Okay, maybe it’s just me, but every time I attend a yoga class I come away wanting to be the yoga teacher. I don’t mean I want to teach yoga, because I don’t. I’m not entirely sure I even like yoga. It’s a bit like broccoli. You make yourself like yoga because you know it’s good for you, even if you’d prefer to stay in savasana for the entire class, thank you very much.
But this is not about yoga. It’s about envy.
I want to be the yoga teacher because she has this calm, you can rely on me even in a traffic accident, voice, and she takes way better care of her feet than I do. Her yoga clothes are nicer than my ratty t-shirt and Superstore-on-sale yoga pants. She remembered to shave her legs. I can tell at a glance that her whole life is working better than mine.
As jealousies go, it’s pretty harmless. I’ve already accepted that I’ll never be that person, even if I start shopping at lululemon.
But when it comes to writing, the envy of other more successful writers is a dangerous practice. I cringe when magazine articles come out about some super-writer who’s had more success by age 25 than I may ever have in my lifetime. I want to find him and run him over with my car. In moments like that, I have to take myself by the shoulders, sit myself down, and have The Chat.
The Chat goes something like this.
- You are on your own journey.
- There is no virtue in comparing yourself to other writers. The only person you should compare yourself to is yourself.
- Writing looks like a competition, but it’s not. It’s a community.
- There is enough success to go around.
Sometimes I have to use the kindergarten voice on myself for The Chat, although it has gotten better over time.
So what? you might be saying. Everyone struggles with jealousy at some point – or almost everyone. Maybe the yoga teachers don’t. But whatever, it’s no big deal.
The thing is, I think it is a big deal. Being jealous makes you feel like the spiritual equivalent of unbrushed teeth. It’s an emotion that closes a person off. Jealousy makes me want to hoard things.
Whenever I compare myself to Margaret Atwood or Stephen King and say, “Hey, how come I’m not like them?” suddenly a good day turns crappy. I start hating everything I write. I burn my son’s grilled cheese sandwiches and refuse to smile at dogs. And life is too short not to smile at dogs.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 captures it beautifully:
“Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;”
(Damn, I wish I’d written that.)
I’m not a yoga teacher. I’m never going to be a yoga teacher.
I’m also not Margaret Atwood.
Sometimes, I admit, that sucks. But in my mature moments (there are more of those lately), I can remember that being Margaret Atwood is not the point. I don’t want to be ‘that writer who’s always trying to copy Atwood.’
I love being part of a community of writers. I love the diversity of our voices and the fact that we each have something particular that we do well. I love that we cheer each other on, and help each other wherever and whenever we can. It’s so much kinder than competing.
Turns out, there’s enough room on the shelf for all of us.