A few years ago, I was a finalist in a pre-published writing contest, and the organization was going to announce winners at a snazzy luncheon in Houston. My sister-in-law — who has been a close friend since high school and is kind of a general-purpose goddess — lived there, so I dragged her along. She’s a writer, a good one — because she does everything well — but it’s a side-project for her, more of a hobby.
As it turned out, I won that contest and got a nifty prize and some flowers, and people took my photo. It was pretty cool. After the announcement, my sister-in-law leaned over and said, admiringly but also sincerely, “I’m so jealous.”
Excuse me, what? Why?
Even then, I couldn’t credit it. And it’s always possible that she said it just to make me feel important because she loves me and knows I’m needy for validation of any sort. But also, she was saying this to me? Like, the woman who recently became vice president of a huge national corporation actually said those words to me? In what made-up reality could that even be possible? Good as it felt, that contest win ultimately had no impact on my extremely meh writing career. If successes were counted between the two of us, I wouldn’t even be on the same chart with her.
But she saw value in this thing, this contest win, enough to inspire jealousy. For a brief moment in the universe, I had something someone else wanted.
I still think about that moment, her murmured words. It was a high point for me, and I’m grateful.
Which is why, every time a close friend surpasses me in this writing biz — and it happens a lot; I am surrounded by amazingly talented people — I try to let them know how impressive I find them. I remind them that they are where they are legitimately, that they are not imposters, that what they have achieved is valuable. Writers sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to talk down their successes, but I spend just as much energy reminding them that they are still successes.
Their successes are things that they have that I want, not to take those successes away from someone else, but to also, someday, share them.
Jealousy is a negative word, but in practice, it doesn’t need to be mean-spirited. It’s simply reminding someone that what they have achieved is valuable, and more personally, valuable to me. Whether I’m the jealousee or the jealouser, the emotion makes me want to strive harder, and I think that’s a good thing.