Blogger: Michelle Ule
Filling in for Rachelle Gardner who is out of the office today.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wrestling with envy for a long time.
I know it’s a sin, I know it’s wrong, I don’t like it, but it comes out–often when I least expect it–often aimed at other writers.
I wish I was perfect and didn’t wrestle with envy.
But I do.
And I suspect some of you may have trouble with it as well.
The on-line dictionary defines envy this way: “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions.”
It warns envy is very close to jealousy:
“Envy denotes a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another: to feel envy when a friend inherits a fortune.
Jealousy, on the other hand, denotes a feeling of resentment that another has gained something that one more rightfully deserves: to feel jealousy when a coworker receives a promotion.”
Here are five things I do when envy wells up.1. Recognize I’m envious and deal with it promptly.
It should be obvious, but it isn’t always.
I’ll see something–usually on Facebook–and feel disgruntled.
That’s usually a tip off that something is wrong in my spirit.
I have a choice: grumble or deal with it.
On days I’m holy, I confess the sin, swallow and move on.
On days I’m not . . . God gets me eventually.
It’s far more efficient to acknowledge the truth and deal with my attitude immediately.
Reciting a version of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 can help.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
2. Avoid comparisons: no one is the same as you.
“Comparisons are odious,” Madeleine L’Engle used to say in her Austen books, referencing John Lydgate, Miguel Cervantes, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (who may or may not be the same person anyway).
Comparisons do no one any good and either puff up the one or tear down the other.
The stories I want to tell are different than the ones you have to write.
My life experiences cause me to look at the world differently than you do–for a reason.
I cannot compare my writing career with another person’s because only my career has been ordained this way by the God I serve.
So nothing good will come of comparing–apples and oranges, Michelle and Shakespeare, two different styles, two different writers.
3. Flee temptation
If you have recurrent problems with envy and Facebook posts tend to antagonize, you should flee Facebook.
If you’re having a bad day and are swallowing rejections–either real or imaginary–avoid places that will rub salt into your wounds.
It’s easy to anticipate the days I’ll struggle with jealousy on Facebook, and so I don’t log on.
Some people may have difficulty every day, so I have a straight-forward suggestion: why not try Twitter?
Social Media is about providing information and being winsome, establishing relationships and learning.
If envy is getting in the way of your being able to say something nice even when you are disappointed, you need to stay away from social media for a time.
4. Keep in mind you don’t know what success has cost someone else.
I like to remind myself that I don’t know everything about all my friends on Facebook.
While one writer may have enormous success, I do not know what that person has “paid” to achieve it.
Would I really want to have a family member suffer so I could write a successful book?
Of course not.
5. Rejoice–sometimes by praying–and cheer on others.
Rejoicing is a much easier way to live.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength,” according to Proverbs 17:22.
You may need to ask God for an honest heart to be able to rejoice with another writer, but if you do so, your spirits can lift.
Praying, for me, often makes the difference when I’m struggling with envy.
So, I focus on rejoicing with those who rejoice and–as needed–weeping with those who weep.
The point is to take my eyes off myself and my work and focus for the good in others.
Isn’t that what love is all about?
As always, the Bible has wise words on living, whether as a writer or a regular person. 2 Timothy 2:22-24 tells us how:
“Run from temptations that capture young people. Always do the right thing. Be faithful, loving, and easy to get along with. Worship with people whose hearts are pure. Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble, and God’s servants must not be troublemakers. They must be kind to everyone, and they must be good teachers and very patient.”
Everyone struggles with temptation from time to time.
Everyone wishes their project would be admired and acknowledged.
All writers start out wanting to be published.
You’re not alone in wishing . . . just don’t let envy destroy you and your message.
Envy and the writer Click to Tweet
5 ways to deal with envy in the publishing world Click to Tweet
Like everything else in life (or so thought my high school algebra teacher), it’s all mathematical.
