Jealousy: The Dream Squelcher Sabotaging your Creative Work
Jealousy is an old, old friend of mine. He’s been hanging out in my brain since I was a kiddo in hightop sneakers and scrunchies. Whenever I didn’t get the lead role in the school play, or when someone drew a better picture then me, the monster would start mucking around, turning everything in my head green and slimy.
There are any number of reasons he took root. It could have been because I was the youngest in my class. Maybe it was the bullying or the general intensity of my demeanor.
But whatever the reason, I knew it was my job to be the best. That’s what the monster told me.
And anyone who got in the way of me being the best was going to get some major side-eye, along with a tasty helping of resentment stew.
I’m ashamed to admit I let that monster live in my head for a long, long time.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ”
― Carrie Fisher
It’s not that I wanted to be jealous. I knew it was unhealthy. It certainly wasn’t fun. I didn’t enjoy that sour feeling in my stomach when someone else accomplished something amazing. I wanted to walk up to them and sincerely say, “Congratulations! That’s hotter than socks!” But it was so, so hard. Even while I gave them a hug or shook their hand, a voice in my head always whispered, “Why not me?”
And part of the reason I felt that way was because I suspected we were all chasing after the same brass ring. A horde of eager puppies chasing after one, small treat. At the end of all things there would be one winner and three million losers.
(Didn’t anyone tell you life is basically Game of Thrones? Because that’s what the monster in my head told me, and I know he’d never lie.)
How it twists and squeezes
When I transformed others into competitors, they became less than human in my mind. Even while I lusted after their accomplishments, I reduced them into check marks.
The problem with this strategy is that I was attempting to be an artist. There is nothing more dangerous for an artist than to dehumanize other people. One of the main points of art is to reveal and comprehend what it means to be human.
Diminishing people for the sake of my own ego was… not exactly the path to artistic enlightenment.
I’ll admit, I’m hungry for validation and recognition. But I’m working on that. Fortunately, I’m just a little hungrier to make something true. And to do that, I have to create without the hope of glory. I have to make without hope of fame.
I have to learn how to delight in the beauty that comes from seeing someone else do what they were born to do. I have to be smaller so I can grow.
For good people, this is easy.
For those of us who are a little grayer, morally speaking, it involves training a whole new set of muscles.
Because if you’ve been holding onto something your whole life (say a nasty little green monster), letting go takes more strength than you might have expected.
Turns out, you have a muscle for saying, “I am happy for you,” and learning to mean it a little more each time.
Showing the monster the way out
But how can you rid yourself of that monster, when he shows up at your door again and again, when he sat by your cradle from the very beginning, teaching you how to measure your twisted first steps?
Warning. This is where things get super cheeseball.
Love. Love is the answer. Not hearts. Not flowers. Not possession or confinement. But the real thing.
You cannot be afraid to love. Other people, but also yourself. The monster doesn’t want you to love yourself. He starts to starve when you do that.
Hate is not the opposite of love. Fear is. And jealousy is the costume fear wears, telling you you’ll never be enough, keeping you from seeing the beauty created by others, holding you back from creating recklessly through love and discovery and creativity.
Because, the thing is, when you’re jealous, you’re not just dishonoring the people you’re jealous of, but you’re also doing a deep disservice to yourself. You erase your work and any story it holds. By holding it up next to the work of others, you allow it to exist only in that context, as a fixed point on a measuring tape.
You become less a creator and more a hungry pair of eyes.
And yeah, I know it’s hard. With social media. Here on Medium, where it’s easy to measure ourselves against the handful of people who ascend, who seem to get all the claps and all the money. It’s hard not to ask, “Why not me?”
In order to starve the monster, you must acknowledge that your job is not to be anyone other than yourself. (He really hates that.) You’re not meant to be better or worse than anyone else. Only you. The flaws, the oddities, the joy, the ugly bits, the heavy bits, the gifts, the awkwardness, the sore spots, and the stories only you can tell. You’ll never be anything other than the best possible you.
“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
I wish I could have the time I wasted on jealousy back, to untwist those days from their web of resentment. I know journeys have an annoying tendency to move in one direction (forward), so if jealousy is something you struggle with, perhaps you can get past it sooner than I did. Get to work throwing away the measuring tape a little earlier than I did.
Life isn’t Game of Thrones. There’s more than one brass ring.
There are colonies of golden rings, more than anyone could ever count. One inside of me and one inside of you. Because we’re alive and the creative spark exists inside us. We still have time to learn, time to sit down and make the things we’re supposed to make. The things only we can make.
So let’s get working.
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