• Joel Ryan

Why Envy and Resentment are Killing Your Creativity

When I was a freshman in high school, I had the chance to run track and field, and when I say run, I don’t actually mean run. I mean jump!

Long jump. Triple jump. High jump.

These were the events in which I “specialized,” and over the course of the season, I showed signs of improvement.

I recorded incremental improvements in my muscle tone, speed, vertical lift, and most importantly, height and distance.

It was progress worth celebrating, and I did.

However, on the last day of practice, one of our top sprinters, a guy named Ray Atkins, asked our jumping coach about the triple jump, which he had never tried.

After a brief tutorial, Ray set out to try his first triple jump. And it was in that moment that I watched a first timer beat my personal record by twenty-five feet!!!

I’d like to tell you that I was impressed, and I certainly was, but I also became insanely jealous and even discouraged by Ray's jaw-dropping feat.

Only moments before, I was celebrating reaching my goals for the season. Now, all I could think of was how far behind I really was in the field of competitive triple jump.

So what did I do?

I can tell you what I didn't do. I didn't allow Ray's heroics to motivate me. I didn't use Ray's achievement to inspire me to train harder and aim higher.

That was the last day I ever competed in the triple jump.

I quit right then and there, concluding that I would never be able to compete with Ray Atkins, so why bother?

Sound familiar?

Of course, comparison is part of competitive sports. We must always measure our best against our competition. We can be as good as we possibly can, but in order to win, we also have to be better than the competition, and sometimes our best simply doesn't measure up to someone who's better.

In any field, competition can inspire us to dig deeper, push harder, and exceed even our own expectations; and I've come to believe in the power of playing above our level.

The question in any profession, however, is does excellence motivate or discourage us?

Comparison can be an effective measuring tool. Even in writing, it's good to know what other writers are doing, what's selling, and how the best work makes it on the shelf and stays in print. Learn from the masters. They are a guide.

Comparison becomes problematic, though, when we lose perspective on our progress, joy in our process, and hope in our potential.

Unfortunately, what I failed to accept in the world of high school sports was that:

1). Ray had been training as an athlete for years. He may not have been a jumper, but he was an incredible sprinter and all-state running back for our football team, which means he was already stronger, faster, and more competitive in most sports than I was.

2). Ray was athletically gifted in areas I was not and probably would never be. He was simply that good.

I had trained all year to become the best jumper I could be, and I was showing improvement. But now, instead of measuring my success in smaller, personal increments, I began to focus on all the ways I wasn’t Ray Atkins.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t set a high bar. We should absolutely set goals and give ourselves the chance to build on incremental achievement and gain the reward that comes from those achievements.

To quote Jordan Peterson, “incremental improvement repeated is virtually unstoppable.” This was something I wrote about in my previous post on Writing Small.

If you've read that post, you'll know that I believe that sometimes we have to set the bar at a level we can reach to start, keeping in mind where we want to go eventually.

As a freshman, I wasn't going to hit Ray's best. Not yet at least. I had to work up to it. Even so, was his mark the mark I should be reaching for or my own?

It’s easy to look at someone else's achievements or talent and wonder, how come I’m not there or how come I don’t have what they have?

Maybe they’ve earned it by putting in the work. Maybe they haven’t. Maybe they were simply born with gifts, talents, and opportunities we don't have and may never have. So what? We can't control what they do or how high they jump.

There is nothing wrong with admiration.

Successful people are inspired and even motivated by the achievement and innovation of others. They, however, allow themselves to learn from the disciplines, habits, and triumph of those in their field and apply those techniques to their own goals.

Unsuccessful people often get discouraged by the success of others. They become jealous or resentful when others rise and they do not.

These are the same people who tend to focus more on other’s “privilege” instead of their own character, discipline, and growth.

This is something I’ve seen happen with a lot of writers. It’s what happened to me as a young athlete.

When most writers are starting out, their writing isn’t that good, and they know it.

They have the eye, which allows them to see where their work is bad, but they compare their writing to the greats and allow the disparity in quality to discourage them instead of inspire them.

When we compare ourselves to those who’ve outpaced us and allow it to distract us, envy may not be far behind.

When we compare ourselves to those we’ve outpaced, pride may also be waiting in the wings.

In either case, comparison that leads to resentment can become a self-imposed hurdle that prevents us from running our race or completing our best work. They cause us to look behind, to the side, or too far ahead instead of focusing on what is right in front of us: our race.

Don’t envy others for their success; celebrate it.

Don’t resent others for their achievements; learn from them.

Let others motivate and push you forward; but focus your energy on your goals and the steps you need to take to achieving them. And don’t be afraid to build upon small, repeated improvements in your goals. Imagine how unstoppable you can become when you do.


That being said, thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read this post. As always, if you enjoyed or were motivated and encouraged by these words, hit the heart icon below, leave a comment below, share this post with someone you know, or subscribe to be the first to know when new content is posted.

Thanks again. Now get back to writing.


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