How do I get over my irrational jealousy?
November 18, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over my jealousy of people around me doing the same things as me? My rational mind would very much like to collaborate with these people, but I find myself feeling bitter about their skill instead.

I really love photography, I take photos myself and I spend a lot of time surfing the web and enjoying photos by awesome independent photographers. However, if I meet someone and then find out that they take awesome photos, I usually find myself bitter and jealous more than encouraged and proud. I guess it's some sort of jealousy, but I'd much rather just appreciate their work.

I'm sure this could apply to a lot of fields, how do scientists working together deal with one person getting published more often? How do teammates on a sports team deal with one player who is really world-class?

I'd like to get over my bitterness/jealousy and work with these people and compliment them on their work, any tips?
posted by ejfox to Human Relations (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to separate your feelings from your reactions. Learn to live "C'est la vie". It just takes practice but filtering feelings is a useful skill for everyday life.
posted by JJ86 at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

When you're on a sports team with a world-class player, there is (usually) a little bit of jealousy involved, so don't feel like a complete jerk having those feelings. It's good you are acknowledging them and trying to move on. So the ways I've dealt when on a team with great players:
- learn from them by copying skills they can do
- learn from them by copying their attitude and work ethic
- realize that they are just people, normal people. Excelling in something does not give me free reign to hate on them. (If they are arrogant, cocky jerks, that's a different story, of course)

I'd say that for your particular problem, you need to try to wrap your mind around the fact that you are not the #1 photographer in the world, so every photographer you meet has the potential to teach you something you didn't know or show you how to see something you didn't see before. You don't necessarily need to learn how to feel "proud" of them, but stop being jealous. They can help you and you can help them.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2010

Comparing your work to the work of other people is useless - try and compare your work with your past work. Photography is all about personal vision, and you should cultivate your own. The more confident you are with your own vision (and this does take time and experience) the more comfortable you are with appreciating the work of other people. Insecurity is unhealthy.

Also - the other thing to remember is that you know what you shoot yourself - tons and tons of pictures. But what you see of other people's work is a highly condensed, highly edited selection that is only the best of what that person has shot. And you're seeing an edit of someone who could be another generation in front of you. Essentially, you're comparing your worst work with their best, and your worst insecurities with their best experience. It is not a fair comparison to make.

Stick to focusing on your own work. Confidence isn't something that comes overnight, but with time you'll get there and eventually realize that 'other people's work' is really not that important in dictating how you should live your life.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

I put myself in a position to learn from other people skilled in my area of expertise.

For example, I write young adult fiction. If I'm reading someone's blog who writes well and who seems skilled and is on the same level as me in terms of professional success (for me, unpublished, still, but working hard to get there), I might get in touch with them and ask to trade manuscripts for critiquing. Creating a professional and personal interaction humanizes the person--I can recognize their skills and their weaknesses, improve my own weaknesses, and, plus, it's really difficult to hate someone who you know fairly well personally.

Still, some jealousies come up. But I've found that other artists understand that. I deal by being open about my feelings of insecurity. I'll tell the person that I feel way jealous and need some time to cool off. Because I don't know a single writer or artist who doesn't sometimes feel that way, they're always understanding--more, they recognize the compliment inherent in jealousy, and are sometimes, in fact, quite flattered.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is always possible to take a wider viewpoint than your personal career. Scientists, for example, all have the same ultimate objective, which is to increase human understanding of the universe in which we live. All scientific discovery is therefore a good thing for all scientists, regardless of which specific scientist made the discovery. Of course, selfish motivations also exist. There is only so much grant money available, and if other people are doing more fruitful research than you are, you may have trouble getting a grant. Similarly with photography. Photographers are interested in various forms of beauty or meaning which can be captured photographically; all good photographs are of value to all photographers, no matter who took them. You can look at a great photograph and derive both esthetic pleasure, and perhaps added insight into photography or the subject of the photography. But then, it is also true that successful photographers get to sell their work and make a living, so in that sense it matters tremendously, who specifically took the photograph. Similarly with team sports, everyone on the team benefits if the team wins, but those who do the most to help the team win are in a position to benefit more, as star players.

