How to Get Out of the Comparison Trap and Celebrate the Success of Other Writers
My neighbors had a tree service out today. All morning, it was chain saws and tree grinders droning on. That's annoying, yes, when you work at home. You can't really polish an essay before submission when your idle thinking time is interrupted by the grinder plowing through another load of leafy branches. Then when you start comparing your productivity to theirs, it all derails.
They've taken down a century old tree while you're still trying to muddle through one measly blog post.
Where it really burns me though is: My neighbors moved in maybe a year ago and they have been on a constant home improvement kick. They're my age or younger. They work from home, if they work at all. I'm really not sure because they hardly ever leave the house (either of them), and then they're gone for a month or more. When they are home they do things like rip up half the driveway to have a larger yard, or stabilize the old barn (new roof, new siding, windows).
Truth be told, I am jealous as hell about it all.
Maybe I don't want to take up my driveway, but I long for a paver patio with a modest water feature that drowns out the noise of neighborhood dogs, and wind up settling for my under $200 Ikea patio furniture set, on which I just discovered mouse poop.
And I'd like to take down at least one of the black walnut trees in my yard, preferably the one closest to the house so if a storm strikes I'm not crushed in my sleep.
I wouldn't care—honestly, I probably wouldn't notice—if it was a neighbor up the block. But their close proximity and our work-at-home living means I wind up tracking every home improvement project and making comparisons to my home life.
All this envy has got me thinking about writing success and how I learned to celebrate other writers' wins.
In my MFA program, we boasted over publication credits and department perks—who was chosen to read for the lit mag, who had an assistantship. We supported one another's successes, to be sure, but we knew we were competing.
As my peers started publishing, my response was mixed. There was happiness for those blessed with book deals, reassurance (if they did it, I could, too), and analysis (really, they got a book deal? or, they self published?).
I bought my peers' books and read them, but behind my support were strong emotions, as the Buddhists might say: Envy, jealousy, worry.
What if I never made it? They had and I hadn't, and could I really assume my time would come?
Women are socialized early in this sort of competitive thinking: Friends get boyfriends or periods or first kisses before we do, and we fret about falling behind. Or we turn catty: Gossiping to others about how slutty someone is, even someone we know nothing about, and even if (in my case) we're secretly gay and not at all interested in whatever guy took them out. So often, women learn to value themselves by taking stock of others, then turning the critical eye inward, which means we continue to default to this thinking until we realize how much we're harming ourselves.
Sure, I could gripe about some Wattpad breakout star getting rich off some fantasy stuff I would never be interested in writing, but at the end of the day, all those gripes were telling me was this:
I needed to do the work. The work that was right for me. With all my heart. And then let go of expecting a desired result be handed to me because I deserved it, had trained for it, or worked for it.
To process the emotions in a healthy way where I could celebrate another writer's win and avoid playing the comparison trap, I had to drop the critical story that was crowding out my thoughts. Only when I asked myself what I wanted to work on, what mattered most to me and how to best get the work out there did my path become clear.
Listen, then do the work.
My writing success comes when it comes—not on my timeline or I'd be well-off enough at present to compete in the home improvement game that only matters to me.
All I can do is show up for the muse in the meantime, tell important stories, and be ready when the time comes.
And when it's not my turn to shine, a more fulfilling reaction than comparing someone's path to mine is cheering them on for their win.
The fact that they got something I wanted has no bearing on my career.
They didn't take anything from me; publishing isn't a zero sum game. Allowing it to impact my mood or affect my creative choices is both silly and destructive.
It really doesn't matter whose book comes out first, or whose tree is taken down first.
As I'm posting this, a week after drafting it, my neighbors have moved on to their next home improvement project: a garden. But get this: When I asked about it, they said, "We've been really inspire watching your garden grow."