* In this case, ENVY = INGRATITUDE
* I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am blessed beyond measure. I have a wonderful wife, a lovely home, a great group of dogs whose lives I have been privileged to save, enough to eat, and more than enough resources to occupy my mind.
* I have wonderful friends in the blogging world, people whose love and concern I feel surrounding me.
* My writing is far more successful than I could ever have foreseen; a blog that’s read by a lot of people, and which, with God’s grace, I’m able to maintain in quality, and on schedule. (Even using Barb’s smartphone for two months.)
* Yes, there are some health issues – only a fool would deny that – but others are so much worse off…especially those who do not have a strong faith.
* I may die before most of you, but I’ve been expensively trained in techniques, both physical and mental, aimed at keeping me alive. It’s my choice to use them – I HAVE that choice, and the inner resources to let me make it. My destiny is not yet written, and if it is, I can choose to make such an end as to be worthy or remembrance (thanks, Bard, for the tag!).
* With all of that, how could I dare to be envious? If I wished “things were different”, I would be wishing some of these blessings, which accrued through time and experience, out of my life. Which blessing would I reject, and throw back in God’s face, saying “HA! I got a better one, take this lousy substandard blessing BACK!”
… and you have a great sense of humor.
Thanks, Peter! I’m actually working on a humorously-themed book now. It’s called “When Social Calls For Breaching Charges”, under the psuedonym “Lefty”.
Thank you for putting everything into perspective on a different plane, as usual, Andrew!
BTW, I thought you did well with that smart phone! 🙂
Thank you, Michelle! It was a valuable writing exercise, in the end; I had to really focus on what I was saying in the moment, because anything more than cursory edits were not an option, and while writing I could not see what I’d written even a few lines before.
Andrew, as always, you remind me to keep my eyes on the Main Thing. On Jesus, and what He’s given me. I was going to rag on you a bit about using math (grin), but that particular equation makes perfect sense.
Rag away! Engineer or not, I never was all that comfortable with math.
A great, helpful outlook as usual, Andrew. 🙂
Envy cheapens life, transforms it into a finite substance that can be sliced like a pie. If she gets a bigger piece, I get a smaller piece. No, I get a different piece. I get a unique piece. I get a custom-made piece.
I remember envying a woman at church who had more money and better-behaved children. Then I learned that a prior bout with cancer had taken away some important body parts and there were days that just getting out of bed was painful. I sensed God’s question, “Want to trade places?”
I revisit that conversation with God when envy creeps into my thoughts. Like Andrew said, I’m thankful for what I have. And for what I don’t have.
Excellent analogy, Shirley. I’m not sure if we can push it–God cuts the pie and we think we can control the size of the slices? 🙂
Thank you for sharing, Michelle.
It’s been building a long time, Melinda, and the three agents who read it before it was posted thought it was an interesting topic. Blessings on your day.
It is an interesting topic, and I’m glad you shared. As usual, it’s made me think about my writing life and other areas where envy have a hold. Thank you for the blessing, and the same!
Michelle, thanks for your vulnerability. Romans 8 says, “He made us subject to vanity”.
It is a deep idea. However, the condition referred to is pitched in the context of R7, where Paul says, “what I want to do I can’t, etc”. At the base of that dilemma is a sense of vanity or inadequacy.
That inadequacy is what drives us to God or that is what God meant it to do, hence the “hope” that goes with it. It is not a sin, per se.
Sin is never defined in terms of what we are, but by what we do, for it is not what goes in that defiles us, but what comes out. That points to a decision. Am I going to try and compensate for my nakedness with inadequate fig-leaves, or retreat to a cave as many do, or put on a brave face, or rationalize it all, or maintain defensive walls – or will I run back to the only one who can so cover my nakedness. Finding fulfillment in Him is the greatest antidote to envy.
Ephesians 6 suggests that the armor of the spirit is for offensive engagement, but it isn’t – it is so we can ‘stand’ tall and not be diverted by mental, emotional or other distractions.
The sin, and God forbid I judge as I so relate to your issue, is not in having envy, it is in being driven by that to the wrong solution, namely the approval of others rather than the approval of our Father above.
