When I am in a sour mood- cranky, frustrated, exhausted, irritated by life- that’s often when I am most likely to do something charitable. I’ll help out a friend with a problem, give some extra cash to a panhandler, or buy something I don’t really need to support a good cause.
Why? There’s a lot of psychology behind the action. We can discuss the differences between empathy and sympathy, that being frustrated puts me in a more empathetic place to others and I’m more likely to try and help. We can discuss how doing good things releases endorphins, making me feel good, and whether or not that makes the action actually “altruistic.” It could even be as simple as “I feel like this world sucks, so I’m gonna do SOMETHING to make it better.”
Those would be excellent blog posts… but they are not this one. This post is about the fact that that same principle applies to when good things happen to other people, and to help your negative feelings about it. This post is about Impostor Syndrome, envy, and diffusing both by supporting your friends.
At its heart, Impostor Syndrome is all about ego– specifically, yours trying to protect itself by (weirdly) sabotaging itself. It protects itself from the fear of failure by saying “I’m already a failure- if I fail, that’s expected.” From there, the thoughts spiral to “If I’m a failure, what am I doing here? How did I get this position? Why do these people trust me to perform? I’m just an idiot fraud, and they’re bound to find out soon.”
It’s a common affliction in all walks of life, not just creative fields- and it’s far from the only one. When you work at a particular skill or field and you see someone else enjoying greater success or a more appealing lifestyle- especially if they are a friend of yours- envy is a perfectly human response. It almost makes too much sense that, in a world of social media where we see the highlight reels of everyone’s lives, looking at other enjoying a better lifestyle or more success than us makes us go “Why couldn’t that be me? Why ISN’T that me? I deserve that too- I want that!”
Comparison kills creativity. Envy has a tendency to mix with Impostor Syndrome into a poisonous sludge that grinds your efforts to a halt, saps your energy, and then rots into resentment- leading you nowhere you’d ever want to be.
How to stop it? By attacking where it starts- the ego.
When you help someone in need despite being in a sour mood, it de-centers you from your narrative. You acknowledge that the world is bigger than you and has more going on with more people. You are not the be-all and end-all. Your ego, and Impostor Syndrome, need you to keep feeling like you’re in the center with all eyes on you. Once you’re not, the pressures off. The ego can relax, and you can function again.
(For the record, this is not the same as saying “Other people have it worse.” You are entitled to your space and pain, just like everyone else is. There is no Suffering Olympics, and no one should want to win a medal if there were.)
How do you de-center yourself from envy, though? It’s all too easy to say “cheer for other’s success,” but that can feel hollow and even disingenuous if you’re really deep in an envious slump. How to do it then? Double down. Don’t just cheer- support them.
Salons, Patronage, And Inspiration
Back in the 19th Century, artists and nobles would occasionally form salons. Rather than doing hair and makeup, though, these would function as discussion groups and community hubs for artisans to discuss upcoming events, critique new work, collaborate and inspire each other. They were often hosted by a wealthy patron who supported them exchange for having so many creative people to call upon and add glamour to their social circle.
I am immensely grateful to have the talented and capable circle of friends that I do. They include writers, poets, bakers, cooks, homebrewers, businessmen, musicians, painters, quilters, and artisans of every stripe. They are coast-to-coast and around the world. Some have made the leap toward making their art their full-time job, a decision that impresses me and frustrates me with my own cautious nature in equal measure. Others enjoy their work as a side hustle, with varying levels of profitability. That is more or less the model I have adopted. Any frustration I feel about it is just the fact that, in our current society, keeping your joy and skill on the backburner and stifling its potential is arguably an intelligent financial decision. No, Personal Finance Blogs- starting a blog an “just running ads” isn’t an easy way to make passive income. This writing shit is work.
Still others keep their work for their own enjoyment and have no interest in profiting off of it more than they do emotionally. I respect this decision most of all, because it’s okay to not want your work to become a commodity. You are allowed to do things for enjoyment, not to make a profit. Hobbies are a thing for a reason, and “amateur” is not a dirty word.
Then there’s me.
I’m proud of the work I do, here and in the kitchen. Impostor Syndrome is still an omnipresent gremlin, though. Seeing my friends travel, succeed, and enjoy life sometimes does make me wonder what I’m doing wrong that that’s not me. Why don’t I get to travel like that? Am I not talented/smart/lucky/bold enough to enjoy that kind of success and freedom? Why isn’t that me?
The honest answer- that we are different people with different circumstances, different resources, different opportunities, and different decisions to make- is cold comfort. Again, comparison kills creativity. The truth doesn’t vanquish Impostor Syndrome, nor assuage the envy. What does? Support- giving it as much as possible, and wholeheartedly. De-centering myself, and letting my ego off the hook.
By contributing to your friends success, you become part of their success. It transforms “they are so much more skilled than me” to “what can I learn from them?” Share their work. Buying it if you can, and supporting their crowd sourcing campaigns if you can’t.
Sitting at my desk, I am surrounded by the work of my friends. Their paintings and drawings are on my walls. Their books are on my iPad and shelves. Their music is on my playlists. I drink at their bars, eat at their restaurants, buy their products and provide leads to jobs I know where they can shine.
That (and maybe Facebook groups or discord servers) is the closest thing I can have to a salon right now, and it’s a wonderful way of turning envy into inspiration.