Professional Jealousy: Immunize Yourself from Its Bite

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

At one point or another we’ve all been bitten by that green-eyed monster, otherwise known as professional jealousy. Ever hovering, seeking whom he may devour, he attacks by surprise at an unfortunate moment when defenses are weakened.Professional Jealousy.featured

On the CBA side of this industry I continually observe that authors, both unpublished and published, truly are thrilled for fellow authors’ successes: winning a writing contest, receiving a prime speaking invitation, getting a book contract, or hitting the New York Times bestseller list. But it’s also when you have to arm yourself against the GEM’s venom: jealousy. Left untreated, the bite can take an author to a negative place where creativity and inspiration become paralyzed.

Michael K. Reynolds, author of Flight of the Earls and In Golden Splendor in the Heirs of Ireland series, with book 3, Songs of the Shenandoah releasing in January 2014, made this comment, which gets to the heart of the issue:

“As writers, the same gift which allows us to write with passion and effectiveness–that is the ability to flow our heart onto pages–makes us even more prone to jealousy. Even as a Christian author, who should know better, it’s something I grapple with all of the time.”

If you are yet unpublished, be advised that getting a publishing contract doesn’t immunize you. I decided to ask two well-established authors how they nip professional jealousy at the first hint of an attack.

DiAnn Mills, award-winning author of over 50 books, including the Call of Duty series and the Crime Scene: Houston series, and her latest, a book on writing, The Dance of Character and Plot, offered this advice:

“When the jealousy demon nips at my heels, I simply have to remind myself that I’m writing for an audience of One, and He doesn’t care how many books I’ve written, awards I’ve earned, or the times I’ve hit the best-seller list. What God wants is obedience to use the gift He’s given me to write the best story possible and to always glorify him in the process, and for me that means the writing, editing, and marketing.”

All of us in Christian publishing are quietly nodding our heads as we read DiAnn’s wise words, which describe the proper perspective.

Robin Jones Gunn, author of 82 books, with almost 4.5 million copies sold worldwide, including the Christy Miller series, the Sisterchicks series, and more fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, goes on to say:

“God deals with each of us as individuals. There was only one burning bush. Only one Esther. Only one time when Peter was invited to walk on water. The work that God has for me to do as a writer is going to be different than what He has for any other writer who ever was or ever will be. Should Elizabeth be jealous of Mary because Mary gave birth to Jesus and Elizabeth “only” gave birth to John the Baptist? The best way for me to use the few short years God has given to me on this crazy planet is to focus on Him alone and listen to what He is asking me to do and then obey Him with my whole heart. I am then free to rejoice with other writers on their successes and weep with other writers on their losses because on this journey I have experienced both. And I’m pretty sure the roller coaster will continue. All that will matter in the end is that I held on and was available for God to complete His work in me.”

Robin summed it up with following paraphrase of Romans 12:6, from The Message:

“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”

The perfect antidote.

When was the last time you were bitten by professional jealousy? Does it get easier or harder for you to fight the bite? How will you put the wisdom offered by these publishing pros to use in your own writing career?


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78 Responses

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  1. Anne Love says:

    Wonderful. Very wise words indeed. “Audience of One” and being faithful to use the gifts He’s given me—I’ll take that with me.

  2. Kate says:

    I confess that sometimes I wonder if I am inferior to those who I think have “made it.” My real struggle as an amateur is not trying to be someone else, to simply recreate their witty banter or profound insights. I am still learning to find my own voice. This post helped me remember that God loves each one of us and has a “future and a hope” for us (as he says in Jeremiah.) What a joyful way to start the day:)

    • Mary Keeley says:

      “…God loves each one of us and has a ‘future and a hope’ for us…” Indeed Kate, a joyful and grateful way to start each day. Thanks for contributing that thought to the conversation.

  3. Jealousy is the mold the enemy uses to seep into our unguarded spaces and ruin us from the inside. If we don’t kill it early, it will intentionally destroy us, our friendships and put a stain between us and God.

