I have an enemy in publishing, and he doesn’t even know it. It’s very uncomfortable to have an enemy who doesn’t even really know we are enemies, or even that I exist.
I met Greg in college and we had vaguely overlapping social circles, so I’d run into him at parties and I thought he was basically the opposite of everything I admire: He was shallow, immature, narcissistic.
He didn’t have enough personality for me to admire his narcissism, so I couldn’t even enjoy how much I didn’t like him: he wasn’t interesting enough to really hate.
Greg became my enemy when he got his novel published at a Big Publishing House at a younger age than I was, and I was not anywhere close to getting published by anyone, let alone a Big House.
Jealousy reared its ugly head.
I was filled with jealousy over his success, his advance, his royalties, any press he got, any popularity he gained.
I was drowning with disgusted contempt: Greg was an idiot, the publisher was an idiot, whoever read and liked Greg’s novel was an idiot. Everyone was an idiot.
And I was a pathetic failure. Failure, failure, failure.
Jealousy does not feel good. I don’t just simmer with rage at the injustice of the world. I feel sick to my stomach.
There’s a saying about holding resentment toward someone: It’s like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the other person to die.
I feel like I’ve drunk a bottle of poison, and I’m just waiting for the waves of nausea to pass.
I really am sick with jealousy. It makes me feel physically sick. Like a flu, or bad food. Not metaphorically, but physically: it’s painful.
I’ve tried to get rid of it, and in the course of doing so, I’ve discovered a few things about jealousy:
Jealousy is very different from envy. In fact they are two completely different experiences. When I envy someone, I admire them too, and I don’t begrudge them their success. When I’m jealous of someone, I don’t admire them and I want what they have.
I envy Stephen King. I envy his success, his money, his popularity, his fame. And I admire his writing, I love his writing, and I think fairly highly of him as a human being, what very little I know of him. I admire him. I want what he has. I’m happy that he has recognition for his work and I want that, too. That’s my envy.
I am jealous of other published writers. I think their books are awful: generally stupid; or shallow; or poorly written; or self-centered; delusional; and lacking in any insight, depth, or talent whatsoever. And I want what they have: Money; success; popularity. I am jealous of them. I don’t like them as people or as writers, I don’t respect them, and I don’t like that they’re successful while I’m not.
It’s not fair.
Envy = success was fairly bestowed.
Jealousy = success was unfairly bestowed.
Envy = respect for the other person.
Jealousy = no respect for the other person.
It’s difficult to live with jealousy. It’s a burning resentment.
But I’m not going to pretend I don’t have it.
And I’ve found that the less ashamed of my jealousy I am, the less jealous I am.
Also, I’ve seen that the less I pin all of my self-worth on writing and and being published, the less jealousy I experience.
The bigger and happier my life is, the less jealousy I experience.
That’s obvious, but I think it’s helpful to point it out anyway: If you’re experiencing jealousy, it might actually NOT be pointing to the fact that you’re a mean-spirited little jerk and you need to stop being such an awful person.
Instead, it’s maybe pointing to an unbalance or lack of fullness: Something is off in your personal life. You can use your jealousy to help you slowly unearth what’s off in your life: Perhaps you’ve been secretly hoping that being published would solve all of your problems, and now you feel like you’ll never be okay, seeing someone else do better than you. Or maybe you’re desperate to get published so you can quit your awful day job, and you’re filled with despair when someone else succeeds and you still haven’t. Or maybe it just means your life is too narrowly focused, or you’re using being a successful writer to transfer a lot of baggage around so you don’t suffocate from it. The jealousy you’re experiencing could be telling you that this transference is not working. It’s strangling you instead, and you need to re-examine your interior and exterior circumstances.
It could mean that writing and being successfully published is too symbolic, perhaps almost entirely symbolic, of worth: Of being deemed good, of being deemed worthwhile, of being approved of by people in authority whose approval you need. And when someone you don’t respect or like is deemed good and worthwhile by people whose approval you need, while you are not, it’s very threatening and destructive. Your value as a person is taken away. Your sense of what is good and what is not is shaken, causing distress.
That’s what I’ve learned, anyway.
I used to be desperate for writing success: It would rescue me so I wouldn’t have to work at my awful day job, and it would validate me, and it would fill my emotional holes.
Now I don’t need being a successful writer to do that for me anymore.
It’s very freeing.
I’ve also found that, if I dissect my jealousy and find that it is lack of respect for the other person, then I can tell myself that every person deserves basic human respect: that they are a human being and they should be allowed to have their own life. Just baseline respect.
That is an immense help.
If I am experiencing jealousy, I am no longer ashamed. It’s a valid emotion. It should be respected. I don’t let other people make me ashamed of my jealousy. All it does is invite denial. I start to pretend I’m not jealous, and I hide it. Then it gets bigger and scarier. I feel more ashamed, the bigger and scarier it gets. It’s like a bad, damaging secret that other people will persecute me for. But it doesn’t have to be.
Now I can just relax. I can accept my emotions, as embarrassing as they might be. I can know I’m in good company. This is what it’s like to be a human being: Messy, petty, imperfect. Now I’m a part of it. It’s good to be a part of it. It’s good to be able to join the vast parade of messy, rattled humanity. The good and the bad.
I’ve noticed that jealousy has never moved me to want to destroy anyone’s career, or hurt anyone. It’s just that I want something. It doesn’t mean I’m going to sabotage anyone’s career.
It’s better when I don’t have it, though. It’s a hell of a nasty experience.
And if anyone out there is experiencing it, too, I wish you the best.
Unless you’re Greg, that is. If you’re Greg, you can go straight to the devil.
Marjorie Clavell Keane