Jealousy Is Creative Poison

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Here’s a piece of advice very few people talk about but, the further I get on this weird and wonderful creative journey, it’s something I feel is absolutely crucial to bring up.

Avoid being jealous of other people’s success. It will never help you achieve the things you want. Focus on your own growth, not a scale set against someone else’s achievements or timeline.

Does that sound obvious? It doesn’t matter. You still need to hear it. I still need to hear it.

Being part of a roller coaster creative community like comics involves seeing a nigh-constant stream of promotion for new projects, big and small; Press releases, interviews, reviews, tweets, conventions, panels… It’s a barrage.

Every week it seems like everyone else is doing amazing things while you are standing still. That feeling can breed an intense amount of fear and doubt. It can eat away at your confidence and poison your ability to create.

You put yourself into the work. Your ego is wrapped up in these creative projects. You can’t help but compare yourself to your peers and have a knee-jerk reaction that their success somehow reflects back as your failure.

Trust me – You’re not the only person who feels that way. Every single creative person I know goes through periods of doubt, periods of frustration, periods of jealousy. What’s important is the ability to recognize it and do everything you can to push past it.

Don’t let jealousy motivate your communication. If you’re going into this business to be a creator, I feel you should be focused on creating, not tearing holes in other people’s work. Read it, like it or dislike it, learn from it either way, and then move on. I’m not telling you to be fake and pretend everything out there is wonderful, but the old adage of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is pretty sound advice for a professional conducting themselves in public.

Is there crap out there? Absolutely, and more crap coming every week, but I rarely talk about that online or in public. I’d rather let people know about things I enjoy and spread the word about work that inspires me. It helps me maintain a positive attitude and reminds me what’s important – creating stories I’m proud of instead of trying to tear other people down.

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Try not to flail when you feel like you’re falling behind. Focus will take you further than fear. If you lash out with desperation or anger you’ll push away the very people you’ll need later on.

If you try and those frustrations still hit you hard, walk away from outlets where you could do damage and not be able to take it back. Seriously. Step away from email, Twitter, Facebook, whatever. If you need to, contact someone you trust in private instead of broadcasting negativity out to the world at large.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to a would-be creator’s blog/twitter feed and seen a screed of negativity a mile long. It doesn’t impress anyone. It doesn’t improve the situation. It won’t open doors for you. If people are discovering your work online, your public persona matters. Attitude matters.

I can be neurotic at times about where my career is headed. I worry I’m not doing enough and wonder if I’m making the right choices. The more I talk to friends in this business, the more I realize it’s a common fear. It’s part of being invested in my work.

It’s easy to see everyone else’s career like a highlight reel while your own is lived out in slow motion. It’s a flawed perception. Purge it.

Instead of looking at someone else’s opportunities as ones I haven’t had, I do everything I can to appreciate where I’m at in the here and now – The work, my amazing collaborators, and the wonderful people who have shown me support so far. I remind myself of the distance travelled and stay focused on current achievable goals.

The audience for good quality work isn’t shrinking.
People are hungry for great stories and memorable characters.
There’s room for you to create and build your skills.
It’s an exciting and wonderful time to be creative.
It will never be easy, but it is doable.

I’m not a psychologist or therapist and I have good and bad days like anyone else, but the above thoughts have kept me motivated and moving forward on my creative journey so far. I’ve had my share of successes and setbacks, but I’m still plugging away and hopeful for the future. That’s a ‘win’ in my books.

If you find my tutorial blog posts helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share them with your friends and consider buying some of my comics to show your support.

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25 Comments.

  1. I am so incredibly envious that you thought to write this this before I had never thought to write it! *shaking fist*. In all due seriousness, copious amounts of gratitude for writing this and reminding us all that focusing on doing good work, and being a decent person is in itself, success.

  2. Well said! I of course am human and feel jealous from time to time, but my jealousy stems from work that I wished I had done… Instead of dwelling on it, I try to glean as much from the work as I can to use in my own work- I try to think of why I’m so jealous and what are the qualities in the work that I can take! Even if it’s something vague or simple like composition, color scheme, brushwork, etc. if it’s jealousy based on accomplishment rather than skill, I tend to feel hopeful- “wow! This art made it? Just wait till they discover me!” Then I try to examine their path and again glean that info to better my own chances of success….don’t be jealous, use them! :mrgreen:

  3. Thank you so extremely much for this blog.

    I am working on building a career in comics at an older age. I have connections in the business, and I know some super stars acknowledged for their brilliant abilities and they deserve the adulation they receive for said abilities. But it does happen. If envy is green, then I’m the Hulk, Shrek and Kermit the Frog all rolled into one. (Actually that’s exactly my personality, ha)

    I see their work on facebook and are so happy for them, but have wondered, “why not me too..?”

