I will admit it. It’s really hard sometimes to be happy for your artistic peers. There are times when someone you know well gets a job, or some big funding, a fellowship and you just think to yourself, “Damnit. I am just as good as them. This is not fucking fair.”
There are times when I hear about people’s successes and my first instinct is to figure out how I could get a hold of the same opportunity. There are also times I despair at the seeming lack of luck, a random set of factors that make their stuff trendy and my stuff totally prohibited from some desirable professional stepping stone: I don’t do straight plays, I don’t have an MFA, I’m not great with Shakespeare, I don’t act, I’m not part of an ensemble, whatever. It’s harder, not easier, the closer the people are to you to stay happy for them. With a partner in the same field, you know a lot about what those successes mean and how much you’d like them. And it’s hard not to let that ambition and desire to get your own work made not tarnish what the other achieves. It’s hard with anyone close to you not to calcify that feeling into anger or resentment.
We have to resist impulses to wound each other. There will always be factors that change what kind of opportunities are presented to you. You can lament a lack of trust funds or degree in accounting. You can get pissed you’re an introvert and that social networking will never come easy. You can justifiably be mad that your niche of artistic interest has few roads to success, that your particular skill set isn’t popular right now, that your look isn’t what’s sought after. What you’re upset about is almost always totally valid. You are probably assessing the situation completely correctly. There is a naturally logical frustration in seeing the system you take part in unfairly benefit some, especially when it feels random or unmerited.
But you still have to cut that shit out.
There’s a mantra I learned from a mentor. Repeat it to yourself whenever you feel this feeling: “Other artist’s successes are good for me.”
You have to say it. And you have to keep saying it until you believe it. Because there’s no other sane way to live.
My fellow artist spouse has a fable his father used to tell him:
A man owns a farm and his prize mare runs away. His neighbors tell him what a shame, how terrible to lose the horse. He says, “Who says it’s terrible?”
Three days later the horse returns and following her are two massive wild stallions that the man has now acquired. The same friends stop by and say “How lucky! What a wonderful thing to have happened.” The farmer says, “Who says it’s wonderful?”
Two days later the farmer’s son is riding one of the stallions and is flung off. He breaks many bones and is told by doctors he will have to be in bed for months. His neighbors stop by and express their condolences, “How sad, how awful, we’re so sorry this happened.” The farmer, of course replies, “Who says it’s something to be sorry about?”
The following day, the country’s major general rides into town and declares that he must enlist all the able bodied men. The farmer’s son is spared.
This could go on and on.
The point is that, like the fable, we just don’t know how one thing leads to another. Not working on a project might lead you to having free time in which you conceive of the deepest work you’ve ever created. Or allow someone to approach you for something else you didn’t know you were in the running to be a part of. Not getting a grant might mean that you are forced to take the time to develop something more and ultimately make something far stronger. Maybe someone getting the thing you wanted puts a fire under your ass that you’ve needed for a long time.
Creators have dropped out of my works because they’ve gotten better offers. I’ve privately wept, tears from my face, because I was so attached to the vision of the piece with them in it. But that’s not the reality I was going to live in. So I kept saying it, until I could finally start to mean it. “Their successes are good for me too.” I don’t yet know why or how, but they must benefit me in some way as well.
I remember the first time I ever read over a grant proposal for a friend who was applying in direct competition with me. I kept thinking, “Am I an idiot? What if they get it and I don’t because I helped showcase their work better?” And I just had to believe that if that did happen I’d be ok with it. And that helping them out was worth it because I wanted their work to be better. The same way mine had gotten better because of others who had helped me.
There are lots of ways in the long run that it’s going to be better for you, for everyone if someone else kills it. They report back about whether things are worth doing. They give advice about how to get the same opportunity. They introduce you to the people they’ve met. They talk up your work. They connect presenters or bring important people into town. They raise up our entire community’s visibility. None of this can happen unless we’re all on board with looking out for each other.
Sometimes it’s not your piece of the pie. Just wait for the next one.