Revisiting Jealousy

11 Jan

by Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Almost a year ago I wrote a post called FictionPress and Jealousy, in which I talked about the negative feelings that sometimes result from comparing yourself to other writers. A few months later, Sarah wrote a post called The Writing Community’s Kryoptonite…AKA Jealousy, in which she talked about how jealousy harms not only the jealousee but the jealouser. (Yeah, you love it when I make up words.) Yesterday Susan Dennard wrote a post about ‘keeping your eyes on your own paper’ when comparing yourself to other writers.

Now, I don’t want you guys to think I’m a big green monster all the time, but jealousy has reared its ugly head for me again here recently, and since it’s the new year I figured it’s time to get it all out there and let it go.

For Christmas I received Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. You’ve probably heard of it; it’s a great memoir/writing instructions book, like Stephen King’s On Writing. Anne devoted a whole chapter to jealousy, including real-life examples, and I think what puzzled me most is her reaction to jealousy (indeed, her reaction to a lot of writing-related problems). Anne recommended removing the person who causes you to be jealous from your life.

Now, in her situation I can understand. Anne had a friend who was already pretty well off who then landed a six-figure book deal. Meanwhile, Anne’s husband was out of a job and she was barely making ends meet, and the friend would call to talk about her book deal and how exciting and scary it was, making statements like, ‘I guess God is just giving me money this year.’ And Anne is right there nodding along and saying ‘yup’ because if she says anything else she’ll just scream or cry.

Anne felt the problem was with her, until she realized that her friend knew that Anne’s family was in financial trouble, and still called to discuss the 6-figures she’d be receiving shortly. Anne didn’t feel the woman was bragging, but it was still really insensitive.

Solution: Distance self from friend.

But is that right? Can you really go through life weeding out people who make you feel bad, especially for something so slippery as their own good fortune?

What about when one of your good friends has something awesome happen to them, and even though you’ve helped them reach their goal, you still find yourself turning green in the face? What about when you see some random person on the internet who’s #1 on the NYT best-sellers list with their first book and they’ve only been writing for a few years? Or you see some stranger’s announcement on Twitter that they signed a 10-book deal and Oprah’s already scheduled a viewing with them?

You can’t just ignore or block out everyone who makes you feel jealous, especially if they’re your friends. Therefore we are back at square one: How do we stop feeling jealous, or, how do we manage our jealousy?

Personal confession time. Recently a friend of mine had something really awesome happen to them. Like, super awesome. My first reaction was shock, followed by a brief spurt of excitement, but then as the details came rolling in of how super-fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime, omg-you-can’t-be-serious this news was, something far more sinister bloomed within me: shaking, raging, can’t-breathe jealousy.

I felt like I’d been leveled with a hammer. One part of me wanted to cry and yell and say really nasty things, and the other part knew this was completely ridiculous and I should be excited for my friend, and why wasn’t I like other people who felt secure in my own good fortune to the point where I didn’t envy anyone else?

To try and get over it, I took my dog for a walk to clear my head. I thought, you know, being out in nature and whatever would calm me down and make me realize that I was awesome enough that I didn’t have to be jealous of anyone. But it didn’t happen.

Instead this acid-pit kept threatening to erupt in me. I couldn’t catch my breath. I hated what I was feeling; I didn’t WANT to be that horrible, jealous friend who couldn’t just be happy for the success of others. How was my friend’s success harming me? How was her happiness detracting from me in any way?

It wasn’t. But my feelings persisted. They persisted for weeks. I tried not to tell anyone because we attach such a stigma to jealousy, but I did share a bit of my disappointment with my boyfriend. Okay, a lot of my disappointment. To the point that when a friend of mine landed her first book deal and I shared the news via IM, his first reaction was, “I’m sorry, Savannah.”

I sat there looking at the screen, horrified. “No, no,” I typed. “This is great! I’m not upset.”

How could I be wanting-to-die jealous of one friend, but excited for another? Why couldn’t I talk myself out of my negative feelings? It made me realize some fundamental facts about jealousy:

Jealousy is not logical. It stems from our own insecurities, which are as varied and changing as we are. I can’t predict when news is going to make me smile in joy or frown in anger. I can only withstand the onslaught.

Jealousy is not easily banished. There’s no quick fix for jealousy. There’s no inspirational quote, yoga pose, chocolate bar, spoken word, reassuring hug or anything that is going to fix it. Only time.

Jealousy does not mean there’s something wrong with you. Despite how I disagreed with Anne about some points and philosophies in her book, I am grateful that she showed me how everyone is jealous at some time. No one is so spiritually secure that they’re never jealous. For some reason I thought that professional writers never get insecure, despite being told that over and over again. For some reason Anne made me ‘get it’.