Excellent points, Peter, and they would have fitted very well–perhaps even much better–into this post.
I appreciate your reminder that sin is what we do, not what we are.
And yes, once I get past whining to God, it is reassuring to know I can metaphorically climb into his lap and be loved.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last six months reminding myself I walk by faith, not by sight, and to rest in the plans He has made for me, regardless of what he is doing in the lives of others.
Because, it all takes me to the central point: there’s no where else I want to be than in the center of God’s will for my life.
Blessings to you and thanks.
What an enviable place to be Michelle – even the angels have made inquiries about such a place. I whinge too. I used to say, “oh those Israelites were such a handful” until I realised what a handful I am. D L Moody said it well, “I have had more trouble with myself than anyone else”.
Thanks for giving us a glimpse into another side of you. I don’t mean a glimpse at an envious person, but at a wise woman and someone who chooses grace over envy.
We normally only see the ultra-competent writer – which I admire. Now I admire you even more.
Aside: my son once got a fortune cookie that said “stop comparing yourself to others, you will only feel bad.” We laughed!
Great fortune cookie, Sheila, and thanks for sharing the laugh.
The first step in dealing with an issue is to confess it. Once the “wound” is lanced, the healing or growth can begin. That’s the point of this post.
Blessings to you and your family.
Laughing, and today’s My Utmost for His Highest, July 24, hits the nail right on the head. You can read it at http://www.utmost.org
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Michelle, my respect for you has multiplied a great deal.
To admit that you’re plagued by The Big E is a huge deal, especially in a forum that is so public. I am so proud of you, and so impressed.
You’re an amazing woman with a truly amazing life story, which isn’t finished yet!
Envy is the “secret sin” of writers, only it ain’t so secret. Nor is it only the bane of writers.
I like to think I’m just this side of Kathleen Battle in terms of vocal skill. Buuuuuuuut I’m SO not. SO SO SO NOT!
I think the only thing we have in common is we’re female, and we both can blink.
I hope I don’t sound prissy and perfect when I say that envy of other writers isn’t as big a problem for me as it used to be. I’m genuinely thrilled for my writer friends when they achieve a goal. I know how hard their roads are, so I’m happy for them.
But envy of other things? Oh yeah, let’s get comfortable.
At this moment, I cannot make my right hand close. It’s too painful. Each arm hurts all the way to the elbow. Why? I wrapped a 29 pound package on Monday. Now, the pads of my fingers hurt so bad there seem to be needles in them.
I wanted to work in my garden today. That’s out of the question.
I envy people who can do things when they want to. Who can walk for twenty minutes without their joints giving up.
The price I pay for doing simple things is very high.
But, as I tell people. I *can* walk. I can type. I can do things that I enjoy.
I just can’t do what I used to.
Because, no matter what, I am blessed.
That’s an important point, Jennifer, to be thankful for the things we CAN do and “release” the things we cannot. There’s a sweet future in gratitude and a gnarled dead end with envy.
One of the things I’m grateful for as I age, is the ability to see where things I despaired of truly weren’t all that important. I can see how God has used what felt like disappointments to change the course of my life in ways for which I’m truly grateful today.
I’ve been around the writing world long enough to know that early success would have destroyed my family–because of the type of person I am. I’m grateful for that now, I wasn’t for many years.
The important lesson I’ve learned is I need to follow where God is taking me and not ask questions and worry about someone else’s path. Jesus himself addressed the question this way in John 21:20-22:
20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
You’ll notice Peter was envious of Judas . . .
We don’t know everything. Let’s be thankful for the life we’ve been given to savor this day. Blessings to you.
Thanks for sharing this, Michelle! There was a time when I had to stay off FB because every contract or award announcement made me feel sick in my spirit. When things turned around for me, I ended up having two contracts to announce in a short time period. One thing that ate away at my joy was knowing that my good news might cause envy/sadness in others. I almost didn’t want to announce it. (Almost).
