Jealousy is natural, but turn it into something positive
By Eric Maierson
June 2021 - Allow me to confess: I am jealous of you. If you’ve ever published your beautiful work in a magazine or edited a TV show or received an award, I am jealous. I’m, of course, happy for you, but if I’m really honest, I’d have to admit that I’m really jealous, too. In fact, I once came across a video of a childhood friend being interviewed about his new book on investment banking, and even though I’d rather have a month of root canals than sit through a lecture on Series A funding, I was even jealous of him.
I’m not proud to admit any of this. In the hierarchy of human emotions, jealousy is probably down near the bottom, in the muck with greed and sloth. It feels edgy and uncomfortable, like someone is looting your house as you watch, helpless and angry; jealousy makes us feel like we’ve been robbed. Why didn’t I win that award? How come that magazine never publishes me? Jealousy asks, But what about me? Worse still is the knowledge that my own success does nothing to quell these feelings. There’s always something new to covet. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
So what do we do when jealousy strikes?
First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are real, no matter how much we may want to pretend otherwise, no matter how at odds they are with the supportive, nurturing artist we may actually be. The truth is, a problem can never be solved by denying its existence. But more importantly, I believe that these emotions can serve as a reminder to ask ourselves the deeper question: Why do we feel this way? And what is this jealousy pointing us toward?
For me there are often two distinct possibilities. In the first instance, jealousy is the result of seeing someone else’s work that is more accomplished than my own, as if they’ve just painted the Sistine Chapel while I was busy scrawling crayon stick figures on the bathroom wall. There’s a shock of recognition as I witness some previously unrevealed part of myself now on full display — in their work. I’m left embarrassed that I didn’t do it first. I, of course, was too busy scrolling through my Twitter feed.
Beyond self-recrimination, I think the proper course of action is straightforward: Regroup, reconsider and try again. Jealousy is a powerful reminder that our time is limited, people die young, and the only solution to making better work is to make more work. Practice, we say, so that when life presents us with that slow, easing softball, we already have the muscles to knock that fucker over the centerfield wall.
In the second case, the feelings of jealousy that arise for me are not about the work so much as the associated attention and recognition. It’s a feeling that I, too, deserve praise. I am being denied my due, I tell myself. But the truth is, I believe those feelings of longing are always present in a creative life; they never really go away. We all want attention. We all want to be loved. But we also must remember, as “Atomic Habits” author James Clear puts it, “We cannot predict the value our work will provide to the world. That’s fine. It is not our job to judge our own work. It is our job to create it, to pour ourselves into it, and to master our craft as best we can.”
So feel the jealousy, sure. But then get back to work. It’s really the only choice.
Eric Maierson is a freelance writer and two-time Emmy-winning video editor and producer. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Ellen, and their dog Beanie.
Illustration by Julie M. Elman is a professor at the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University, where she teaches courses in editorial design.