    I love the medium so intensely that I live it 24 hours a day, which is not always easy when you have two young kids and a wife who wants me to be happy, but is wondering when a steady income is on the way.

    That is where a lot of pressure comes from. Struggling with the creative day-to-day obstacles… I have learned, as you said, that I am at my best when I am just doing what I do.
    I know I belong in this industry, I have worked and have some freelance now… and my tiny publishers like my work. But to get to the next level… how? The doubt and fear are always there.
    But a buddy of mine, who is working on a huge DC book coming out soon told me the same thing, that everyone goes through it. Other creative friends in the industry have told me the same thing.

    But when you’re alone with the drawing table, or the Wacom Cintiq…. keeping those demons at bay is more complex and personal.

    Your blog though will be printed and sitting next to my computer and drafting wedge.

    Thank you so much.
    Hope to see you in the funny pages.
    -Gene

  4. Thank you for writing this. It seems obvious to read and have written and we inherently understand its content. However I’m am thankful that you did write it and that it was shared and that I read it. It was very timely. It was no coincidence that this was here at this time for me. Nothing happens without a reason and this has encouraged me in more ways than one. I have been having many of the sames doubts and “jealousies” in the past few weeks. I see what others are doing and wonder why things are not happening for me and I work hard and yet see others just have stuff seemingly fall into their laps. Obviously bad on my part. I know that they too must have had the same tings and i realize that they also have put in the time and are recipients of that work. My job is to continue to make and create to the best of my ability and trust that my time will come as well. Thank you once again you have gained a new fan.

  5. Another great, honest post! Every time you come over its always incredibly motivating to hear you and everyone else speak, but then afterwards it’s hard not to make comparisons with others and then feel a bit demotivated or a failure in comparison.

    Sometimes comparing your own progress over time is the only way to get a truer perspective.

    A quote that I sometimes find reassuring is:

    “the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves, and wiser people are full of doubts” – George Bernard Shaw

  6. I’m not jealous as much as puzzled by the ‘bottleneck’ the industry has grown to become. I’m not 100% there with my work, but people who aren’t 50% there seem to be getting regular work for being shamelessly unoriginal. Maybe I’m just naive–trying to do art and writing I’d like to see done more often. Only gap in the theory is: I go to conventions, and people who aren’t familiar with what I do because of the ‘stopgap’ the comics media and bigger publishers represent–ARE EXCITED BY and BUY MY ARTWORK, anyway–just like they are excited by my stories and concepts when they get to hear about them and read them. The ‘tastemaker’ editorial departments are so busy trying to find ‘what sells’, they don’t look for ‘what COULD sell’. I’m not overselling this, here–I’ve made solid friendships with people from cons online because of my work.

    When I get irked that Rob Liefield is getting regular work and is actually popular, it ain’t jealousy, it’s frustration with a system obsessed with ‘bottom line’ homogeneity, and individuals in control of that system that do not want it to change–lack vision, and repeat the same behaviors despite tanking sales and an ever-dwindling comics shop survival rate.

  7. Great advice, as always, Jim. It’s balancing honest reviews of work where criticism is required with the desire to only share what one wants to praise that can be sticky. It can be done. The vomiting mile of negativity that is crystal clear when it happens, is the sort of thing that snowballs and doesn’t help. There are obvious exceptions – like the bashing of OSC and whenever creators throw themselves into the spotlight like he does; they will eventually have people hate them not just those that love them. But again, the bashing/criticism can be done tactfully. Also, say what you have to say and move on. When something eats away at you that damages your own productivity and mental health.

  8. Jim, I will continue to be jealous of your ability for honest, humble and valuable lessons in life an art. You are absolutely right. Comparing your own progress with the success of others makes no sense and IS poisonous. But used as a motivator, or a means to identify goals, jealosy can actually serve a purpose. Again, you are spot on with your advice on negativity in the feeds – Don’t!

    I’m glad we had a chance to chat at NYCC, hope you enjoyed the podcast.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Great post, Zub! With such a wide range AND variety of talent, we often ask what Gene says: Why not me. It’s a struggle we all have. One strategy I’ve used to combat that by doing something you hinted at: I try to let it INSPIRE me to give my best. I know–yes, I KNOW–it is NOT a competition, but since it is such a collaborative medium, I’ve often tried to take on a sports-type attitude: Give encouragement and (hopefully) inspiration to those around me and work harder to be able to keep up with the other team.
    Eh, anyway. Thanks for soul-baring on this.

  10. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Couldn’t disagree more. Being jealous of another artists success is Inspirational Rocket Fuel. The amount of progress I’ve made in my career because I constantly want to outdo others- is crazy.

    Recognize that being jealous of others keeps you sharp, ensures that you’re always improving- and fuels the forge for your next project. It has to be better than theirs.