You are free to take either of these viewpoints, the broad or the narrow, and to switch between the two. That is a matter of conscious choice. If you find yourself tending overly toward the selfish viewpoint, think about how you do benefit from the accomplishments of others. Society is a collaborative effort, after all.
posted by grizzled at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Comparing your work to the work of other people is useless - try and compare your work with your past work.

Oh, and I disagree. I've learned so much about my own writing--what I do well, and what I do poorly--but comparing it to the writing of others. I've also learned ways of improving it. Sometimes you need to see what other people are doing right in order to figure out what you're doing wrong.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

How do teammates on a sports team deal with one player who is really world-class?

You recognize that "Give the ball to Mike" is not a fair gameplan -- for him or for the rest of the team.
posted by clorox at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Congratulations on recognizing this as a problem. You do realize that this is the default attitude for a huge number of people, and they go through life acting on these feelings without ever fully realizing that they have them or that it's a problem?

I would suggest acknowledging the feelings, remembering that acting on the feelings will diminish you and others, and taking inspiration from those aspects of others' work which you admire (or, in other words, which make you jealous). Take the negativity and flip it into a win-win attitude.
posted by tel3path at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think that you're dealing with a key ingredient in career satisfaction (and happiness with life in general). No matter who you are or what you do, there are always going to be people who are more accomplished and successful than you are, at least by some measures. Learning to deal with this will help you so much throughout your life, you have no idea. I work in a field that is notoriously rife with petty jealousy and competition. When I look at my colleagues, how they handle these types of feelings makes such a difference in how happy they are.

Some ideas that have helped me with this:

Realize that life is not a zero-sum game. Someone else taking beautiful photos doesn't diminish your ability to take beautiful photos - in fact, it benefits you because you can learn from them (as coupdefoudre said) and because their photos add more beauty to the world and enhance your life. More great photos around in the world makes photography more visible to the public in general, which means that there will be a larger audience to appreciate your photos - which art form does the general public care more about, photography or glassblowing? Remind yourself of this as much as possible.

Think about how to address your own insecurities. This type of jealousy really comes from insecurity: you're not the best photographer in the world, so you must be worthless. But guess what? Even if you were The Best Photographer In The World, you would still feel worthless, because this is about insecurity. Maybe read some articles about how actors keep going in the face of constant audition rejection. Maybe keep a diary of what you've done and what you're proud of, and look back on it to help yourself realize that you are making important contributions.

Reframe your perspective from achievement/status to learning/evolving. If you are only happy if you are the best, you'll always be miserable. If your goal instead is to constantly learn, evolve, and improve, you'll have many more opportunities to be happy because every situation allows learning.
posted by medusa at 12:19 PM on November 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

I think it comes down to realizing that they're not going to immediately judge you as unworthy. Even if they are legitimately "better than you", it doesn't mean they will look down on you. If you admire their skill, they will probably admire your enthusiasm. And anyone that has gotten good at any skill remembers what it was like to be starting out. Also- we are always our own worst critic. Don't immediately think that someone else is so much better than you are. You might be surprised to learn that they would be impressed with your work as well!
posted by Eicats at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2010

I am a writer and I've had to deal with my jealousy, especially when it comes to the work of my peers. Here are things that help:

1. Reading Natalie Goldberg's work. Natalie Goldberg says to tell yourself "I am good and they are good". There is room for everyone's work and talent because everyone has something different to contribute. I write the essays and poetry only I can write. You take the photographs only you can take.

2. Reading the chapter on jealousy in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She talks about her own experience working through jealousy and learning to care for herself in the process. Jealousy is a wound, a place that makes you wince when you touch it, and trying to ignore it only makes it worse. She says that talking about it and writing and meditating on it have helped her, and those things have helped me too.

