deliver their second-tier products and your first-tier products side by side on the same menu, so customers can see that they get what they pay for.

Your former competitor (new business partner) gets the advantage of your expertise (and gets to learn from you), you get whatever it is that they have and you apparently don't (marketing smarts? attractive prices? good luck? good looks?), and you both perhaps get some economies of scale. And maybe then you also get some of the attention, praise, and professional opportunities they are getting.
posted by pracowity at 4:58 AM on July 15, 2013

Here's a perspective that might or might not be relevant, but it hasn't been said so far so I'll just add it to the stack of answers.

The typical person might consider five or ten ideas, pick the best one, and the rest of their time is spent perfecting that idea. What some people do (I am in this group) is they consider 250 ideas. And then they pick #97, execute it (perhaps with less thoroughness than the first group), and rush it to market.

Other bakers see cupcake #97 flying off the shelves and think: "But it is so obvious! Anyone could think of that idea! And it is not even as painstakingly executed as my idea! Cupcake #97 panders to the lowest common denominator!" Well, that's one perspective. Another perspective is they took their time and had a better idea for what the public wanted to buy.

Cupcake #97 looks easy and obvious. But was it? It is the result of 249 failures, while the first group of bakers went through only five or ten ideas to find their "superior product".

This answer might or might not be relevant, but I am trying to offer a perspective that addresses the question. Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2013

In addition to all of the wonderful answers above, you may just need longevity. I'm sure your example was just an example, but since we're already here: many of the people I see selling cupcakes now were selling bubble tea 5 years ago and tapas 10 years ago, and will be selling deep fried zucchini 3 years from now. Are you in a heavily contested, super popular market? You may just need to wait out the current craze and evaluate your market once all the faddishness has faded (if that's relevant).
posted by RogueTech at 10:37 AM on July 15, 2013

They get written up in the local paper, they have a million likes on their Facebook posts about their products

They are better at marketing than you are. Making a quality product is a totally different skill.

sometimes when I reach out to them and try to be friendly they don't even respond

They are your competitors, not your friends. There are only so many people who want to buy cakes, and only so many cakes they can eat.

I am aware that you shouldn't worry about other people or compare yourself to them and that I should be happy my own product is good and not stress about other people's business

That's a nice way to think about the world that works fine for enjoying hobbies.

If this is how you make your living, and whose cakes your pool of potential customers will buy means professional success or failure for you, this is NOT the attitude to have.

How to get mad in a productive way? Instead of paying attention to number of likes and press mentions, think about HOW these things happen. Read about publicity and promotion. You can't have a conversation about these things with your local competitors that will help you... go to a national cupcake convention, or look to online forums, or make friends with a cupcake seller 300 miles away, and learn how to market cupcakes that way.

You want to pay attention to how others who are successful are promoting themselves, so you can figure out what they are doing right and what your customers want in YOUR market. Maybe faraway cupcake seller does well with their state-themed cupcakes, but where you live people like sportsteam themed cupcakes. Maybe people are buying the cupcakes for children's parties and only care about how they look, because they don't eat the cakes themselves. You need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing so you can notice these things.

This might be a very uncomfortable process. Maybe there really isn't a market for quality cupcakes, or maybe you will realize that you spent all this money on cupcake equipment and where you'd have a competitive advantage is on crepes. You might even find that your skills don't suit something where promoting a product is required for success -- but you want to find this out as soon as possible, if that's the case.
posted by yohko at 5:37 PM on July 15, 2013

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