What Is Your Jealousy Telling You?

by Abby on May 16, 2012

magazine coversIt had been a long day of kid-wrangling and housekeeping. And by “housekeeping” I mean trying to keep the house from being destroyed by a couple of running, wrestling, snacking, spilling boys/superheroes/pirates/ninjas.

The new issue of one of my favorite magazines had arrived in the mail, like a gift from the God of Overworked Moms. (Or do we have a patron saint?) I had just settled onto the couch with a big ol’ glass of wine to relax and read it. Then I saw her.

Right there, grinning from the contributors’ page in full color was another writer I know. Knew. I’d crossed paths with her enough to know that A) she was successful and ambitious, B) she wasn’t particularly nice, and C) she didn’t seem to care about B and it certainly didn’t hold her back from A.

In an instant, my mood turned from happy anticipation to resentment and envy. How had SHE gotten an article published in that magazine? What was so great about HER? And why wasn’t it ME?

I have read that you should pay attention to what triggers your jealousy because that’s a clue about what you really want in your own life. I’m not jealous of people who score the newest designer handbag or a perfect game in bowling because I don’t care about those things. I don’t want them. But a byline in a major national magazine…

The tricky thing about jealousy is that it stirs up all kinds of other emotions, too. I felt animosity towards this writer – who, for all I knew, had experienced a spiritual awakening on one of her jaunts overseas on assignment, and was now the most gracious and pleasant person on planet Earth. But let’s be honest: it’s easier to hate someone who’s a jerk, right?

I also felt like a loser, frankly. It’s been a long time since my byline graced the pages of a major magazine, not to mention the contributor’s page (!) To put it in non-writer terms, imagine having a Facebook friend whose status updates about her fabulous Disney vacations or impossibly adorable, photogenic children are consistently “liked” by no less than 128 people. Then there’s you, who’s lucky to get a “pity-like” from your mom or best friend on any given update.

I tried to console myself with the reminder that this writer is not married and doesn’t have kids and therefore has LOADS of time to network and hobnob and write her way to publishing fame and fortune. And THEN I berated myself for making excuses because, after all, there are plenty of prolific, successful writers who have spouses and children. It’s so exhausting being me sometimes.

But here’s an interesting little fact: I have never even pitched this magazine. Never sent in my writing, never queried them, never even looked into which editor to contact with submissions. So it’s not that this other writer succeeded where I failed. I had never even TRIED.

I have infinite reasons for this. Partly, it’s because this magazine is the Holy Grail for me, and I want to be sure I’m bringing my A-game when I do pitch them. And for that to happen, I need a big block of time to work, in a quiet place where I won’t be interrupted by pirate-ninjas demanding fruit snacks, and I have to be well-rested and mentally alert and creative and confident and prepared and brilliant. I’m still waiting for that day to arrive.

And partly, of course, it’s the fear of failing. Of going through all that, only to hear “thanks, but no thanks,” or worse: no response at all.

I don’t know if this other writer pitched the magazine a dozen, 2 dozen times before she got an assignment. I don’t know if she met someone at a party and they handed her the story. I don’t know if she’s sleeping with someone on the masthead. (Not that I’m implying anything!) What I DO know is that my jealousy is telling me something. And I can only succeed if I’m willing to try.

Success! Cartoon woman jumping for joy.SHOUT-OUT O’ THE DAY: Speaking of success, and in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to instead of sending my writing out, 2 students from my most recent essay class contacted me with good news. One sold her essay to a national mag (the first one she sent it to!) and the second has an essay under consideration at one of her top-choice publications. Congrats, ladies! I’m so proud. 🙂

If you’ve been considering taking one of my classes, Personal Essays that Get Published Level 1 or Level 2, I should tell you that I’m about 90% decided that the next session, starting in Sept., may be my last. I love teaching, but I’m a mom first, then a writer, then a writing teacher, and I want to focus most of my time on the first 2. At least until my youngest is in school full-time. For more info and to sign up, go here.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali May 16, 2012 at 9:04 am

Jeez, you’re singing my song, girl. I’ve been GREEN for a very long time now. I’m hoping the novel that I’m currently working on will remedy my overall feelings of failure in life. As you basically said, I can keep trying to succeed or I can sit back and complain about everything. If I want to be published, I have to keep writing, no matter how many rejections I receive.


Abby May 16, 2012 at 9:22 am

The thing I’m still trying to believe — and I’m getting there, slowly — is that someone else’s success does not mean there’s less for the rest of us. If anything, it’s a good sign. It proves it can be done. So we just need to keep on writing!


Pamela May 16, 2012 at 9:32 am

First, I love love your honesty here. We all are nodding our heads as we read your post. Oh yes, we’ve been there. But I can honestly say (yup, there it is again) that I’ve pretty much gotten over those feelings when I see a successful writer publish something that I know I could do, and maybe do even better. You say it in your last paragraph – we are mothers first (in my case grandmother too!) and wives (and I love taking care of my man) and writers and then writing teachers (although I do teach two classes a week). But our priorities keep us happy and compassionate and a wonderful part of this world, attributes that the writer you talk about perhaps is not fortunate to share.