3. Talking to other writers about their process and work so I can learn from them. This sounds sanctimonious and counterintuitive, and maybe even totally crazy, but it works. Jealousy is a selfish emotion--it's about your needs, your inadequacies. It helps to focus completely on the other person, to step away from yourself. I've also learned a lot of things that have made me a better writer. (One of those things is that other writers also struggle with jealousy.)

I personally think it is insane to believe that everyone can collaborate nicely with everyone else in a rainbow land of perfect artistic harmony. People have feelings and you won't have creative chemistry with everyone. A little jealousy is fine, like a little bourbon in your coffee--it gets you through the day sometimes. And small doses of jealousy can spur you to work harder on your art. But a bottle of bourbon in the morning is bad, and a lot of jealousy turns into a bottomless wound.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 12:26 PM on November 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

How do teammates on a sports team deal with one player who is really world-class?

They say 'No problem, Lance, take my wheel/bike/water bottle."
posted by fixedgear at 12:29 PM on November 18, 2010

Tell yourself this: I can learn from them.
posted by TrinsicWS at 12:34 PM on November 18, 2010

This is something that playing organized rec sports helped me deal with - your teammate's superior skills do not make your contributions worthless. There's no shame in being a solid player who's not the go to guy - and, there are always situations where a play needs to be made, and the star simply isn't able to do it for whatever reason (not in the game currently, not involved in that particular play) - if you don't come through, it doesn't matter what he does.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2010

I'd like to...compliment them on their work, any tips?

Could you try seeking out their work online and just gritting your teeth to post a comment/send an e-mail like, "I think your work is great, especially [whatever]"? They either won't reply (which is their problem), or they'll thank you, perhaps share more about [whatever], and maybe even compliment something about your work. These exchanges really help build the sense of fellowship and shared humanity others are talking about, and if you write as reasonably as you have here, any jealousy you feel needn't show at all.
posted by teremala at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2010

Comparing is fine and all, but when it comes to jealousy my mantra is "colleagues, not competition." When you start to think of competitors as colleagues, the entire landscape shifts a bit, in my experience.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2010

Some good advice above. But also in regards to photography -- and almost any other art practice -- recognize that you've got to find your own voice. Even if you could take photos that looked almost exactly like those of your acquaintance Jane Blow, yours wouldn't be as good, because they'd be too derivative.

So instead, study her work and figure out what you like about it, and try to take a few small lessons from that to apply to your own photography. Maybe you like the way that Jane uses the same focal length on her lens all the time to give her work consistency, or that she always has something red in each shot. Maybe you like that she uses film and makes darkroom prints. Maybe she has a way of making portrait subjects feel relaxed. Maybe she has a well-organized website that presents her work in a great way. If you can use your appreciation of Jane's work to tweak your own work -- without directly aping her -- then maybe you can appreciate her as well, without feeling as jealous, and open up the door to a friendship.

(Of course, a *little* bit of jealousy can also be a motivator -- you might go into a gallery and see art that, to you, is underwhelming, and think: I could do better! That can get a little fire into you. But it's best to only think those thoughts about people you don't actually know.)
posted by lisa g at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2010

I allow myself to feel jealous for a while. Really feel the feeling: mad and annoyed etc. Then I realize that I'm feeling guilty and annoyed with *myself* for not doing great work like that. Then I consciously set that jealousy aside and look underneath it: what specifically about the other work do I like, makes it feel familiar like my own ideas, and what can I borrow (steal) from it, but do differently/better/in my style/in concert with my other ideas. Then I use my jealousy as motivation to get my ass in gear and do my own work.
posted by thefool at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's something to really put some thought into:

Photography is an art form. Art is subjective. Science, and especially sports, have an objective measurement.

It makes no sense to be twisted up about something that can't be objectively measured.