Jealousy made me scared. I was terrified one of my friends was going to find out, and then I’d be ostracized for daring to feel inadequate. I didn’t want my negative feelings to be a burden on anyone, so I kept them inside. But my feelings were aching to be released. I found myself making passive-aggressive comments, hinting at my unhappiness but not daring to make it fully known. What I really needed to do is have a positive conversation about my negative emotions. I needed to talk with a friend about it, someone I could trust to not let me devolve into gossiping about my friend with the good news. Someone who could say ‘yeah me too, lol, we’re so lame, now let’s move on.’

The thing about jealousy is that you get over it eventually. My jealousy-levels are way lower than they were a few weeks ago. I’m not totally zen about it yet, but I’m hoping that one day I won’t care anymore.

In the meantime, I’m going to go about my business and accept that I don’t have to feel happy and satisfied all the time. I’m going to use my jealousy as inspiration to work harder so I too can be successful.

What about you guys? Anything making you crazy with envy lately? Let’s get it out of our systems and move on already!

~~~

Also, just an FYI that the book I’m working on had a name change. Previously known as Woman’s World, then  Antebellum, the new title I’m working with is Nameless. You can read a sample chapter here.

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Nameless  is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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34 Responses to “Revisiting Jealousy”

  1. Madeleine January 11, 2011 at 12:12 AM #

    I have as many issues with this as the next person. It’s hard to be one of the few teen writers. Whenever there’s another kid writer with a book deal or an agent – things that still seem so out of reach and bordering on impossible – my insides simmer a bit.

    In the end, though, I have to remind myself how fabulous it is that kids are spending time writing at all.

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 12:15 AM #

      Oh man, I used to get wicked pissed off at Christopher Paolini, my ultimate ‘teen writer’. I’m still not quite over him, but for everyone else eventually you move on and sometimes actually get happy for them 🙂

  2. katyupperman January 11, 2011 at 1:38 AM #

    Love how honest you are about a topic that’s sort of taboo. We’re supposed to be happy for our friends–always. But it’s sometimes hard not to feel that little spark of envy when something you’ve been wanting (and working really hard for!) happens for someone else first.

    Thanks for the great post, Savannah.

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 11:51 AM #

      That is so true. And thanks!

  3. Meghan Schuessler January 11, 2011 at 2:14 AM #

    I agree with Katy, I love the honesty in this post. I’m not usually a commenter, more of a lurker. But I wanted to say I’m really impressed that you didn’t try to sugar-coat how you feel at all, you just told it like it is 🙂

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

      I’m glad you appreciate it 🙂 It was scary having to say it out loud and knowing the whole world was going to see it.

  4. Julie Eshbaugh January 11, 2011 at 8:36 AM #

    Savannah, I love you! 🙂 You are so open and willing to talk about the things that haunt us all. Thanks for being so honest and eloquent!

  5. sdennard January 11, 2011 at 8:58 AM #

    What a great post, Sav. Really, thanks for sharing. I sound like such motivational ass compared to your raw honesty. :0

    BUT MAN oh man oh man oh MAN do I get jealous. Everyone does!!

    Sure, I force myself to put in the work that I have to put in…and like you said, I let other people’s success inspire me to work harder. When I write, I really try not to compare myself to others…

    BUT WHEN I’M NOT WRITING? IN SOCIAL NETWORKING? That’s where I get SUPER jealous… When I see how many followers someone else has on Facebook/Twitter/Goodreads or how many comments her blog gets or how many people ADORE her… HOLY CROW. Let the jealousy begin… (Um, obviously the uncool 13-year-old in me is still very sensitive about popularity!!)

    Again, REALLY thanks for sharing this. We should nurse a few beers together when we meet up…and then nurse each others’ egos. 🙂

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 11:53 AM #

      And dress as nurses! Haha it’s gonna be awesome.

      Social networking is a major area for jealousy, too. I see writers without agents who have 1k followers, and I’m like whaaaaat? But then I see how sociable they are and what great commentary they have and it makes sense.

  6. Rowenna January 11, 2011 at 9:54 AM #

    Awsome post–you’re spot on with your points on the nature of jealousy–it’s definitely illogical and changeable, and not easy to move away from.

    I do think Anne had a good point that, when the situation is just toxic, distancing yourself from a friend might be a wise choice. It might end with the friendship being better than before once feelings are mended–instead of just slowly disintegrating ties and a lot of bitterness (happened to me once in a completely non-jealousy situation–and wow, am I glad I put some distance there when I did, because we’re closer than ever now). But in Anne’s case, I don’t think the main problem was straight jealousy–I get the feeling that, underlying it, she was hurt that her friend didn’t sympathize with her situation and was flaunting her good fortune, jabbing at a sore spot without any thought of how Anne might be feeling.

