Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Jonathan Maas.
He has been a creative type his whole life, from stints as both a musician and a standup comedian to his current profession as novelist, and he has wrestled with professional envy the whole time.
GUEST POST: Five Steps a Creative Person Can Take to Overcome ‘Professional Envy’ by Jonathan Maas
There are quite a few benefits to being a creative person. You get to have a passion in life, be it making documentaries, composing music, illustrating covers or writing books for the readers of Risingshadow, and you get to hold on to that passion no matter what life throws at you.
Though money (or lack thereof) is often the bane of a creative person’s existence, it’s not necessarily required for our kind to flourish. Tell the average street musician that “her latest song was illegally downloaded a million times” and she’ll most likely be thrilled to hear that, even if she didn’t earn a dime.
But if creative types have a weakness, it may be professional envy: having a difficult time tolerating instances when their peers succeed.
Tell a struggling rock musician that his opening act just scored a record contract, he’ll most likely resent them. Inform a comedian that his friend just booked a major television standup gig and he may smile, but he may also think why not me instead while he’s doing so.
Whatever the case, envy isn’t a particularly useful emotion, and more often than not it only serves to hold us creative types back. It makes us miserable, alienates us from friends and perhaps most self-destructively, it hinders our productivity.
So how does one overcome professional envy? Here are five steps, and whether you’re an author, illustrator, or just a fan of the creative people who fill the Risingshadow database, read on and it may help you get out of a jealous rut.
To overcome professional envy, you must first realize that the world is not a zero-sum game (though it often seems like it is)
It’s true that there’s typically very little room at the top for creative people. Talent shows have one victor, only a handful of artwork goes viral each year, and extremely few of us find a way to make a living off our craft. But that doesn’t mean it’s a zero-sum game, where another’s gain necessarily means your loss.
The world seems like it has a zero-sum tolerance for artists, because it can only appreciate a small amount of art at one time.
But one must realize that though the world’s daily appetite for creative work is limited, the world’s hunger for new content is also never satiated and in fact, it grows every day.
So though the world might not appreciate your work at the moment, it will need content tomorrow, and it may choose you. It will consume your rival’s work today and celebrate every last bit of it, but the next day the world is going to look for something else.
Want proof of this? Look at Risingshadow’s database and you’ll see that there isn’t a limit to how many authors and cover artists the world desires. There are users on Risingshadow and Goodreads who have consumed well over 500 books!
They’re not just looking for your peers’ work. They may be looking for your peers’ work first, but will get to your content right as soon as they’re done.
To overcome professional envy, you must realize that a rival’s success can actually help you in the long run
Creative work isn’t like politics, where your competition can leave you jobless and the absence of a rival is a quite fortuitous thing.
In the creative world, another’s content serves to whet the appetite of consumers, and leaves them wanting more. This can only help you in the long run. For example let’s say you’re an artist and your peer’s drawing gets a million views on DeviantArt, even though your work is clearly better than your (now viral and internet-famous) peer’s.
That doesn’t mean DeviantArt is going to delete your painting from their database, it only means there’s going to be a million eyes who will want to see something else next. Perhaps they’ll all look at your drawing, perhaps only three of them will, but that means there will be three viewers who wouldn’t have seen your work if not for your rival’s success. In either case, your painting wasn’t destroyed by your rival’s success, and in fact was assisted by it.
To overcome professional envy, you must recognize how unenvious you are with peers in unrelated creative fields
The authors and artists that fill the pages of Risingshadow may occasionally lapse into envy of one another, but you’re never going to hear of a Risingshadow SciFi author resenting a musician’s success, or one of Risingshadow’s fantasy artists begrudging a stage actor for winning a role.
Why? It’s because the state of non-competition across creative fields lifts the cloud off the aforementioned zero-sum illusion, and it allows the writer and artist to both see the underlying truth that more art is always better.
The average Risingshadow writer might listen to twenty different musicians per day, and the fantasy artist may see a movie with a hundred actors. It’s obvious to both of them that their worlds wouldn’t have been better if one musician had outcompeted the other nineteen, and rarely does anyone want to see a movie with only one actor (with the exception being Robert Redford’s All is Lost of course).
So if you’re writing a book or drawing a book cover, don’t let the desire to outcompete your fellow artist consume you. Focus instead on making the best thing you can, something that’s worthy enough to end up in the reader’s queue.
And if you can’t do that, pretend your rivals are all musicians for the evening. It’s an abstract mode of thought, but it’ll make it easier.
Go by the mantra Make Another One
This one’s easy. Just follow these three words, and good things will happen.
Lost out on a role? Audition for another one. Another writer is becoming the voice of her generation, and you’re not? Write another book. Can’t get the web traffic to match the rival webcomic? Make another twenty strips, and see what happens.
Regardless of your creative endeavor, if you fall back on the mantra of making another one, it’ll take the sting out of any negative thoughts and give you one more thing to show the world, one more thing that may very well be the best thing you’ve ever made.
Turn your envy into healthy competition – and use it as a tool to drive you
Jealousy is a base genetic drive, and like most all of our base genetic drives, it can be sublimated into something positive.
Witness the rivalry between the Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, shown in the great movie Rush. It’s the pitch perfect example of two competitors locked in a (seemingly) zero sum game where they keep fighting each other, and keep bringing their best race after race until ... James Hunt won a world championship and Niki Lauda won three.
What binds these competitors? The fact that everyone in the list above is a winner. No one ‘lost’ those rivalries, because both sides faced it with a healthy attitude of simply being the best they can be.
So next time a peer succeeds, use that as motivation to ‘beat them’ the next time. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll make something happen, and that habit will eventually leave you as a winner.
So there it is, whether you’re a musician, writer, artist, dancer, photographer, or just a RisingShadow reader, realize that the base emotion of envy isn’t one that is necessary for whatever it is you want to accomplish, and in fact can quite often hinder you on the path to your goals.
At the very least think of every great artist you enjoy, and realize that though they surely succumbed to envy at times, it never served to define them.
Why? Because they chose not to dwell on the past and instead chose to make something and move forward. At the end of the day, that choice is all that matters, and it’s a choice that will serve you well in whatever it is you want to accomplish.