Publication Envy, or why I need to stop playing the comparison game

I got an invitation to take a Facebook quiz: Which Shakespearean Lady are you? Being the English major geek that I am, I took it, answered questions like “what is your favorite color?” and “what ideal is most important to you?” and discovered that I am none other than Ophelia.

The test results informed me that I was depressed and really needed to stay away from lakes. (Go read Hamlet if you don’t know why.)

Honestly, it kind of ticked me off. I didn’t want to be Ophelia; she goes insane because her boyfriend dumps her because he’s obsessed with his mother’s marriage to his father’s possible murderer. She’s passive and easily cowed and tragic. Why couldn’t I be Lady Macbeth? Sure, she’s tragic, too, but she’s not exactly a passive woman. Neither is Rosalind. Or Juliet. 

The quiz results made me think. One of the reasons I was so interested in taking this silly (not to mention obviously inaccurate) quiz was to compare myself to another person, even if it was a character from a play.

 I’m addicted to this game, I think: the game of comparison, where no one wins and everyone loses and the rules are completely relative to my self-perception and whomever happens to be the object of my comparison.

In high school, I compared myself to the tall, thin girls in my class and lost. I compared myself to the straight-C students and won. Then I compared my GPA to the valedictorian’s and lost again.

In college, I was mixed up about the whole dating-relationship-sex-thing. If I looked at the girls who had sex before marriage, I got a big puffed-up head that was so big, you couldn’t see the entire thing in the mirror. If I looked at the girls who proclaimed their vows not to kiss until they were engaged or sometimes even married, I lost. Those types always made me feel a bit like a slut, even back when all I had done was hold hands with one guy one time. It was all relative.

I went through a time when I didn’t write in anything but my journal and was plagued with publication envy. I walked into a bookstore and was jealous of all those authors with their names printed on the cover; it almost made me want to stop reading because I was comparing my sad state of pre-publication with their post-publication state and losing.

Every book I read, I flipped to the copyright and looked for the author’s date of birth. Were they older or younger than me? I felt okay if the author was much older than me; after all, they had had more years to spend in learning to write and learning the publication business and such, so it didn’t make me feel bad to see that they were published.

The closer the date of birth got to mine, the more angst ridden I became. Jodi Picoult was born in 1966, so I was good there. Lauren Winner (1970-something) and Donald Miller (also 1970-something) made me nervous. And don’t get me started on the 1980s-ers. When I remembered Jane Austen, who wrote Sense and Sensibility at the tender age of 21, I was beating myself up: why, oh why, hadn’t I devoted myself to my writing more religiously in high school and college?

For the record, I don’t want to write the next Girl Meets God, Blue Like Jazz or Sense and Sensibility. I want to write my own books, thank you very much.

But when I compared those four digit numbers on the copyright with the four digits on my birth certificate, I felt like a failure. Here I was, born in 1977, and I still hadn’t produced a book? Worse yet, I still hadn’t written a book. Even worse, I was wasting the time I could’ve spent writing on comparing myself to other writers. 

 It was all absolutely absurd.

 I’ve thought about this recently because I’ve been such an active participant in the comparison game. I’m still looking at other women’s makeup (did I do a cruddy job putting on my mascara this morning compared with her?) and studying the models in advertisements (do my legs look as good as hers?) and reading other writer’s books (do I write as good as they do or worse?).

It feels awful when the answer is No, you still haven’t figured out how to use a mascara wand. No, your legs still have those awful stretch marks that no one else can see but you. No, you’re not as good a writer as Ms. Famous-Award-Winning Author.

 It’s a game where I lose.

I lose my time because I’m so busy studying everyone else’s mascara and legs and books and houses and hair and clothes to pay attention to what matters.

 I lose my mind trying to figure out how to meet this increasingly higher standard of perfection as modelled by someone else. Or losing my common sense by thinking I’m better than those heathens with the screwed-up lives. If I’m honest, if I look hard enough at myself from God’s perspective, I’m screwed-up, too, and I don’t see how bad I am because I’m running around trying to be so damnably good. 

I lose my identity because I only know how to define myself in comparison to other people.

 I’m sick of it.

 I think the only one I ought to be comparing myself to is God. He’s perfect. I’m not. It’s not something that’s relative and fluctuates with my moods or how good I am that day or how bad I am that week. It’s absolute.