Now if you want to start focusing on something like how many times you've had a photo published or how many comments your photos garner... that's something else entirely.

At one point I used to get worked up because I took amazing photos and they got almost no comments or favs on flickr compared to people that I followed and liked. It might have been my abilities, but it also had a lot to do with the fact that these people were much more invested in interacting with other flickr users. When I started interacting more I got more notice and even had some work published. I have not been interacting at all for about two years now and interest has waned. I think that kind of stuff is more about your ability to market/put yourself out there than raw talent.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:31 PM on November 18, 2010

Figure out a way to turn that jealousy (no good) to competitiveness (all good).

Look at ANY information you can glean from them as ammunition against them. Get in that mindset, and you will want to hang out with them as much as possible, and will also benefit tremendously (professionally).

Also, keep your mouth shut about the above with them.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:34 PM on November 18, 2010

Actually, yes! Compete!

Much of what you're feeling will age away. (For some it doesn't, and they become twisted little monsters. Not you--you clearly know this is a trap.) One thing that really helps with this is validation in your field. Put yourself out there! Compete! Challenge yourself! It's really effective. And fail! That doesn't feel so bad either. You can't want what others have if you have everything you want yourself, and I can't believe I just said that cheesy thing, but it's true!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:26 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it because you perceive a ton of "competition" and that your hobby isn't as unique as you wish it were? Because the majority of people I know have photography as their serious "spending tons of money on special lenses and equipment" hobby.
posted by anniecat at 4:34 PM on November 18, 2010

Nurture your inner sycophant. If they're worth being jealous of, they're worth sucking up to. What can this guy do for you? What can she teach you? What can you do to be as awesome as them? If you were to compliment him on something, would it be creativity, style, technique, or luck? What's in the way of your doing what she did?

This is not to say you then have to follow through on this smarminess - I've found that sometimes the answer will be, "well, actually, I can see they're happy doing what they're doing, and they're really good at it, but that's not actually want I want for myself." I know I couldn't [play that piece as well as he and his buddies did], and I know that [his music is fantastic], but when I come right down to it, I [have way too much going on in my life to get involved in a musical collaboration], and besides there's no way I could [pull off that hipster musician act and not crack up laughing at myself].
posted by aimedwander at 8:25 AM on November 19, 2010

Tell them that you're jealous. Seriously!

It's win/win. It's a relief to you to get that off your chest (really!), and it's super flattering to the other person. And if they're worth knowing, they'll immediately recognize that you're serious about your craft and they'll be primed to be helpful when the moment presents itself.

Don't beat yourself up as you say it, just let any comparison be implicit. Just get it out there, saying it how just how you feel it.

Perhaps, "Oh, I'm so jealous! You make it look so natural/easy/whatever!"
posted by NortonDC at 1:27 PM on November 19, 2010

FlamingBore is right on about art vs science. I got my BA in an artistic field and I felt that jealousy ALL THE TIME. It really was hard to deal with. In fact, the artistic competitive pressure was so overwhelming to me that after I graduated I reconsidered and pursued education in a science field instead. maybe it's just because i'm doing something that's more 'right' for me now, but as a medical student I don't feel that insane competitive pressure anymore. you'd think i'd be more stressed now but honestly it's just not the case. there's just something unique about the pressure to CREATE rather than simply learning and regurgitating . . . its more personal, so any criticism feels more harsh. I always felt defensive when my art was being critiqued and compared to others. Now, if I get a lower grade than I wanted on a test, I just shrug it off and make a point to study harder next time. It is just so different.

I know that didn't exactly tell you how to solve your problem, but I wanted to just say its normal especially in the arts. And it's good that you are at least conscious of it- many aren't and they just turn into bitter passive aggressive jerks. You may not be able to control it completely but at least you aren't going to be a jerk and that puts you ahead already.
posted by lblair at 9:28 AM on November 20, 2010

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