The Green Eyed Monster

“How rare, men with the character to praise a friend’s success without a trace of envy.”
-Aeschylus

Last week when I was reading my daily Publishers Marketplace update, I saw that a friend of mine, an agent, had just completed a really great deal. I simultaneously felt a few different things… amazement, happy for my friend, happy for the author… and yes, a touch of envy. Why couldn’t that have been me?

Do you know what I mean?

The writing/pubishing business is difficult in many ways, and one of them is that we are challenged when we see others around us experiencing exactly the same success we want for ourselves. In our hearts we truly celebrate with them. But how often can we say there is not a trace of envy in that? I think it comes with a level of spiritual maturity that takes a long time to develop. I know I’ve improved by leaps and bounds over the years, but I’m not “there” yet.

In publishing, thousands of writers struggle daily… and everyday, there are more stories of writers reaching milestones. They got an agent. They got their first publishing contract. Their book hit the bestseller list.

If you’re one of the struggling writers, the success of others can be difficult to deal with, can’t it?

I have friends who’ve published numerous books and are considered quite successful in the business. Yet, there is always someone who is more successful. Someone selling more copies. Someone getting better reviews. Even those who’ve achieved remarkable success can be tempted to look at others and wish for more.

How do we avoid being bitten by the jealousy bug? For me, it seems to hinge on a few things. First, being grateful for where I am, for the unique path God has given me. I have to focus on gratitude for my own gifts and for the opportunities God gives me to cultivate them. Second, trusting I’m where I’m supposed to be, regardless of where anyone else is. Third, in every area of life, I have to remember that if I begin to compare, I’ll always find a way to come out a loser. It’s easy to find someone smarter, prettier, kinder, skinnier, more generous, more godly and more successful than me. Oh yeah, taller too. So it doesn’t make sense to compare. My path is my path, my life is my life, and it doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else’s.

Gratitude is key. But of course, all that is easy to discuss intellectually, harder to make a reality in life. I think it’s one of those things God works out in us over time, as we spend time with Him, focusing on Him and letting Him refine us.

Do you have a story about envy? What things tend to bring up the envy in you? How have you dealt with it?

“Our envy of others devours us most of all.”
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

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  • Anne L.B.

    >“Wealth consists not in the abundance of our possessions but in the fewness of our wants.” — Unknown

    You nailed this one, Rachelle. It’s almost eerie, but those are the same three reasons I constantly give my kids whenever they complain “not fair.”

    When I remind them that someone else will always be better off, and someone else worse off, they ask what about the person at the bottom (or top). The answer is no one. If there is such a person, they aren’t at the bottom or top in every area of life.

  • mewriter

    >Yes. Earlier today I wrote an email of congratulations to a friend/former colleague who was selected in a writing competition that I also entered. My partner is also a writer and was selected twice this year for residencies that I applied for. Luckily I was selected in one competition this year as it might have started to get me down.

  • Joe Iriarte

    >You know, your point is well taken, but I’ve sometimes found that a little bit of jealousy has motivated me to accomplish more than I would have otherwise–shaken me out of my complacency, or made me feel that if so-and-so could achieve something, then I could achieve more than I was.

    I reckon if I were a better person, I wouldn’t need the successes of others to spur me on. But, for better or for worse, I can trace some accomplishments I’m proud of back to mild jealousy.

  • Gwen Stewart

    >Rachelle, fantastic post. It takes courage to share your less-than-perfect self for Christ’s glory (my fave Bible verse 2 Cor. 12:9).

    Envy on my part? Yes, sometimes. Insecurity? Almost always. The double fun is when the envy comes wrapped in a nice little package of insecurity, so I not only feel the green-eyed monster but begin to doubt God’s journey for me, throwing ashes and soot on what He has done in my life and in my writing.

    Shame, shame. Prayer is powerful though, changing me, making me bigger at least in presence for God if not in actual physical size (don’t I wish). God’s Word and prayer refine. The journey takes time, patience and practice. There’s no end point. I try to remember to praise God for every step; to look back in gratitude for how far I’ve come as I press toward the mark of full maturity…if there is such a mark on this side of heaven.

