Words to Live By – Professional JealousyPosted: November 3, 2021
The first Wednesday of the month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
Green with Envy?
How jealous can you get? It’s an important question, one which may very well help define your ultimate level of happiness. I don’t mean the kind of jealousy that can emerge between romantic partners, or even jealousy that exists in people who constantly feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, though that in part has something to do with it.
I’m talking about professional jealousy, specifically as it occurs in the publishing world (or in any other creative field, really). It’s that sting you feel when a rival snags a big book contract, seemingly leaving you in the dust. It’s also the feeling you get when a good friend becomes successful, and you can’t seem to get anywhere close. This is not a rare experience, nor is it down to animosity or contention alone. It’s everywhere. Don’t try to deny what the world already knows. Human beings get jealous, maddeningly so, and there’s not much any of us can do about it, right?
Wrong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that some who stumble across this post will have no idea what I’m talking about. Jealousy isn’t much of an issue for them, at least not in this sense. They may be beginners, or in some cases, they might be individuals who are much smarter than the average bear. You see, it takes a certain amount of practiced intelligence to avoid the crushing impact of full-on, green-to-the-gills jealousy.
When I was starting out with short stories, I noticed my own capacity for envy when it came to other writers in my sphere. Some of them were better than me. Much, much better. Some were bypassing shorts altogether and were producing novel-length manuscripts, which made me even more irascible. At that time, I wasn’t too terribly smart about these things. I didn’t realize what this life would come to represent to me, a brilliant and complex tapestry in which no single thread is out of place. We can’t all be huge successes. I’m sure you know that by now. Jealousy is a wholly destructive emotion. A person can use it to jumpstart their inner drive, but mostly it’s just corrosive.
Those who earn the spotlight deserve the spotlight. End of story. And it doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving too. It’s just that either by randomness or divine intervention, you’re in your own little universe with your own feathers for your own cap, and really, that rival or that friend has very little to do with any of it. Don’t let it become a mile marker for all your anxieties and worries. Their successes doesn’t make you inadequate or unskilled. It’s just that you haven’t gotten there yet, may never get there, may decide someday you didn’t really want it as bad as you thought you did.
The only real losers in this game, and I’ve long believed this about creative folks, are the ones who don’t even try, who settle for less than full creative disclosure, who don’t take at least one or two risks in their limited time here on this planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s everyone’s solemn duty to reach for the stars and try to become something they aren’t likely to become, but look, if you’ve got the drive and ambition, it’d be a real shame to leave all your talents undeveloped and hidden from the rest of the world. Share these things, put them out there, even if you fail. Especially if you fail. Because I guarantee you’ll rarely meet (or perhaps, meet less often) that other beast of an emotion, regret.
And I would suggest you do so for reasons that live up to your lofty station as a maker of cool stuff. Don’t go after your dreams if you think they’ll add something to you that isn’t already there. Similarly, don’t do it if your goal is to crush and outperform all other applicants. Create because you love to create, publish because you’ve got something to say, stories to tell. Do these things for joyous reasons, not simply because you want to teach that vindictive high school English teacher a lesson or prove once and for all to everyone you know that you are worth a damn. Trust me, you are. Don’t even question that. Take it as a given.
Remaining anonymous is not failure. I had to learn this the hard way. Our culture can be shockingly backwards and out of sync with the realities of, well, reality. You have your own path to walk; your work and your passion is a matter of personal pride. Nobody can do things the way you can. Nobody. We are simultaneously small in the grand scheme of things and as massive as the universe itself. You are and always have been precisely all you are and always have been. I do believe that. You’re perfect enough already. Keep that notion close by at all times.
Do your work, create what can create. Do it like no one’s watching, regardless of whether or not anyone is. It’s a wide and generous world if you know what to look out for, and allowing poison into your heart won’t solve anything for anyone. Do I still get jealous of other writers? You bet I do, but if I can, where I’m able, I decline to attach to that particular emotion and just let the old familiar sting pass on by.
Until next time.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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