When Competition is Motivating

I’m a very competitive person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up.

I’m beginning to realize that rather than discourage me, the success of others motivates me to work harder, to reach farther, to branch out into areas I otherwise would be afraid to go.

A few years ago, my fellow Scribe Emmie Mears had a run of great news in her career, securing four book deals in one summer for both fiction and non-fiction books. At the time, I was 1.5 years into being on submission for my first book, Daughter of Destiny, and I was starting to see cracks in my relationship with my agent. So while I was happy for Emmie, I was also feeling insecure, which led to me being VERY jealous.

Not long before Emmie’s announcement, my agent had told me the editor who had my book at the time was so certain we were going to get an offer that she wanted me to write a non-fiction book about the Celts so she could tie it into my Guinevere books. I thought she was nuts. Me? A non-fiction author? Right. I didn’t think I had the education or skills for that so I dismissed it out of hand.

I was in Chicago on vacation when I found out about Emmie’s good fortune. Of course, I stewed for a while, but then I thought, “If Emmie can get a non-fiction book deal, why can’t I?” Over the next two months, I researched my little heart out and ended up with a proposal and a 50,000 word book. Sadly, we never got to send it to the editor because the publisher ultimately passed on Daughter, but it made me do something I never thought I would. (I never have published that book. Maybe someday. I have since published non-fiction, though!)

Then just last week I found out a second author I know online, Chanel Cleeton, had her book Next Year in Havana chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick. When this happened to the first of my friends, Kate Quinn (for The Alice Network, such an amazing book), I wasn’t jealous, just very, very happy for her. But for some reason, Chanel’s announcement really got to me. (My best guess is I am feeling insecure again and that is probably right because I’m looking to go back to traditional publishing for my next few books after three years as an indie author.)

But again, after a few hours of being jealous, during which I created the graphic to the right, it energized me. I thought to myself, “well, if that’s going to be me someday, I better get a move on.” Now, at the time I was editing one book (fiction) and working on a proposal for another (historical non-fiction). What did I do? Began putting feelers out for yet another non-fiction book to determine if there is enough information on my subject to warrant a biography (I can’t find evidence that one has ever been written on this woman, but there might be a reason for that.)

My point to all of this is that you can take a negative emotion like jealousy and turn it into something positive. It just takes a little creative thinking. If I can use all the success of my amazingly cool author friends to power me on, I should be to the moon in no time!

Now I need one of you to do something else really awesome so I can get my butt in gear for the historical non-fiction proposal I really want to get out to agents soon. All I have left is researching and writing the sample chapters. Go! Do! Succeed!

On Women, Strength and Competition

Last week on International Women’s Day, I was exposed to the most wonderful poet: Fleassy Malay from Melbourne, Australia, and her incredible poem, “Witches.” It’s actually not about witchcraft, but strong women. Please take a moment to watch it.

If you liked it, you can buy a print of the text on Etsy. Until March 18, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to The Global Women’s Project.

I seriously have a girl crush on Fleassy now and immediately followed her on Facebook. The other night she posted a Facebook Live to explain why she wrote the poem, which isn’t necessarily why you might think. Among other things, she said something like “we’re really good as women at calling each other out on our shit, but we don’t really have a system for celebrating one another.”

That really stuck with me. I’m a highly competitive person, so I naturally want to compare myself with others, and I’ll admit to getting pretty jealous when others achieve the things I dream about before I do. Oddly enough, my Twitter friend Summer posted something similar the other day:

I know we all do that to some extent, but I have a problem with it. I’ve always thought it was just a flaw in my personality, something I need to work on – which it is – but now I wonder how much is societal. From what age are we taught to compete with one another, especially with other females? Does it start when we are old enough to watch television or even to consume fairy tales where women (sometimes even mothers and step-sisters) compete over the same man? How and why does this bleed over into other parts of our life? From where does this mindset of scarcity come? It’s not like there is a limited number of men/success/book contracts/what-have-you for which we have to compete Hunger Games-style. Yet we do it. Every single day.