Abby May 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

Well put, Pamela. I love hearing from later-in-life readers who offer a different perspective, so thanks. 🙂 I know in my heart that I’ve prioritized my life the way it is on purpose, and most of the time I’m happy with that. But when the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head…

BTW, have you read Anne Lamott’s new book about her grandson? I just sent it to my mom, after reading most of it myself. You might enjoy it.


Nadine Feldman May 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

This is a great way for people to view jealousy! It can be a real map to our deepest desires. Great post, as always!


Abby May 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

“a map to our deepest desires” – love that, Nadine!


Lisa Lord May 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

I am bummed to hear you may put the classes on hold a while, though I certainly understand why. You and your classes are one of the things that gives me the courage to keep writing. And to think of myself as a writer, now. Not a write one day if I’m good enough. I so get the jealousy thing – every single day. And I also think that writer could totally be YOU one of these days, ’cause you’re really good.


Abby May 16, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thanks, Lisa. And I’m a little bummed, too. I love teaching the classes and helping other writers get published. But I really want to spend my time (still-limited, with little kids at home) working on MY writing, you know? I may change my mind later on when I feel like I have more time to breathe.


Kathleen Basi May 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Been there done that! I have to keep very philosophical to remember that the kids are only young once, they’re my most important job (platitude, cliche), and that I’m doing an unbelievable amount of publishing for someone working part-time from home, usually without babysitters! I’m amazing. I know b/c people tell me so all the time. (Tongue FIRMLY in cheek.)

But you, my girl–you ARE amazing. No tongue in cheek.


Abby May 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Read back your comment, Kate, only this time apply it to YOU. You are amazing, too! And you have twice as many kids as I do!!


Malia Jacobson May 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Yup, nodding my head. Years ago I went back to school after I realized the gnawing feeling brought on by my sister’s graduation was jealousy: I wanted myself a graduate degree, too (and I got one). Envy can be one of our most honest emotions.


Abby May 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

A graduate degree – what a great byproduct of envy!


Sarah Bates May 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Great post, Abby. Glad to know I’m not alone in the crippled by fear of failure department. Hope you’ll let us know how it goes when you do pitch that magazine. 🙂


Abby May 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

Will do, Sarah, thanks!


Corey Feldman May 16, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I think it is pretty normal. I was reading books to my kids for bed tonight and the whole time I kept thinking most of my Egret series is better than this, and they’re just first drafts. There was definitely a moment of something. I wouldn’t call it jealousy. It was more anger at myself for taking so long to get back into writing. I’m working on a children’s series and I’m honestly not ready to look for a publisher, but I think to all of the short stories I wrote many years ago, and I know I never submitted any of them anywhere, and that made me mad at myself.


Abby May 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

That’s really interesting, Corey – we may think we’re protecting ourselves from failure by not sending out our work, but that doesn’t insulate us from the regret of never ever trying. I bet when you’re ready this time, you’ll take the necessary steps.


Marina May 16, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I’m not a writer, just a reader. A 30 year old, mother and wife, reader of loads of those famous national magazines, and I just have to say Abby, that I can’t remember ever enjoying the stories in those magazines as much as I enjoy reading yours on this blog! You are an extremely talented writer with an incredible ability to connect with your readers. You make us laugh often, seldom tear up, but mostly teach us valuable parenting and general life lessons without coming across like that was your intention. And that’s why I love visiting your blog. No matter how long it’s been, i know I’m going to be thoroughly entertained, and get a good laugh…no matter how badly my day has gone. And that’s the point of relaxing on the couch with a good magazine and a glass of wine, right? You’re the best Abby! Go for it 🙂


Abby May 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

What a lovely comment, Marina. This truly made my day. And entertaining and connecting with readers is actually way more important to me than a byline.


Holly May 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Love the outlook you have. I had never thought of it that way but you’re right. If we are jealous it is probably b/c they have something we want!


Abby May 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

Thanks, Holly!


It's Not Like a Cat May 20, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I agree with Marina, above–your blog is better than anything I could read in a magazine.

And thanks for the warning about your next class possibly being your last; I may just have to take it! I need a little (big!) kick in the pants to get focused on writing and pitching again.


Abby May 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Thank you! Comments like yours make more difference than you know on those “why bother” days. I would love to have you take my class. It will definitely give you a (positive, encouraging) kick in the pants.


jetts31 March 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I read a lot of magazines, blogs, books, etc. because I want to fuel my jealousy which only fuels my passion for the genre. I want to hate some people, question the celebrity status of others, and whisper to myself how much better I am than they are and the only way I can do that is by writing.
Plus, its fun to hate on people sometimes…maybe that’s just me?


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