    A while back, I had an interesting conversation with a pubbed friend when I was lamenting the quagmire that was my work and someone had just announced that they’d just signed with an amazing agent at an awesome agency.
    She said, “You know you need allow yourself to be angry, so go ahead and let it out. But when you’re done, you need to remember this feeling. Because you do realize that when you’re signed and you announce it to the world, that people you love, and who love you, are going to have these very same feelings toward you and they won’t like it either, but that’s the reality of publishing.”

    On the morning of September 15th, while at ACFW, I was blown out of the water by a very lovely agent who offered representation. Before we met up, I was thinking our tea time would be her chance to look me in the eye and give me some advice on how to better my work… and how to stop thinking I was all that and a bag of chips, and clue in that I could barely write my name, let alone anything of value…
    Instead, I walked around in a teary, giddy daze. But, I wrestled with being utterly elated when I bumped into friends who’d not yet been in that same boat.

    Showing enough grace to respect that some of my friends were tasting bittersweet words at a time when I was speechless with joy was not easy. I’m not so good at grace. I’m good at “me me me”.
    I know that God didn’t just bless me with an agent, He extended His expectation that I be as gracious and humble about what I had, in light of what my friends did not have.

    I lived in a sparkly, happy bubble all day Sunday and Monday, but, nothing says welcome to the real world like getting home at 2am and seeing that all the laundry in the free world was in a pile in my basement.
    Or that someone forgot to load the dishwasher. For a week.

    I laughed at all the messes my 4 males had made and muttered to myself “Welcome to The Rollercoaster, but just make sure there’s enough milk for breakfast.”

  4. In case anyone is wondering, I’m re-writing War and Peace. It’s not long enough…

  5. Sarah Thomas says:

    When jealousy gets to be too much for me I revisit C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and the chapter on The Great Sin since that’s what it boils down to.

    “Here is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same
    time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

    The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.”

    There. Inoculated. That should last at least until the opportunity for comparison arises again.

    • WOW. Just, wow.

      I need to print that out…on my arm.

      Thank you, Sarah.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Ah…C.S. Lewis had a way with words, didn’t he–or better said, doesn’t he, because powerful words and thoughts live on. Just as untreated jealousy will take an author to a negative place, undisciplined response to successes can take an author to a destructive place. Thanks for adding this thought to the conversation, Sarah.

  6. Micky Wolf says:

    What a beautiful and inspiring post, Mary. Truth spoken in Love is the best immunization, even if there is a bit of an ouch-sting as it pricks our hearts.

    For me, it seems jealousy can begin to get a toe hold when I find myself having slid down the slippery slope of comparison, only to land in the ‘poor me’ pit. Yuck! Thanks be to God his hand is not to short to pull us out–which is not say it wouldn’t be better to arm oneself beforehand. 🙂

  7. Jeanne T says:

    What a great, spot-on post, Mary. Jealousy is what eats us up, leaving bitterness in the place where beauty once was. When we struggled with infertility years ago, God taught me to rejoice when all our friends announced they were pregnant. He worked in my heart to turn jealousy to joy. And when the sorrow became too much, I spent a little time away, journaling my heartache to Him. This taught me so much as I now have the opportunity to practice rejoicing with friends who have received things I haven’t yet.

    Remembering God’s got me, through the ups and downs of this writing journey helps me. When I take my eyes off my “Audience of One,” and put them on those around me, I become frustrated, discouraged and yes, jealous. Re-focusing my eyes back on Him helps re-align my perspective and restores joy in my heart. It’s a deliberate choice to focus on God and God alone.

    I loved DiAnn’s and Robin’s words. Thanks for sharing this today.

    • “Jealousy is what eats us up, leaving bitterness in the place where beauty once was.”

      Thank the Lord that He can grow the beauty back into that dark place. His love can heal anything, and it’s such a blessing to know that all we need is Him.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      What a grace-filled, teachable response to an equally sensitive application, Jeanne.

      “It’s a deliberate CHOICE to focus on God and God alone.” You nailed it–the syringe that holds the antidote.

    • Jeanne, that is such a lovely example. I have met so many godly Christian women who struggled with infertility, and those same women have truly strengthened MY faith through their experiences. I count you among that faith-strengthening group.