I see memes like this one all the time and I want to say, “Hell yes!” because they are true. But in my heart, I can’t. As a feminist, I’ve long been ashamed of myself for viewing other women first as my competition and second as my sisters. It’s weird, but when the topic is something I’m not competitive about, I’m ALL ABOUT the sisterhood and the congratulations. But throw in something I think I lack and it gets ugly, at least on the inside.

Getting back to Fleassy’s question, how do we create a system to help build up one another? Social media seems to both help and hinder this idea. It helps because we can signal boost each other, offer our well-wishes, etc. And that is a great start. But social media also allows us to see what is happening with others on a much more regular basis than we otherwise would. It shows us the external, polished veneers of other women’s lives, and when we compare ourselves to them, we feel bad, which takes us away from celebrating their triumph. Many people call it the Instagram effect. What we don’t see is the hard work and tears that go into that success or the other issues that the person might be dealing with. This accolade over which we are green with envy might be the only thing keeping that person from despair.

As evidenced by my personal reactions, these platitudes are so much easier to say than to live. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. It is a change that needs to happen at the societal level, but like everything else, likely needs to begin at the personal level. Hopefully, if each time someone we know/love succeeds at something, we try our best to be genuinely happy for her, we will slowly change the world. Share her posts, lift a toast, and dance for joy with her. Even if our hearts hurt, we can transform that pain into determination to do more/better in our own lives, and that can only make us stronger. And as each one of us glows brighter, we will collectively burn until we’ve changed this mindset of scarcity and competition into one of collective appreciation and abundance. Or so I dream.

I know I’m going to try. And like the rest of my fellow “witches,” I won’t come quietly.

PS – Does anyone else think Fleassy looks like Cosima from Orphan Black?

 

The Parable of the Two Bowls

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As writers, we live and ply our craft in an interesting juxtaposition: we’re told not to compare ourselves to others, while constantly being asked to write more and faster because XYZ famous author does it and the industry demands it.

Social media makes comparing your skills/speed with other writers extremely easy and tempting. If you hang out with other writers (as I do) you’re constantly seeing who has written X number of words, finished which book, or is being praised for his/her prolific-ness. And on top of that, you’re first to hear nasty rumors like the recent one that publishers expect four books a year now from certain genres.

Obviously, dwelling on this is not healthy – for your mental state or your creativity. But ignoring everyone else is easier said than done.

I never understood how NOT to compare myself to others until I ran across this Louis CK quote on Pinterest the other day: “The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” 

I have no idea why that particular metaphor worked when so many others haven’t. Maybe it triggers some long-forgotten religious theme in my upbringing or just touches on the basic human need for sustenance. But I’ve found myself going back to it time and time again as I read through the triumphs and successes of others. And it’s helping me to be happy for them, as I should be. It still doesn’t erase that little ping of envy when someone achieves something I’ve always wanted, but it helps.

And when I bother to take time actually look into my own bowl, rather than simply lamenting that it’s never full enough no matter what I do (we all feel that way sometimes, right?), I realize my bowl is doing pretty darn well. It may be like Merlin’s bag and keep expanding even as I fill it, but I should celebrate what I already have: I have two and half books under my belt, work with a fantastic agent, write for two blogs and have recently been able to give back to my local writing community by sharing my experiences. Not too shabby for a 34 year old.

There may be goals I have yet to achieve, but that’s actually a good thing. It keeps me going, keeps me motivated. I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t have those milestones peeking out of the mist of the future, I’d be tempted on some days to give up, or at least roll over and go back to bed when I should be writing. The shiny baubles in other people’s bowls that attract our attention whether we want them to or not should serve to make us more determined to be better, not weigh us down in jealousy.

And when I do spy the empty bowl of someone else who is wanting for something, it’s my duty to do what I can to help. That may be offering to beta read, start a writing sprint, or simply offer encouragement or listen. When that person’s bowl is filled, it’s time to get my eyes back on my own bowl and my fingers on the keyboard.

Wow, I feel like I’ve just preached a homily. Sister Nicole will shut up now. But I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences like in comparing yourself with others? What tricks have you found? Does the Louis CK quote resonate with you? What advice do you have for others struggling with this?