    Thanks again, Rachelle.

  • Karen

    >I belong to a Barnabas group of six writers–all women. We have had the problem in the past of having one or two of us suddenly begin to land book contracts or writing assignments when the rest of us were getting rejected.

    We found acknowledging the envy and meeting it head on by sharing it with the group was helpful. Once vented, it was easier to deal with.

    It’s really helped in our cooperative effort of putting out a Christmas book. Some of us are better marketers as well and get more attention. But the original intent of our group was to encourage one another and so we set aside the envy to cheer another on and when the envy gets vented we encourage the envier to greater things.

  • Anonymous

    >You were a God-send this morning…thank-you.

  • Anonymous

    >This is right on! A good friend of mine just got published. He signed his deal about a month ago. I was both unbelievably happy for him, and unbelievably envious. I’ve gotten better, and I really am so happy for him. Thanks for sharing.

  • Yvonne

    >Yes, this is a tender spot for all of us, I’m sure. We don’t want to be jealous of our peers. We want to be happy for them. Yet, the ugly thoughts jump in there when we least expect them.

    I pick up new-releases at a bookstore, in the same genres as mine. I find myself saying, “How can this book be published? My writing is much better than this. Why isn’t mine being published?”

    I need to tell myself that it isn’t God’s time for mine to be published. I need to rest in His will for my life.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for being honest, to show that you understand what we feel.

  • Katy McKenna

    >Like Gwen, my bigger issue when someone else gets the ginormous box under the tree is insecurity. “How come Mom always loved her best?” ;)

    I also have several people in my life who, whenever something great happens to me, say, “I am so jealous of you!”

    Having a dear friend express jealousy nearly makes me recoil from the award/accomplishment/success. It is painful, I think, to know that another is jealous of you. I try with God’s grace not to express jealousy toward another, though I might feel it.

    I think it’s a lovely discipline to send notes of congratulations far and wide, perhaps especially in the absence of those feelings! It gets easier the more I do it—-though I’m still battling that silly insecurity.

  • Catherine West

    >Well, having just come out of one of the tougher weeks of my writing journey, I can relate. When you are asking why not me, the worst thing is to get platitudes in response. I think it’s okay to ask why not me, but there is a line that as Christians, we shouldn’t cross, and that is really, really hard. When I get to the end of my rope I have learned to call out for help. I cry out to God and yes, ask why not me, why am I busting my butt over this, am I really doing what you want me to do…or did I get on the wrong train? It is very difficult to celebrate another person’s victories when you’re getting slammed with rejections. I had two friends get contracts last week. I am happy for them because I do know how much it means to them and how hard they have worked, but yeah…you know?
    It’s a tough one. I am just trying to keep talking to God and making sure I’m on the right path. It is definitley not an easy one.

  • Katy McKenna

    >I share Cath’s response (to the successes of others), and I think it’s an important one. Am I really where God wants me to be? Or have I gotten off track? It’s like the old guy on the TV ad, whose sitting on his front porch, sipping iced tea. After a lifetime of drinking a sub-par beverage, someone has introduced him to the one he should have/could have been drinking the entire time. His line is, “Kind of makes you rethink your whole life.”

  • Katy McKenna

    >Should read “who’s sitting.”

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Now I am ragingly jealous of those who are capable of editing the grammar in their posts properly before posting. :-)

    Anne, I so agree with your point about success in different areas. Envy often stems from thinking that someone has what you want, but there’s not a person alive who doesn’t have some lack, some loss, some tragedy in her life to balance her achievements. Do I really want to give up what I have to take on that person’s success, if that would also mean taking on her suffering? Do I want to take the place of that woman who has seven published books if it also means that I have to suffer her permanent infertility–or that my daughter loses her faith– or that tomorrow I’ll be permanently disabled in a car accident?
    I can understand and sympathize with disappointment, but envy makes me mad. To me, it shows a real absence of understanding and sympathy for the person one is envying. It makes me angry to see envy in myself too, which helps me get over it. I like the statement: “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.” If we truly believe that, and we truly love others, then we can be truly glad when God blesses them in the midst of their trials. If I’m feeling sorry for myself and jealous, another remedy is go help someone who *really* has something to complain about – through a mission, prison or homeless ministry.