    Which brings up an entirely different question of how to be supportive and receive support and be sensitive to others who are in different–and maybe more difficult–places than you are. Another post sometime, maybe? 🙂

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

      Ooh, that’s a really great idea. And I get what you’re saying about Anne. I’ll have to think about an additional post; I don’t know if I have all the answers to that question yet.

  7. Holly January 11, 2011 at 10:20 AM #

    I’m a very competitive person by nature, and I think jealousy plays a big role in that. Like Susan, social media really feeds into my green monster. Followers/friends on all the social networking sites send me into a tizzy some days.

    Then I try to remember what Susan said yesterday about keeping my eyes on my own paper. lol It doesn’t always work, but it helps to be reminded that my journey will be unique, but not necessarily any better or worse. 😉

    • savannahjfoley January 11, 2011 at 11:56 AM #

      I love how Susan used a common adage and redefined what it meant for our situation. It’s true; sometimes you just have to put blinders on and keep enjoying your own path.

  8. Elena Aitken January 11, 2011 at 1:46 PM #

    Thanks for the post, Savannah.
    Jealousy is an issue that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. But it’s real, very real.
    I think we’ve all felt it at one time or another. I know I have.
    It can be hard to be excited for a friend when you’re jealous. I try to remember that one day it will happen for me and I’ll want my friends to be happy for me too.
    Tough one, thanks for addressing it so honestly.
    Elena
    http://www.wordbitches.com

    • Savannah J. Foley January 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM #

      That’s the other catch: you can feel all this jealousy, but when it’s your turn for something good to happen to you, you spend a lot of time wondering who you’re making jealous and feeling bad for being excited.

      Nice blog, btw!

  9. Leah Scrimshaw January 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

    Heh, jealousy. Well, I’ve been having fun with that, but, recently, not concerning anything to do with writing. I decided, you see, to apply to Oxford… Needless to say, I didn’t get in or else I wouldn’t be jeaous. To be fair, no on from my college did, but at least one person has an offer from Cambridge. It is okay, really it is… But oh…

    • Savannah J. Foley January 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM #

      Aww, sorry you didn’t get in. Universities don’t matter so much when you’re an adult anyway, you’ll discover.

  10. Maybelle January 11, 2011 at 9:08 PM #

    Ah, jealousy – that was something I had struggled with in the past, especially as a music student where talents are apparent and constantly showcased.

    You’re right in saying that jealousy is everywhere, it’s part of human nature, and that it is hard to banish. For me, jealousy tends to fade after awhile – it’s all part of life, living and growing, anyways.

    Hmm I’ve never told anyone about my jealousies, and especially not the person I was jealous of. I think that’s kind of unnecessary and might even stir up dissession and discomfort between that person and I. But at the same time, I think cutting ties is kind of drastic – you can lose the valuable friendship and information that you had with that person. Why not attempt to learn from that person instead? Find out what lies behind their success? (They might’ve worked a lot harder than they seemed to.) Perhaps a short break would be better, allowing you to recover without completely abandoning the relationship.

    • Savannah J. Foley January 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM #

      I agree about the short break, and you make an excellent point that you should learn from your jealousies. I’m a fan of some writers I used to be incredibly jealous of because I decided to absorb their lessons instead of just rejecting them because thinking so positively about them made me feel angry and jealous.

  11. Maybelle January 11, 2011 at 9:28 PM #

    I do wonder if jealousy is linked with intimacy as well. I find that the *worst* kind of jealousy – the kind that eats at your guts and haunts your waking hours – are the ones I’ve felt for people who are close to me, whom I know lots about, in addition to being in the same life-stage at me. I could be jealous of Shakespeare or Margaret Atwood for their literary genius and success, but I never would be – because they’re so up there and not going through the same life trials as me, with the same chances as me, etc. I don’t see them on a daily basis and know their every move. There’s no CHANCE or JUSTIFICATION for being like them.

    However, it’s when I’m close to someone, to the point I *feel* I have grounds to be jealous (eg. they REALLY didn’t put in as much effort as me… but got a better grade) – that’s when envy sets in. It’s because I compare my similarities to them, and start wondering why *I* don’t have the same chance/success. And at the same time, because of the degree of friendship or knowledge I have to my jealousee, I would hate to completely cut myself from them unless for a truly strong, fundamental reason.

    • Savannah J. Foley January 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM #

