KJ here. I did what was maybe a bad thing last week: I checked to see if Lisa Damour’s new book, Under Pressure (which is very good, even better than her first book, and if you’re raising a daughter or work with young women I recommend it), had made the NYT best-sellers list under Advice, How-to and Miscellaneous.
Here was my logic: Lisa’s first book made the Parenting list. Which doesn’t exist any more, and didn’t when my book (How to Be a Happier Parent) came out. So if her new book didn’t make this list, I could let myself off the hook. It just wasn’t something that was within reach, and that was okay, it was what it was and so on.
She made the list.
And I was jealous. Dang. I could have done it, then. It was possible. I just didn’t.
And this episode is about that. And about how Jess felt when Shonda Rhimes exalted a book that was similar to Jess’, but not Jess’. And how it feels when somebody else gets the agent. Or the book deal. Or the Netflix deal. Or the Modern Love column, or the podcast guest spot, or anything really.
It’s about learning to play in your own sandbox, and also about how we probably never, ever will.
Look, it helps a lot that I got this news the week after I sold my novel. If I’d had to pick between the two, I’d have gone with “sell novel” over “make best-seller list with non-fiction.” (That would never ever have been a choice, that doesn’t even make sense, but I find it comforting nonetheless.) I get to be in a nice comfy successful chair while I try to dissect what I could have done differently.
And really, the answer is–mostly nothing. The only choice I can see that might have made a difference was one I wasn’t willing to make (continue family journalism career full time while waiting for book to come out rather than writing novel)–and even that might not have mattered.
This was a goal that was out of my control–and yet some parts of it were within my control, which is what makes it weird. I can tell myself I could have written a better book, or done something else differently, but I can never know that something I did or didn’t do would have made a difference–or that it wouldn’t have.
I just have to chalk it up to oh well, note in passing that it’s a mighty good problem to have, also noting that it’s still okay to feel bad about it, even though it’s easy to mock me because I just wrote a whole piece about not making the New York Times Bestseller list, talk about whiny navel-gazing drivel!
I think it’s worth sharing, though. Because I am very successful. I’m good at what I do. And yet I still feel bad, and frustrated, and annoyed with myself, and sad, and yes, jealous, when somebody else achieves something and I don’t.
I wanted to get that and I didn’t.
Sometimes there’s not a lot to say except oh, well.
PS–my favorite part of this episode is when we note the kind of jealousy that really hurts–but which also really is NOT ALLOWED: when you’re jealous of someone who achieved something you didn’t because you didn’t try.
The number one reason for failing to publish a book, for example, is failing to write a book.
If you didn’t shoot the puck, you can’t be upset when somebody else hits the net. If you didn’t even lace up your skates? Go get your butt in the chair and do some work, or get out of the game.