I also remember sitting with you at a conference and thinking, “She is such an amazing storyteller! I could listen to her for hours. She must be the best ‘pitcher,’ ever! Why can’t I do that?” So, you’ve been envied too, my friend!
I love how the Message paraphrases Galatians 6:4-5: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
Yes, well, I’m sitting here with your most recent book and listening to your marketing opportunities, Karen, and . . . well, I’m praying for you. 🙂
Lol! I don’t know whether to say thank you or I’m sorry. 🙂 I’ve had a very blessed couple of years. I’m thankful!
Karen, I love that verse in Galatians! “The work you have been given” isn’t the same work someone else has been given. Thank you for sharing! I love the idea that sometimes the work we’ve been given is to just be faithful where we are because someone else may need to see that faithfulness and be encouraged. You certainly encourage me, Karen! Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you found it encouraging, Liz! I heard Robin Jones Gunn speak on this verse once, and it had a huge impact on me. I still get bitten by the envy bug (frequently), but at least this verse now pops to mind along with it.
I agree with Liz, excellent paraphrase.
Michelle, first of all, thank you for being so transparent. It’s so good, and important, to realize envy doesn’t end when you sign the dotted line on a book contract. It’s something we all deal with at one time or another.
All your suggestions were spot on. Your fourth point struck home for me. We see others’ success, but we don’t know the cost paid for said success. We haven’t walked their shoes, because that was God’s journey for them.
I’ve reminded myself over and over that God’s plan for my writing journey is perfect. His timing, His opening (or not opening) doors, the things He has for me to learn . . . they are all part of my journey. I often think about how important it is to wear blinders—like horses do—to keep my eyes from looking to the left or to the right. Keeping my eyes straight ahead, where Jesus directs me. This helps me with the envy factor of my humanity.
This was a wonderful reminder. The truth is, when I’m envious, it’s because I want my own glory. Period. If I’m after God’s glory, whatever he allows for my life will be fine with me because I’m serving him anyway. If I’m living for my own glory, I feel he owes me, and that it’s not fair that someone else is getting what I think I deserve.
Also, it’s a sobering reminder that people are willing to pay different prices for success. There are some costs that are simply too high for me. But that’s between me, God, and my family.
Absolutely, Hannah, and as long as we seek God’s glory, the results–no matter whatever they appear to be at the time–will be so much sweeter.
Wendy L Macdonald
Michelle, my favorite of your five is the fifth one. I remember struggling with envy of another lady on a bowling team I was on. Wow—she was awesome. I had been reading about envy during that time, and the book suggested praying for those we have ‘troubles with’. I tried it. Next thing you know I was just as excited as she was when she got a strike. Praying for her also came in handy when she skunked me at Scrabble (and English was her second language). We became good friends in a small community where it was often very lonely for outsiders (we were both outsiders). Great post, Michelle. Blessings ~ Wendy ❀
Exactly, Wendy. I used the same tactic to pray for an “enemy” once and it made a huge difference in my life. I was actually able to rejoice with the individual several months later and I’ve always counted that experience as an enormous blessing in my life.
Michelle, thank you for your candidness and honesty. I think it’s a symptom of the human experience to feel envy. It stems from comparison, which we know from the old Theodore Roosevely quote can steal joy. I haven’t experienced this as much within my writing circles yet, as I figure the more success others have the more I can learn what to do and what not to do. It’s all inspiration, so far. However, I’ve had to pull WAY BACK from Instagram. I began using it to connect with other Weight Watcher participants. We share recipes, encourage one another, celebrate victories in weight loss. But I’ve been struggling the last year or so and am not nearly as successful as I once was. It’s easy to be part of the crowd when you’re one of the ones succeeding. But then I found myself rolling my eyes whenever someone posted a status update about a great weigh-in. I would scroll past pictures of healthy meals, acting as though I didn’t care — when really I was envious of their self-discipline and subsequent weight loss accompanying their good habits. I lost the ability to be encouraging to others when I tapped into that envy. There’s a lot of fallout from envy: self-righteousness, weakened relationships, inability to see blessings, etc. Thanks for your words, which helped me reflect on my own experience with envy. I’ll be praying on it. Everyone’s input is so great. Love this community!