  8. Oh my, this is timely. I got a fresh bite from the ole’ green-eyed monster yesterday when one of my first interns, age 23, called to tell me she sold her YA novel. The adult in me is thrilled for her; she’s a fabulous young woman with a great future. Nevertheless, my jealous inner child is in a good snit. I’m human; it will pass – with 24hrs and a jar of Nutella.

  9. Lori says:

    I gave up being jealous of others a long time ago. It doesn’t serve a purpose for me and it deters me.

    My question is how do you get others not to be jealous of you?

    I feel bad (OK sometimes guilty) when my family or friends or others are jealous of my accomplishments. Some people think I have it all. Some people think success came to easy for me and they forget about all my failures, which were plenty, and how hard it has taken for me to succeed. I really wonder if people will be happy if and when I actually publish my book.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Lori, you can’t control others’ reactions; they’re accountable for that themselves. But you can frame your accomplishments in humble, grace-filled ways that encourage others to also work hard on their goals, waiting for God’s perfect timing in blessing them.

      • Lori says:

        True. But it’s a problem with some of my friends and family who are either retired or nearing retirement and therefore feel that their chance or God’s timing has past them by.

    • Lori, I appreciate your candid response. I’m glad you’ve given up on being jealous, and hope your family and friends follow suit.

  10. Lori, perhaps, deep down, they feel you’ve taken more than your fair share of whatever they thought they achieve and didn’t. Perhaps they’re angry over what could have been, and you’re the closest target.
    It’s easier for some to sling mud at others than it is to clean away their own dirt.
    Hang tough, Lori, and know that one day, there will be all kinds of people who’re happy you published!!

    • Jenny Leo says:

      So true, the worry that there’s not enough good stuff to go around, that one person’s success leaves less for everybody else. It certainly seems that way when we hear statistics like, “Of the umpteen gazillion manuscripts written each year, only .00000001 percent get published.” There are only so many publishing contracts, so many agents, so many awards, etc., to go around.
      And yet, this is a lie from the enemy. Blessings are not a zero-sum game. I just have to open my eyes to the many, many different forms that they take.

  11. It seems you’ve touched a nerve, Mary. 🙂 For me, jealousy usually descends into worry. Worry that I’m not good enough. Worry that I haven’t done enough to make the “right” connections. Worry that I’ll never “make it.” But you know what? Worry steals productivity. It also takes our focus off of our Audience of One. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6:27) I know these verses speak specifically about food and clothing, but I think there’s a universal truth in there, especially if you continue reading to verse 33. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….” Jealousy (and worry) are only destructive. I want to be a builder.

  12. I am an achiever by nature. For a long time, that became my identity. I could do anything I put my mind to — and I did. I don’t say this to brag; I know that everything I have is because of God. I say it to show where I’m coming from.

    Because I have finally come up against something that is hard for me. For once, in something I want to achieve, I am constantly having to rely on God. When something like that happens, it really throws you for a loop — it threw ME for a loop.

    Writing is hard work. And so I know that every one of my friends who has gotten an agent or been published has worked hard. In the past, working hard was enough for me.

    Now, I am realizing I need more than that. Writing takes something else entirely — complete surrender and obedience to God. I can’t look to the left or to the right; I HAVE to keep my eyes on Him. I’ve had jealous moments when friends who have been writing just as long as me (or for a shorter time) have secured agents or gotten pub deals. But like Robin Jones Gunn said, it doesn’t MATTER what others do. God is calling me to my specific path.

    And if this writing journey does anything, it should draw me closer to the One who called me to it. It should change me.

    And it has. It continues to. And I am so incredibly humbled by that.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Lindsay, goose bumps rose as I read of your transforming journey from self-reliance to discovery of your personal sweet spot: reliance on God, “the One who called [you] to it.” A great contribution to the conversation.

  13. Jenny Leo says:

    Thanks for this post, Mary. It helps immeasurably to know I’m not the only one this happens to. 🙂 Professional jealousy packs a double whammy–first the ugly wave of jealousy, then the wave of shame for being the sort of person who gets jealous. My coping mechanism is two-pronged. First, prayer. It’s amazing how quickly prayer brings about a complete change of attitude, repentance, and genuine happiness for the other person’s success. Second, asking what I can learn from the situation. Where can I improve my own writing, work habits, marketing, etc., to maybe someday achieve a similar result? Eyes on my own paper.