    Jealousy Is Creative Fuel,
    you just need to know how to burn it

    • Jealousy is a limitation because you only excel at defeating others at their own game instead of making your own.

      Your creative fuel shouldn’t be about “being better than others” Art is about you and what you want it to reflect about you. Why let yourself to succumb to envy when you can completely rise above it?

      To be jealous is to be envious, to be envious is to be limited because you only care about being better than someone else. The true answer is to rise above that person and yourself by believing you are limitless and that you don’t need to be like anyone else to be successful.

      • creative fuel comes in many different forms, and the competitive factor, can be a great one. Its not at all limiting to admire and strive to usurp your peers- keeps you hella busy learning to up your game.

        if your not comparing yourself to others, your likely to be content inside your own little bubble- and that’s the most limiting, unproductive thing I can imagine happening.

        • Learning, admiring and striving is different from being jealous. :D

          In fact, I don’t have jealousy. I don’t have doubt. (This is a brain chemistry thing). But I can’t help to strive for better and be more productive.

          You don’t need jealousy to be a creative. ^_^

  12. When you used the analogy about highlight reels, I used to say bloopers to describe how I percieved my work. That was my perception in the beginning. My writing and my life are not measured by anyone else’s standards. Took me years to realize that. Thanks for the advice.

  13. Any time I feel jealous, I use it as an opportunity to get insight into what I really want to accomplish personally. You can Judo-maneuver the negative sensation of jealousy into a positive feeling of increased clarity around your own personal goals.

  14. That is great advice. I’m always glad to see successes of others in the same area in which I work – it generates more interest and hunger for the material and doesn’t change mine a bit. I see them as peers and colleagues, not competition.

  15. its funny that only the successful or does well at something say things like this.
    you will never see someone who is struggling or failing to get better at something say this.

    why is this? is it because we look at our art when finished and think “why did I waste time drawing that? it looks terrible!”?

    i’ve been drawing for about 3 years now and the only people I watch on ANY art site are, surprise, far better than me.

    it’s not to say i don’t enjoy their art, but then i look back on my own, knowing what i want out of it and being nowhere near where i want it to be. I understand art takes time, but not seeing yourself improve really makes being jealous of others an easy thing.

    i wish i could use it to get better, but all it does is make me bitter and angry at my own skill. congrats to those who can use it too improve, it does nothing good for me.

  16. hi hi

    I have found that honest, polite, and constructive critique is extremely helpful to me. I would encourage people to look at art in a multi-faceted way, full of different qualities, instead of black and white labels of “good,” and “crap.” Everyone had to start out from square one, and even randomly splattered paint can have value.

  17. I needed to read this, and probably will need to re-read it many times in the future. I’m actually surprised by how much I secretly needed to have another person articulate this– so thank you.

  18. Zub,

    Thanks so much for putting this truth out there into the world. I often struggle with ego wrapped up in my work. I also look at other people who have such great talents that I do not, and it just shuts me down completely. The only recourse I have found is to take a big step back and look at the talents and unique gifts that I have, that those others do not. Together we all make a very big brilliant team.

    Thank you for your inspiration. Sometimes I doubt that the huge project I am creating will go anywhere. After so much time and effort has gone into it (and so far to go), I often wonder if the world will accept the ideas and stories about love and healing that I feel it is my mission to get out into the world. But alas, you give me hope. I believe I am more on the path of fulfilling my hearts desired and my purpose than ever, and you remind me that no matter what, the world always needs new stories. As we continue to evolve as a species, we connect with different things, and disconnect from old patterns. I only hope to usher a new wave of light through my creations.

    Your post keeps me grounded and hopeful. To remember to focus on my strengths, and not the accomplishments of others, which becomes an obsession and diverts me from the “master plan.” Haha. Thanks for all you do.

    Always,
    Ryan

  19. Awesome article, especially because us artists are some of the biggest babies :D But, there is a lot of truth in your words and definitely gives us all something to think about before, during, & after creative projects.

    It always amazed me how some people can go from project to project and NOT be so emotionally invested in their work.

    For instance, I was in Seattle a few years back and there was an older lady doing sketches of some biblical scenarios on the sidewalk with a large box of pastels. So, I asked her “Do you ever take pictures of any of your work since you can’t really bring it with you?” She replied “Nope, I work until the rain washes it away and then I move on to the next drawing.”

  20. This is so well-written, and I thank you for putting this out there. Just sharing your work can be daunting already without looking around you and seeing how much better (or younger or funnier or just more talented in general) everyone else seems to be. It stings even more when you’re trying to make a living out of what you create while watching everyone else appear to zip by.

    It’s a common truth that you need to not to let jealousy bog you down–but those hopeful thoughts you shared at the end help make it easy to see that truth when you’re neck-deep in the green swamp of envy!

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