 We’re all in the same situation. We’re all needy, even those bestselling, award-winning, brilliant authors, even those women with legs a mile long and the perfect makeup, even the girls who didn’t kiss until they said “I do”.  We’re all lost. We all need to be found, to belong to God. That’s true. Absolutely true.

I need grace. That’s true. Absolutely true. I can’t look at someone else and say I don’t need the same amount of grace as them. I can’t look at someone else and say I need more grace than them. I have to look at God and say, wow, I need grace.

In other words, I’ve got to stop comparing my goodness or badness to other people’s goodness or badness, my brilliance to their clichés or my publication status with theirs, my legs to theirs. I’ve got to stop the comparison game with other people, period.

I should probably stop taking Facebook quizzes, too.

How about you? Do you compare yourself to others? Or have you managed to stop playing the comparison game and if so, how?

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9 thoughts on “Publication Envy, or why I need to stop playing the comparison game

  1. Laura:

    You need to stop doing this to yourself. Everyone is unique. The key is doing the best that you can with what God gifted you with. The only one that you should be comparing yourself to is yourself. You know what your talents are and what your weak points are. Judge yourself against yourself. You know if you gave a half hearted effort or if you gave it your all. You need a shot of self confidence.

    Let me give you a real life example. I went to college as an adult with a wife and a toddler at home. The wife wanted to go to school also so we both entered college. I had the GI bill which helped but did not begin to cover our expenses. I worked 3 part time jobs to make it. Now I was capable of making straight A’s but due to my work schedule I graduated with a C average. The key is that I actually graduated against some pretty tough odds. I felt good about myself for graduating. It did not matter that I was not the valedictorian. I put myself and my wife through school simultaneously and also had to co parent a toddler. The president of the college chastised me for not making better grades and it rolled right off my back. I gave it my all and talked my wife into staying in college and finishing when she was exhausted and wanted to give up.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. Yep, confidence is something I definitely need! I’m amazed at your story: college, three jobs, child…whew! Good for you for doing that and not comparing yourself to the straight A’s (who probably didn’t have a spouse or child or even one job.) Amazing. Thanks for your encouragement. I appreciate it!

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  2. Now let me give you another example from scripture. You are practicing self defeat by comparing yourself to others with more or less talent. Go to the parable of the talents. God expects us to do the best you can with what He gave us and He gave us all differing gifts.

    You need to stop giving Satan the victory and claim vitory in God and live up to your own potential.

    The only reason to feel down on yourself is if you give a half hearted effort instead of giving it your all. The Holy Spirit gives the results, we are only required to make the effort. You have 40 fans, I don’t have that many on wordpress. I might get more page views but I have less fans.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John

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    1. Oh, l love the parable of the talents. I also love Milton’s sonnet about it, too. That idea of using our God-given gifts in the measure that he gave us really struck home with me a number of years ago. Back when I was moping about being unpublished (and not writing, either!), I suddenly realized that I had to use my gift for writing. Jodi Picoult, Lauren Winner, Don Miller, etc., didn’t get published by sitting around dreaming about writing, so why was I sitting around daydreaming about it? I had to use my gift because not to use it would be like the talent hidden underground by the servant. So here I am, plodding away with whatever talent God has given to me, doing everything I can to develop my writing ability, and praying that it gives God glory. Thanks again for the encouragement. Blessings on you, too!

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      1. So far, not too many successes. I’ve had one short story published; it was the first piece I’d ever submitted to a journal, and having it accepted felt like a hug from God, like he was giving me his blessing on my writing. I got a request for a partial from an agent this week but I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much; statistically speaking, it seems unlikely that the 11th agent I queried would sign me. Most of my published friends had between 30-60 rejections until they found “the one”. (I guess that makes finding an agent like finding a spouse–a long, sometimes difficult and discouraging path, though well worth it in the end.)

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    1. Well, 51 of them are Facebook friends! But the other 9 have all “liked” me on Facebook because of someone else’s recommendation. That makes me happy!

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  3. Hey Laura
    I think that you should talk to me either on the phone or Yahoo IM. I may be able to help you in your writing profession. I have numerous articles published and going to publish my own book. Moreover I have spent two years studying how to sell more books.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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