      That’s a really interesting point. I do feel deeper jealousy when I know the person, but I have quick-flaring and large jealousy for people I don’t know. I guess it’s a quick burn vs. a slow burn.

  12. Brown Eyed Mystic January 12, 2011 at 12:48 AM #

    For me, if there is something that’s bothering me or someone who’s acting problematic, I tend to take the whole responsibility on myself. Taking 100% responsibility of whatever it is that’s happening in one’s life is super relieving. So if I have someone who’s being a sore knowingly or unknowingly, I’d think they are my own attractions. And I’d somehow change myself to change the situation.

    Lovely message by the way. I admire the honesty that comes across in your post.

    -BrownEyed

    • savannahjfoley January 12, 2011 at 10:04 AM #

      Thanks, BrownEyed! Interesting method you have.

  13. Elizabeth January 12, 2011 at 1:26 AM #

    I’m breaking my habit of lurking on this site to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your posts on this topic. I am a writer and a classical musician (mostly the latter in the past couple of years, but I’m working on it!)

    Two years ago, when I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Music degree at a small conservatory rather than going to a big university, a family friend who got her Master’s in piano basically told me that I would be lucky if I made one or two actual friends while I was in school. The competitive environment poisons a lot of relationships that would have otherwise been fine.

    Since then, I’ve been on both sides of the equation. After I got my first mainstage opera role, I found myself skulking around the apartment to avoid telling my roommate about it because I (correctly) realized that she would be incredibly resentful that I had been offered an opportunity while she was passed over.

    At the same time, I have more than once caught myself grumpily evaluating freshmen (FRESHMEN!) to see if they measured up to the freshman version of me. It is such a disgusting feeling, not to mention a completely useless impulse, but I can’t stop myself from doing it. I realize, intellectually, that this is because I felt woefully behind my peers when I was a freshman, and I am still a little insecure about how much I sucked (or thought I sucked) when I was eighteen.

    Looking through the lens of my musical experiences, I realize how destructive jealousy was to the teenage writer version of myself. I actually read ERAGON and part of ELDEST *just* so that I could brood about how terrible Christopher Paolini was. That is, like, 600+ pages of brooding. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes was another one – I read five or six of her (admittedly shorter) books, hating every minute of them. (I was a delightful teenager, I swear!) I know now that I was acting on/feeding my own fear of criticism… the same fear that caused, like, three years of writers block.

    I think that the struggle we all face – especially in the arts, where success is not as easily-defined as at, say, medical school – is not to not feel jealousy at all, but rather to refuse to let it turn you into a bitter, resentful person who reads bad fantasy novels just to feel superior to someone. If, in Lamott’s case, that meant stepping away from a friendship for a while, I can totally respect that.

    • savannahjfoley January 12, 2011 at 10:12 AM #

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story! Christopher Paolini used to bug the crap out of me, too; I even ran a blog devoted to making fun of him (since deactivated). You’re absolutely right; behavior like that just feeds our own fears.

  14. Vanessa January 12, 2011 at 5:34 PM #

    Sav, I love how honest you are. I still grapple with jealousy – especially working in publishing. I look at other people in the industry and see how well-known they are, or the positions they hold, and I can’t help but get a little jealous. Sometimes, crazy jealous! I think that, no matter what you decide to do with your life, you’ll always compare yourself to others – and you’ll always feel jealous when one person gets noticed, and you don’t.

    With writing I can get very jealous too – to the point that I get all bummed out about myself and feel very little motivation to do anything. And I know it’s silly of me, and I know I should get over it, but sometimes I just can’t.

    So it always lifts my spirits to know that people I’m close to (and occasionally jealous of) feel the same way I do. Not in an if-I’m-going-down-you’re-going-with-me type of way, but in knowing that everyone feels the same way at some point. And that I’m not stupid for feeling the way I do.

    • Savannah J. Foley January 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

      V, you’re definitely not stupid for feeling that way (this I have learned by feeling stupid, lol). It’s hard, especially when you work closely with other people in the industry, because inevitably someone has great news you haven’t had any in a while. You see differences in status and popularity and page views and sales all the time, and it’s easy to feel bad.

      BUT… we believe in you, and we’re all eager to see what magic you produce in your novel 🙂

  15. evgranger January 13, 2011 at 12:24 PM #