Yep. I know that one, too! Kudos for recognizing the weakness and dealing with it.
And I love old Teddy–envy does steal joy from all sorts of things not related to the object of envy. Excellent point. Thanks.
Stephanie Grace Whitson
God bless you for your transparency … and the helpful and challenging insights! Seems to me anyone involved in the arts needs these reminders on a regular basis. I know I do. It’s easy to get caught up in what we interpret as success in another writer without seeing the rest of their story and the very real difficulties that come a writer’s way because of “success.” For example, I’d hate to carry the burden James Patterson has to carry by virtue of the fact that a LOT of jobs depend on his sales numbers. Yikes. No thank you.
Good point about Patterson, Steph. It must be challenging to have so much rest upon little old–him!
I think often of the pressure on the families–and it doesn’t end. How many children do you see working on their parents’ literary legacy. Shouldn’t there be a time where you can say, “I’m an electrician, not my mother’s literary executor, thank you.”
I struggled with a lot of envy and resentment when it seemed like all of my friends were celebrating contracts, awards, and book launches while my life was falling apart. I knew an event was coming up that would include a lot of exciting announcements and fun pictures, so I logged out of Facebook for that entire week. I simply could not rejoice with those who were rejoicing (sorry, God). When I logged back on everyone had returned to real life and posting what they ate for breakfast. That I could deal with. I consider this approach a form of fleeing temptation.
Thanks for the great post, Michelle!
Personally, I don’t think you should have to apologize to God (or anyone) for fleeing temptation in this case; social media like FB demands that we pay attention to everything in the Now, and there’s nothing of God in that. We are not morally obligated to hear everything as it happens; still less are we required to respond in the same way.
Thank you, Andrew! I needed that reminder. When I feel envy revving up and once again withdraw from social media, I tell myself, “Before Facebook, I wouldn’t have known half of this stuff. It is better not to know and maintain a better attitude.”
LOL. That’s a great idea, Jeanette. Avoiding all those cats and puppies for a week would just be an added bonus!
Thanks for sharing.
And political rants. I also missed out on those.
Thanks for the timely and thought-provoking post, Michelle. I love the way God helps us through things and then allows us to share our journey with others. Thanks for doing that.
What are co-writers/ co-laborers/ supposed to do but encourage? 🙂
I think I’ve talked about this with you before . . . 🙂
Preach it, Michelle! Your tips for combatting envy are right on. I love your heart on this topic, especially suggestions 4 and 5. We can’t possibly know what road someone has had to walk to tell the story they’ve been given. And if we did, I think our jealousy might evaporate pretty quickly.
You know that story of the crosses, Liz? Someone was complaining that their cross was too heavy to carry so Jesus took them to a warehouse, removed their cross and told them to pick a new one.
She reached for a glittery golden one, encrusted with jewels but couldn’t lift it for its terrible weight. She tried a cute little one and nearly threw it over her shoulder–it weighed so little. She found a nice one, but it didn’t sit well on her shoulder.
And so on.
Finally, she spied a simple wooden one in a corner and nestled it perfectly into place. It felt just right. “I’ll take this one.”
Jesus smiled. “That’s the one you were carrying before–I made it specially for you.”
I’ve never heard that story before, but, oh my, it’s so true! What a great parable. Thanks for sharing!
Janet Ann Collins
Michelle, I envy you for your integrity in admitting this in public. 😉
Ha, Janet! I end up the stronger . . . 🙂
Powerful post, Michelle!
You had me hooked with the honesty in your first line.:) No way not to read this post!
I love point number 4.
And since we’re confessing…
I have a bad habit of comparing myself to others. Which leads to doubt and discouragement and discontentment.
Thank you. What a great reminder!