  • Anonymous

    >I’ve seen very close friendships strained by this exact thing … uneven success in publishing. I have to say, though, I personally have worse dragons to slay than envy. My approach is this: no matter how great the success of others, I know that it could never be mine. Writing, like all art, is so personal, so … unique to that artist. I could NEVER produce THE ROAD, no matter how much I loved it. So it is very hard for me to be envious of McCarthy’s success, seeing as how it’s like comparing apples to oranges. He’s an apple. I’m an orange. My job is merely to be the best orange I can be, so in this sense, my “competition” is with myself, not with anybody else. And lastly, there’s always, always, always room at the top. If I someday (finally) produce orange juice, there will be plenty of people out there who discover a taste for it …

    LurkerMonkey

  • Timothy Fish

    >Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself. – Philippians 2:3

    When our pastor preaches on this, he likes to tell the congregation to turn to the person beside them and say, “I love you and you’re better than I am.” Envy is natural, but it is a symptom of not having the humble attitude we ought to have. If we really took this verse to heart, we wouldn’t just be happy for the other person, we would be more thrilled to learn of the other person’s success than we would have been if it had been our own success. It is easy to talk about an attitude change, but hard to force. The only way I know of to reach a point that we are truly more thrilled about other people’s success than our own is when we have invested ourselves in that success. What mother isn’t proud of her child’s success? I would imagine that when Paul was sitting in prison and heard reports from Titus and Timothy about how their churches were growing, he was more thrilled than if he had been the one with success, though I’m sure he would have wanted to be out preaching.

  • Jeanie W

    >You seem to have a healthy approach, even if you’re not “there” yet. When I hear that members of my crit group are accepted for publication, I’m not “there” either. But I work hard at keeping the envy to myself for as long as it lasts and, like Joe Iriarte (see above), turn my outward energy to improving my own work. Then I find I can adopt a genuine feeling of gratitude for my friends’ successes – not only for their good but also because they’ve just raised the bar for all of us.

  • Kristie

    >Lots of wisdom here, Rachelle. I cling to the saying that there are only two possibilities when we start comparing ourselves to others. We either feel superior or inferior, and obviously as followers of Christ we don’t want to engender either of these. The only comparison we should make is with Christ himself, and then we can approach life with humility and with gratitude that He first loved us. Thanks for your faithfulness in blogging. It is always a great read.

  • Tami Boesiger

    >Hmmm…even big shot agents struggle with this. Maybe I’m not such a loser!

    I have to remember that if I begin to compare, I’ll always find a way to come out a loser.

    This is a great point I will remember. Thanks for being honest and real with us, Rachelle. You make us all feel better.

  • Susan J. Reinhardt

    >Hi Rachelle -

    I’ve given you the, “I Love Your Blog Award,” and posted a link to your blog.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

    Blessings,
    Susan J. Reinhardt

  • Kim Kasch

    >Funny, my blog post today is about being waaaay to competitive – sometimes I am – oh, to be honest, I always am. Maybe that’s why my kids play competitive sports – I’m living vicariously through them.

    Anyway, when it comes to writing though, I soooo love to hear about the successes – because they seem to be so few and far between. But we can’t help but wish . . . hey maybe tomorrow that will be me ;-)

    Or next week… or next year…

  • Pam Halter

    >I agree with Timothy ~ if we invest ourselves in others, we’ll be thrilled in their successes. That happened to me recently with my writing partner and best pal. She FINALLY got that contract for her novel. I was so excited, it was like it happened to me.