  14. Mary, I fight it all the time. Guess I always will, because I’m human. At my first Christian Writers Conference, I was amazed at how helpful, how supportive other authors were of me, a fledgling in writing. Only as I traveled down my own road to writing did I realize how much effort it must have cost them. I determined right then to be as supportive as possible to my brothers and sisters in the industry, and I’m trying—but it’s tough. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Richard, you bring up a beautiful thought. Just as other authors were supportive of you and you are now encouraging authors yourself, the circle of blessing will come back around to you again. That is special in CBA but rare at best in the general market.

  15. I.
    Of all those authors who made it big when I KNOW I’m better than them. Sheer luck. Right place, right time. Must know somebody. Readers with no taste. Dumbed-down nation.
    God help me. And thank you, Lord, for those many authors who have spoken grace and truth into my life over the years. Please bless all who write for you. Amen.

  16. Posts like this remind me to keep my priorities straight; to keep my focus on Him who gifted me with the talent for words. For that reminder, I am grateful.

  17. Jenny Green says:

    I was so glad to see this post. I thought it was just me and I was quite ashamed. I keep reminding myself “thoroughbreds wear blinders. Run your own race.” It doesn’t really help, but now I can figure, yeah, those feelings are ugly but normal and not let them get to me.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jenny, I like the thoroughbred analogy. I’m reminded of the movie Secretariat, in which the horse eagerly worked and learned (focused, as you said) to do what he was gifted to do: race to the best of his ability, with passion. A thing of beauty.

  18. Elaine Faber says:

    I’m not jealous when friends succeed. Jealousy is wishing you had the success instead of the other guy. What I feel is frustration with my own slow writing journey. When friends succeed, it motivates me to work harder and do more…study more, query more, write more and interact more with others. It motivates me to work on my own victories. Though I do have days of small victories, there are also discouraged days. Praying for patience and guidance is a must on those days!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good point, Elaine. Praying for patience and guidance surely is a necessary component in the writing journey. Kudos to you for your positive response to friends’ successes, rather than taking the negative turn to jealousy.

  19. This post makes me think about the publishing world before social media. Less opportunities arose for an author to interact in person with others in their chosen field. Waves of distraction in the form of social media couldn’t as easily submerge productivity. This bubble sounds tantalizing to my introverted tendencies. Perhaps jealousy was slower in advancing. 🙂
    Nowadays, comps, and numbers, and likes, and followers are just a few accoutrements that comparison wears. Then jealousy saunters up, and before we know it, our feet are knocked out from under us.
    My advice? Wear spiritual armor and running shoes to flee the attacks, because they won’t let up. But we know who wins. 🙂

    Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. 2 Chronicles 20:15 NASB

  20. I came to writing from a couple of very different job paths.

    In one, there was a real possibility of being killed, which was bad, or being captured, which would have been far worse. That kind of hard ‘floor’ to one’s existence tends to burn away irrelevancies, and one learns gratitude in the arrival of each sunrise. So many of my colleagues were denied that.

    The I went into the hothouse of academia, and learned how destructive professional jealousy could be. Politics seemed to be part of the job description, and trying to be the ‘nice guy’ who stayed aloof simply didn’t work. Professional politics eventually ended that career. I was pretty unhappy for awhile, but at this point I realize that I didn’t need that evil in my life, even at the expense of 20 years’ work in the field.

    God disposes, and now I simply do my best. I cheer for those who find success, and concentrate on my own work. Jesus’ statement about minding the beam in my own eye before pointing out the speck in my neighbor’s eye applies, I think…

    His way of saying MYOB! Can’t argue with that.

    Of course, arguing with Jesus is kinda stupid anyway.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      That’s what makes me thankful I work within Christian publishing. Professional jealousy can plague any profession, as you clearly described, Andrew. But I can’t imagine CBA authors being driven to end their careers because of it, as you were in your academic career. I’m sorry to hear that and hope you have a delightful and supportive experience here.

