Guest Post: The Monster in the Laundry Basket: Professional Jealousy in the Open–Part One

By Caren Gussoff

I knew I’d found a keeper when my boyfriend-at-the-time barely flinched the first time he saw one of our fights, word-for-word, in print. “You writers,” he said. “You air your dirty laundry. That’s how it is.”

We not only air our dirty laundry, we turn each piece inside out, study the seams, stinks and stains, so we can proudly, faithfully reproduce it onto garments of our own design.

And it was this same man — now husband — who pointed out the quixotic duplicity of my reaction to hearing award nominees (I wasn’t one, but I knew many of them) made public one February afternoon. He pounded me on my back (as I choked on my own dirty laundry), and asked, “Family, friends, lovers, illnesses and personal catastrophes — big or small — are all fair game — why not this?”

“What?” I asked in response, hoping the answer wasn’t obvious.

It was. “Jealousy,” he said. “Professional jealousy.”

So, I poked a little at it. I turned it inside out and reverse engineered its construction. I reveled in it and then tried to make it disappear. It didn’t.

I talked to my husband a lot about it. Then, I pulled on big girl pants and talked to some trusted associates about it, in person and online.  And what I discovered can be culled down into 10 major issues and points. Today, behold my first five, flapping in the wind for all to see:

  • We all suffer from professional jealousy. All of us. There isn’t a writer among us, no matter how venerated or weighed down by awards that does not occasionally covet thy colleagues’ victories. It’s freaking normal.
  • We don’t discuss it because we are supposed to be “above it.” Artists and writers are selflessly suffering in pursuit of creation and edification. We write for reasons both moral and aesthetic; worldly concerns are, at best, beside the point, or at least, the icing on the cake (that is art).  I call bullpucky. While I write because I think it is important, the worldly nods are the validation I need to make all the time (missed events, for example), the sacrifices (such as grown-up furniture and a 401K) and uncertainty (am I any good? Does anyone care what I make?) worthwhile. And I am not alone, am I?
  • We don’t discuss it because it can be seen as weakness. If I am jealous of your award nomination or first prize or new publication or book deal or whatever, then I am calling attention to the fact that I did not get nominated or win or am still, after two years, querying agent after agent for my unsold opus.
  • We don’t discuss it because we can be seen as ungenerous, bad people who do not have our colleagues’ best interests at heart. This is not true. It is possible to envy others while celebrating their wins. What helps is not letting the jealousy consume you by acknowledging it (see: it’s freaking normal)
  • Life isn’t fair. “Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.” (Niven’s Law #3). Sometimes deserved victories don’t happen and there is nothing you can do about it except deal.

In Part Two, I share my next five, which include strategies for healthfully and sanely dealing with professional jealousy before it eats a hole in your stomach lining, reputation, or both. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these first five. Have I pulled out something from your dirty pile?

•••

Science fiction writer Caren Gussoff lives in the Pacific Northwest with two cats and an artist. She’s trying to sell her third novel, a post-pandemic apocalyptic little story that actually has a car chase. Publications, awards and mutterings are available at www.spitkitten.com

9 Responses

  1. S.M. Carrière

    This is very true. I often find myself envious of my fellows who all seem to be making it, while I struggle along unseen and wholly unsuccessful.

    And yet, I’m still exceptionally happy for them because, I suppose, I can just imagine how it would feel for me to get my little corner of the pie. It’s hard not to be happy for those who are so deliriously happy. Even if I’m not.

    Yet.

  2. Cat Rambo

    ” It is possible to envy others while celebrating their wins.”

    YUP. Love my friends, celebrate their victories. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gnashing my teeth a little on occasion. :)

  3. Stina

    thanks for writing this. good stuff. while i haven’t felt jealous *yet* (i’ve no idea why) i’m sure i will one day, and to be honest, i kind of fear that day. it’s good to hear that it’s a normal emotion. (mind you, i’ve always felt it was normal, but it’s good to be reassured.)

  4. Sandra M. Odell

    Very true. It also applies to announcements for sales or publications. The green-eyed monster rears its head when someone before you announces a publication and receives numerous congratulations, and you get only crickets when you announce a similar accomplishment a day later.

    But we buckle down, invite the monster to tea, and keep going.

  5. Elizabeth Moon

    Very true, especially that not admitting it to yourself leads to worse festering and even poisoning of a friendship.