Tending to Professional Envy
thoughts on comparison vs. inspiration
Build an Effective Writing Session Workshop on March 11th!
Feel like you’re spinning your wheels when you try to write? Join me on Saturday March 11, 2023 from 1-2PM EST (10-11am PST / 11am-12pm MST / 12-1pm CST / 6-7pm GMT) to learn how to build an effective writing session using time management and productivity tools. The workshop will be recorded for folks who can’t attend live. You can learn more about this workshop here. If the cost is prohibitive, please reach out to me for a discount code.
Let’s talk professional envy
I unsubscribed from someone’s newsletter a couple of weeks ago.
Whenever this person’s name popped up in my inbox, I could feel a wave of dread wash over me. I felt miserable. I know that sounds dramatic, and it’s not that I don’t respect this person professionally — I do, but I struggled with comparing myself to them. I only stayed on that newsletter list because I felt like I “should,” even if it made me miserable. So one day in February I decided I’d had enough, clicked “unsubscribe,” and immediately felt better.
I’m aware that there is more than enough abundance to go around, that the right people will find me and work with me, that the perception of urgency is a tool of white supremacy, etc.
I also know I’m not the only one who struggles with comparing themselves to others.
In Benjamin Schaefer’s article “We Need to Talk About Professional Jealousy,” Schaefer details his personal journey with comparison to other writers, which resulted in jealousy and ultimately processing his disappointment. As Schaefer notes, when we say we’re jealous of someone, we’re afraid they’ll take away something that we have, so maybe we should use the word envy instead. To be envious of another is to want something that they have that we feel like we lack.
I struggle with professional envy. Yet, I also joyfully engage with and feel genuine excitement for a number of successful folks whose work is similar to mine.
I wrote this letter because I wanted to understand why I feel envious of some people and inspired by others.
First, I wrote a list of people whose work is tangential to mine, who I compare myself to and it feels bad. These folks aren’t subscribers to my newsletter, but I won’t share their names. Who they are is moot anyways, because I’m more interested in the patterns that arose when I considered why I felt jealous or envious of them.
Here’s what showed up in my reflection:
They make a lot of money
They publish books and give talks more often than me (about topics we share interest & expertise in!) to bigger audiences than I have
When I compare myself to these people, I feel like I’ll never catch up, and it’s easy to feel enveloped in a gloomy mood. This checks out with something Shaefer said: “When I live in the belief that if I had what another person has, I wouldn’t feel the way I feel, I am living in a fantasy, and when I live in a fantasy there is no one here—in reality—to tend to my feelings. Which, of course, is the whole point: to avoid feeling disappointed. Only now I’ve dragged another person into the pit with me, whether or not they know it. And, let’s be honest, nine times out of ten, they do not. So the only person suffering is me.”
Then I wrote a second list of people who I feel inspired by. While my “inspired” list had a number of people, for the sake of space I’ll focus on two individuals who inspire me a lot. I’d like to think that folks who engage with my work would also be interested in theirs!
I first learned about slow living from Brooke’s podcasts Let it Be and The Slow Home Podcast. Brooke’s stories and lessons about slowing down contributed to my life when I was first addressing my workaholism along with learning how to live with chronic illness. Chatting with her in my own episode of The Slow Home Podcast is a treasured memory. I’m glad to call Brooke a friend and I can’t wait to see the brilliance she brings into the world with her new Substack and podcast, “The Tortoise.”
Brooke inspires me by expanding my thinking about slow living. I’m inspired by the way she writes and how she sets boundaries around what she shares and doesn’t share with her audience. Learning from Brooke reminds me that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed.
Rachael is doing groundbreaking work with her Constellation System. I will sign up for anything Rachael offers because the quality is stellar, and her recent “Constellation Clarity” course in February helped me to bring more restorative practices into my daily life. I strongly recommend her as a guest to any of you readers who run podcasts about topics like mental health, organization, productivity, witchcraft, or ADHD.
Rachael’s videos are always a treat to see. In addition to enjoying the aesthetic, I’m inspired to apply her processes. When I engage with Rachael’s work, I feel invigorated and curious.
Here are some of the patterns that showed up in my reflection of the longer list of people whose work inspires me.
They’re doing something unique
They’re invested in accessibility
Their work is informed by disability and/or chronic illness
The lessons they share are actionable
They use “real life” language versus academic jargon
Their suggestions and offerings can be adjusted depending on each person’s accessibility needs or interests (in other words, they don’t promise a “one-size-fits-all” approach)
When I reread my reflection, I saw a lot of my own values reflected back at me and that made me feel proud. In place of the scarcity and fear-fueled comparison in my “feel bad” list, this exercise left me feeling encouraged and proud of myself.
I welcome you to do this exercise for yourself.
First, write a list of folks you compare yourself to and it makes you feel bad. (If you’d prefer to skip this step and go right to the “inspired by” list, that’s completely okay!)
Reflect on why you feel bad. See if you notice any patterns. How might you give yourself space to sit with the feelings underneath those patterns? How might you tend to the feelings that are coming up?
Write a second list of folks you feel inspired by.
Reflect on why they inspire you. See if you notice any patterns. How does that make you feel? What do they remind you about yourself?
Small Things that Made Me Big Happy
>> I promise these won’t always be about food, but my big joy this letter is Savouré’s Rhubarb Pink Peppercorn soda. This is such a fun flavor and the peppercorn is subtle, but so satisfying!
Updates and Recommendations
>> Dr. Katy Peplin of ThrivePhD is offering a cool workshop on Tuesday, March 7th called “First Aid for the Scholarly Brain.” Here’s Dr. Peplin’s description of the course: “Some of us find it really, really hard to just sit down and write. Maybe you’re neurodivergent. Maybe you’re working through some mental health challenges, or chronic illness that impacts your cognition. Maybe you’re just burned out, or trending that way. If your brain tends toward the anxious, avoidant, afraid, or easily distracted, sometimes you have to care for the brain you have in order to get to the work. This workshop will give you tools and strategies to do just that - rather than just saying ‘make a time in your calendar to write, and show up’.” You can sign up for her workshop here.
>> I powered through R.F. Kuang’s Babel last week and I absolutely loved it. It’s a story of magic and tender friendships, but also much more. Kuang’s website notes that the book “grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.” I’m excited to move onto Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy.
Thanks for supporting me, tenderhearts! I can’t wait to debut my Substack for you next week. As a reminder, I’ll take care of switching your subscription to the free plan, but you can also sign up early using the button below.