      • This field is so much better! I’ve met a number of very kind, supportive people who are the epitome of professional and personal grace – not the least of whom is your new client, Jennifer Major!

        I wouldn’t go back to academia, but I did get a measure of payback – I got some students to come to Christ, including one who was contemplating suicide. Highlight of my career.

      • Awww. Thank you, Andrew!!
        You and Mrs Andrew are pretty special yourselves.
        I know for a fact, you helped me HUGELY when I was trying to figure things out.

        But this doesn’t let you off the hook about the Hawaiian shirts. 😉

  21. Kiersti says:

    This is really good, Mary–thank you! I really liked Robin’s biblical examples as well.

  22. I love this post today…but I don’t love it all the time! Grin. If we’re all honest, I know we’ve all struggled w/jealousy at one point or another (case in point: those HUGE name authors who gave examples in your post!). It truly becomes dangerous when it controls what you say about your fellow authors and you are trying to tear down instead of build up, just to level the playing field. I’ve been so impressed by published CBA authors, who consistently reach out to help newb writers along the way. I think that mentoring is one of the best ways of countering jealousy–you can use what you know to help others and make a difference in their careers, no matter where you are in the writing journey, there is always someone a step behind you. Even if it’s just encouraging that SAHM to write the book she’s been dreaming about!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      So true, Heather. Encouraging other writers “a step behind you” is a great way to maintain a healthy, grounded perspective to thwart jealous feelings toward those authors who are a step, or a stairway full of steps, ahead.

  23. For me it’s not jealousy: it’s sadness. Sadness at the feeling that too many decades of my life went by before I gave creative writing a try, and not enough decades are left to make an impact in the world. Sadness that I seem to always be a step behind (or maybe two steps) what the publishing industry needs and wants, with not enough time to catch up.

    I don’t envy any writers; I just rue my folly at letting the writing bug bite me.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      David, you don’t know what God may have in store for you. Never stop learning, growing, keeping up with trends. That’s the author’s responsibility in using our God-given gift. The timing and fruit of your labor is God’s part in his perfect timing. He’s never too late.

  24. I think one of the ways jealousy has reared its head in my life is this little voice that says: “You’re going to miss the boat. Look at what so-and-so has accomplished.” “Hurry, hurry, hurry.” “You’re not going fast enough, you’re not doing enough, you’re not working hard enough.” Etc… I’m truly thrilled when my writing friends move forward, but it’s that hurry up and do more voice that gets me all the time. When this voice attacks I feel stressed out and overburdened. BUT! I’m so thankful I’ve invited the Holy Spirit to speak Truth into my life, because right behind the first voice is the Voice that tells me: “Your time is in God’s hands.” “Your work has no time limit, but is eternal.” “You’re in the middle of God’s will, so you’re exactly where you need to be.” “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” I believe that perspective is the greatest gift we have on this writing journey.

    Thank you for getting the conversation started here today, Mary.

  25. I’m jealous that my dog – unconditionally loves me – no matter what I say or do.

    Every day – his wagging tail tells me he loves me.

    Sometimes, I wish I had a tail to wag.

    End Note: I wish the above temperament applied to cats as well.

  26. Lisa says:

    I loved reading this post and these comments. I think along with jealous moments it can feel a little lonely. It sometimes feels like everyone knows each other and you are on the outside looking in, especially with social media. You really have to quiet those voices in your head and let God lead. He’s more than enough. I know if I’m faithful to the calling, he will do something with that offering.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Lisa, I always enjoy your comments on our blog. I think people get to know each other here and then connect on facebook and also comment on their personal blogs. Perhaps some even go on to become critique partners. We have an especially welcoming and supportive community.

  27. When I joined my first critique group I’d been published a few times in periodicals and worried that if another member got a book published before I did I’d be jealous. Instead when that happened and the book went on to win a Christy award I felt like a proud mother. Once in a while I do feel a bit of envy at successful author friends, but mostly I’m proud to know them. I figure if my writing touches one person’s heart and they do something differently as a result there could be a huge difference in the world decades in the future. Only God knows how my writing can and will be used.