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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Thing That Can't Be Named

by Marilyn Hilton
During the last session of a writer’s conference a few years ago, one of the leaders asked the attendees what topics we’d like addressed the following year. One brave person piped up. “Jealously,” she said. There was an uncomfortable silence, and then a shifting of seats, a shuffling of feet, muffled coughs. And then nodding of heads.

She had spoken it—the thing we all feel but no one wants to name. Because naming it means admitting we feel it. And admitting we feel it makes us feel ugly and ashamed.

- She signed with my dream agent.

- He signed a three-book contract.

- She won the award I wanted to/deserved to win.

- They <fill in the blank>.

We may be smiling on the outside, but inside the green-eyed monster roars. “I should have gotten that agent/contract/award/five-star review/<fill in the blank>.” “S/he’s not that awesome a writer—I saw a typo on page 11.” So begins the spiral downward. And if we give in to our jealousy, it will destroy our relationships, our spirits, and our careers.

 (Deep breath.) 
My name is Marilyn and once in a while I get jealous. Okay, I admit it. And it makes me feel like the lowest creature on the planet, unworthy and undeserving of the company of other human beings. So, to restore myself to humanity, I’ve figured out a few strategies for controlling the thing that can’t be named:

1. Recognize that jealousy says more about how I view myself than how I view others. I ask what about me and my expectations are causing the feelings, and then try to address those issues.

2. Know that I can feel truly, genuinely happy for another person’s success and neon-green envious at the same time; both can occupy my heart simultaneously.

3. Let myself feel bad for a certain amount of time—one hour, one day—and then the monster no longer gets fed.

4. Write down how I feel specifically—and then delete, burn, or tear it up.

5. Seek out the person I’m envious toward and congratulate him or her genuinely. After all, wouldn’t I want the same in return?

6. Use the other person’s accomplishments to motivate me to work harder—whether that means writing more pages or spending more time each day to write; reading more each day to study the craft; polishing a manuscript one more time until it shines; committing to attending writers’ gatherings more often and stepping out of my shyness to meet more people.

I once watched a TV show in which an opera student sang the aria “O mio babbino caro” (an aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi). She sounded…okay. Then a professional singer sang the same aria, and the difference was astounding. The student then sang the aria again. This time her performance had improved at least 50 percent over the first time, because she had a higher standard to reach for.

7. Write a list of my accomplishments—no matter how small—and keep them in sight.

8. Give myself love. Opportunities to celebrate come few and far between, so let’s take them when we can.

9. Give love freely to others. No one but the artist knows the struggle and heartbreak behind the contract signing, the manuscript writing, the award winning, the publicity. Everyone needs a high-five, a hug, and encouraging words. Every single one.

10. Keep in mind that my gifts are different from everyone else’s, and it’s up to me to use those gifts responsibly and to the fullest. Recognize that although we’re all on the same journey, each one of us has been set on a different path.
How do you cope with jealousy? (Feel free to post your comments anonymously!)


22 comments:

  1. Thank you, Marilyn, for addressing this topic and doing it so very eloquently. Jealousy happens or at least envy does I would imagine to most authors. And you feel like that lonely kid on the playground that no one wants to play with, know what I mean? I love #6! Thanks for giving so much good advice.

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    1. Thank you, Linda. It's hard thing to admit even to yourself.

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  2. Ha! #2 . . . I think we've all been there. #10 for me. Celebrate the success of others and keep plugging away at your dreams! Great post Marilyn.

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  3. I'm often reminded, when I get down on myself (which is a flip side of jealousy - not yet achieving what we imagine for ourselves), that my career is the object of envy for other people too. There is always someone to admire what you've achieved and someone else, whose achievements we can envy. Thanks for bringing it up Marilyn. There is no way to navigate kidlit, where so much depends on others' judgement of our very personal work, without feeling envious, jealous, sad, our discouraged at some point. I like #3. Get over it.

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    1. Thank you, Suzy. I'll always remember your watermelon story, a beautiful lesson about following one's own path.

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  4. This topic came up in conversation just this past weekend at RWA. So timely. #2 is absolutely true. Both feelings can exist at once. Both are real. But it's which feelings you act on, don't you think? I know I've felt jealously, and I know I've felt the sting of other's jealousy at times. But REAL friends who are genuinely happy for the successes of someone in their life will find that it comes full circle when it's time to celebrate their own success. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Absolutely, Tracy. We can't deny having the feelings, but we can control what we act on. Thank you!

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  5. A wise and wonderful post, Marilyn! I needed it this month. :) And most.

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  6. Number 6. I love that. A lot of great things have happened lately amongst my writer friends and seeing them succeed after months/years of hard work is a good reminder to keep going. Number 8 is something I need to do. Great post.

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    1. Thanks, Rena! Keep going and keep those rewards coming--your perseverance will pay off.

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  7. Your list of coping strategies pretty much covers everything I do, actually. It's a constant effort, because there's ALWAYS something and someone to feel envious of, but it's always been worth the effort. If we don't make the effort, we'll miss out on all the fun and meaningful things about the journey, and even the smallest of those things is worth experiencing and savoring.

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    1. Absolutely, Mike! And I wouldn't trade this journey for anything :)

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  8. Oh, so so glad to hear that I am not the only HORRIBLE person on the planet! :)

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  9. So true and well stated. Thanks for the honesty.

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