    Savannah, thanks so much for sharing this. I think everyone can relate to jealousy – even men (haha). My other half always says that “women are always jealous of each other” (which is a WHOLE other kettle – ie I think women wouldn’t get jealous of each other if men weren’t genetically engineered to look at other women) but I know he struggles with it in his own way, comparing himself and “where he’s at” in life with other people our age. He just doesn’t go on about it like I do! Which is probably the better approach, but then you have to deal with these things somehow in order to move on from them. I don’t think bottling is EVER the right response.

    I’ve struggled with jealousy because of the decisions I’ve made in my life. I just graduated in June with a BA after starting and stopping 4 other university courses since high school. It took me over ten years to start a degree course and finish it, so at 32 I’m finally a graduate. And a small handful of my peers have moved to London and snagged great entry jobs into the film industry (despite being a fiction writer, I studied film which taught me loads about writing in a different way). It’s hard to not be jealous of these kids – kids to me because they’re all around 22-23, and they’ve got rich parents and they can live at home and do unpaid work experience in order to get jobs.

    But I realised recently that despite their good fortune, I have my own things that other people are jealous of, though I wouldn’t want to make someone else jealous. You can work your tail off and maybe never get the same results someone else has, but if you know you’ve done your best, and you feel proud of your work, or what you’ve done, and are happy with what you have (your significant other, your pet, your house, whatever), then that’s really a huge blessing – and looking beyond that is just a bad habit to try to break.

    Your honesty is so fantastic to read and ponder. Cheers 🙂

  16. allreb January 14, 2011 at 6:19 PM #

    I’m late to the party (just stumbled on this blog) but have to say thanks, and also, me too. *sigh* As it happens, my older sister is also a writer — and also my roommate — and she’s just a little beyond me in our journeys. I’m hoping to get my first project out to query in a few months; she sent her first last year. Her project was great, her query was great… as you can imagine, it got a good response. No agent signing, but an hour-long revision suggestion/career advice phone call from a super-agent.

    I wanted to die with envy. Or kill. I waited until I was alone in the apartment and had a good cry; I called my best friend (who knows both of us well) and ranted for a few minutes. Then I got back to work on my own project, happy for her.

    It’s not easy, but it helps me to tell myself this: success is not a zero-sum game. It’s not like at some point every publisher in the world is going to hang out a sign that says “Sorry, we’ve already accepted XY manuscripts and will never publish anyone else, ever. You’re too late!” And even if no one’s biting right now, that’s not the same as no interest ever. Just because she’s a success, or the folks on my twlist are successful, doesn’t mean I’m a failure.

    Some days believing that is easier than others, but hey, it’s a start. 🙂

  17. AnonyGuest January 19, 2011 at 9:52 AM #

    Great post Savannah, I know I’m REALLY late to the party but this post struck a cord with me. It could easily be relatable to anything in life I think, and while I don’t have many jealousies as a writer (simply because I *know* most writers put more effort into it/work harder at it than I do because life right now for me is super complex) I do occasionally get jealous of people whom I hear about who wrote their novel, easily over the course of say a few weeks and tada it’s already published meanwhile I’ve been writing for over ten years and have yet to see a project through to fruition *grumblemumble*. It really really helps me feel better and more rational though to realize that yes, I’m not the only one who feels jealousy then, while that seems illogical to think so, I think it’s common enough for all of us to sit down and think no one else feels this waaaaaay and I shouldn’t and that makes me a BAD PERSON.

    My personal story of jealousy isn’t writing related, it’s through my absolute best friend who right now is on her own for the first time in her life clear across the country, I’ve struggled with image issues most of my life and while I’m now starting to get over most of them it’ll probably never go away and I’ve been actively trying to eat better/loose weight etc, etc…so when I found out a friend in the course only a few months dropped down FOUR SIZES, and continues to loose weight and meanwhile, I’ll drop a little bit of size, work my tail off and get NO WHERE… I was so green with envy I’d’ve put the hulk to shame. It really hurts too when she makes off hand comments “Oh well, remember that shirt I had just bought? Well now it’s huge on me!!” She’s a wonderful person and very supportive and unlike Anne I’d never drop her from my life because the good VASTLY outweighs the bad, but it’s hard as hell to move beyond such a thing. Though I think now, with your post helping me realize that what I’m feeling isn’t uncommon and I shouldn’t beat myself for what I can’t help, I may, just now start to move on. 🙂

    • AnonyGuest January 19, 2011 at 9:56 AM #

      Forgot to mention, part of the reason she dropped weight so fast that I actually *JUST* realized, just a few moments ago is because she has to bike her way to work, ten miles (five miles too and files miles back) almost every other day while I have the luxury of not having to do that…wow…that makes me feel a lot better.

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