Yeah, we just cannot compare, it accomplishes nothing. Maybe it’s a tool of Satan? Hey, less than, more than, those sound like math terms–that explains it!
Best wishes, Julie.
This blog hits all the right points. When envy is not recognized for what it is, it can lead to a form of despair that leads to discouragement which leads to less activity … Before you know it, the joy is gone, the gift that God has given us to use for His glory and to bless others through our words becomes muted or has the sound of a whine to it. The light doesn’t shine so brightly as it once did.
Many struggle with an inferiority complex (old term), we identify with feelings of perceiving ourselves as “less than” others or “not good enough” to be ranked with the movers and shakers. Of course this is a misperception, we are what God made us to be. We do what we are supposed to do, and He does what He is supposed to do. It’s the human side that trips us up.
It makes me sad when I read successful authors who are still wondering at their abilities and have strong self-doubt, and sometimes, even wistful envy. They have achieved what has eluded some of the rest of us. Yet, there is a weariness that comes through. I see it in myself. There are times I want to pack it in, to give up and not look back. How I wish for them, and also myself, eyes fixed only on Jesus, to do it all for His glory, to trust Him that the bills will get paid and the books will sell, to do what I/we can do and then trust Him for the increase. Our identity is a spiritual identity first. And that is a beautiful thing, something to celebrate. Praises to God.
I think it may just be the lot in life for artists, Norma, that we’re never completely confident in our abilities. That may be how we find the emotional quotient to explore our frailties in our art. The cusp of humility, that whisper of uncertainty, may be what makes some art approachable by mere mortals.
I was just looking through a book about Hemingway’s life in Ketchum, ID before he killed himself. He had a lot going for him and yet, it still wasn’t enough. Perhaps that urge to keep creating is both a blessing and a curse and, as you noted, if we don’t recognize the role envy can play in poisoning our lives, we set ourselves us for tragedy.
Interesting comments. Thank you.
N. L. Brumbaugh
Yes, Michelle, I agree. It is normal to feel somewhat insecure. It is interesting how artists seem to be able to see what others may not notice and they observe layers to situations etc. that others may not consider. It is quite fascinating, really. I find myself analyzing public personalities and wondering what “they’re really like.” Thanks for addressing the trouble that envy causes and allowing a positive way for us to talk about it.
Michelle, thank you for a well-timed post that ministers to my spirit. I’m not struggling with writer envy at the moment but envy in other areas of my life. Psalm 139:13-16 is a great antidote for envy. FaceBook is a huge envy trigger for me. Like others, I sometimes need to go on a FaceBook fast. Karen, thanks for sharing the verse from Galatians.
It just takes different forms, but starts from the same place. Blessings to you, Judy.
What a powerful & timely post! Powerful, because your honesty unleashes truth in the rest of us, and timely, because your thoughts arrived on a day when the enemy hit me hard in this area.
I had just discovered that an old college friend made it “big” in the world of publishing, with all the books, awards, and positions to go with it. I chose to set career aside for a time, to raise a family. In an instant, all the wonderful things I value: time with my children, time to pray and write, and a refreshing distance from the pressures of work & ministry, evaporated. Inferiority and regret surrounded me and I mourned the years I’d “wasted” as a wife and mother.
Sounds ridiculous now, except that I think there is an innate human tendency towards selfish ambition. We want to be known, understood, heard, and appreciated. As writers we are often alone and lack these kinds of feedback. But as believers we are called to know, understand, hear and appreciate God above all else.
I think the value of jealousy is in its exposing the areas of our lives where we have not yet died to self and embraced God. Can I be content to allow Him to weave me into the fabric of His masterpiece when He sees fit, and in the places where my true “colors” will be necessary? Can I celebrate the beautiful hues and patterns already knitted together, especially when I feel like a forgotten ball of yarn left in the basket? This is the growth that comes from acknowledging our envy, as many here have already said.
So thank you for sharing from your heart. This kind of post is rare, priceless, and – for me – a wonderful confirmation!
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