    It’s not always that way, though. I still have to fight feeling envy when someone sells a story I feel is not quite as good as mine. It’s terrible to be that way! I pray for God to have mercy on me.

    I think another way to keep from feeling jealous is to praise God in all situations. When we focus on Him, it takes the sting out of our bad feelings.

  • lynnrush

    >Thank you for this post, Rachelle. Spot On.

  • Anonymous

    >There is one woman in my church with an awesome writing/teaching ministry, and I was slightly envious of her for some time. Then, God prompted me to start praying fervently for her ministry, with the same passion I pray for my own, and it changed my whole outlook. Now, when I see her godly success, I know he’s answered my prayers as well. It’s harder to be envious of someone when you’re praying for them all the time!

  • Karen Witemeyer

    >”In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

    I love this verse, and it helps me battle both envy and insecurity. The first time I read it, I thought it meant that the gold vessels were noble and the poor wooden ones were not. However, I believe now that gold or wooden, both can be useful in the Master’s hand as long as they are cleansed from those ignoble blemishes like envy and insecurity.

    This world of publishing is a large house, and some authors shine in their golden bestseller status, while others experience more modest success. Yet both are useful to the Master and glorify him. Therefore, no matter the success I achieve as measured by the world’s standards of money and books sold, as long as I am a vessel in the Master’s hand, I am made holy and useful.

    And as a pre-published author, I may still be on the potter’s wheel being formed, but I can trust the Master to shape my words into a vessel that can best serve him, even though I cannot see the outcome. Who knows, there may be some gold leaf in my future. But even if there is not, I will be content in the palm of my Master’s hand and celebrate each time a new vessel is added to his collection.

    And if you happen to notice a blotch of envy tarnishing my surface, please point it out in love and help me wipe it clean. Those spots in the back can be hard to see. (Smile)

  • Randy Mortenson

    >Are you talking about the “good deal” to Don Pape at David Cook? Yah, I get Publisher’s Lunch, and I saw that and my eyes grew big. (A “good deal” means six figures.)

    Show me a writer (agent, editor) who doesn’t experience at least a tinge of envy now and then, and I’ll show you someone who’s either producing very bland work, or no work at all.

    I like what Joe said. I have a built-in converter that takes envy–and other negative-type reactions–and transmogrifies it into motivation to do better work. Sometimes the converter is slow or broken down, but eventually it kicks in. :-)

  • Kerry

    >”If you’re one of the struggling writers, the success of others can be difficult to deal with, can’t it?”

    it actually depends on how much that person annoyed me *before* their success… if they were on my bug list b.s. (before success) I can be quite snarky indeed. No one who bugs me deserves success, right? ;-)

  • Yvonne

    >Excellent advice…to pray for that perosn. I’ll have to remember it.

    “It’s hard to be jealous of someone you are praying for.”

    Thanks

  • Robbie Iobst

    >It helps to laugh. Last week when I didn’t make your top 9 in your show not tell contest, envy struck when a good friend of mine did make the final cut. I voiced my jealous disappointment to my husband.

    His response:

    “Robbie, can’t you just be satisfied with being #10? You know every year when People Magazine lists their 50 Sexiest Men I have to deal with being #51.”

    The laughter mollified the sting.

  • Avily Jerome

    >Like many of you, I have to deal with that twinge of envy when I see others reach a goal that I haven’t.

    And then I’ll talk to someone who hasn’t reached the goals I have, and they feel inferior.

    It helps put things into perspective when I realize that we are all at a different place on the road. It makes it easier to swallow the bitter pill of disappointment to know that I can still get there.

    And, I have learned to use that twinge of envy to motivate me to keep on.

    Thank you, Rachelle, for your words of wisdom and encouragement!

  • Kristi Holl

    >Over the years, one of the best ways I found to deal with jealousy of other successful writers was to try to learn from them. I would congratulate them, yes, but also ask how they were able to achieve their success. You can learn a lot of useful stuff this way! I often found that they were simply working harder than I was (more hours, more pages per day, etc.)
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

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