Congratulations, I’m Not Happy For You

“He who has 100 wants 200, and he who has 200 wants 400.” (Midrash Koheles Rabbah 1:34)

Last week, one of my friends got a piece accepted to a major website. And I was happy for her. Genuinely happy.

It shouldn’t be a big deal, to be happy for the success of a friend, but it kind of is. It’s a big deal because I struggle with being jealous of other people’s successes. Friends, acquaintances, even people I don’t really ever interact with. I’m an equal-opportunity envier.

Even though I had been experiencing my own successes in writing and music, it didn’t prevent me from begrudging someone else’s success. Any announcement of a popular blog post, an upcoming performance, a public speaking event, or whatever, would trigger my impulse to criticize. In my mind, I was always more worthy, more competent.

The scary thing is that I didn’t even realize that I was jealous. That sounds crazy, I know. It’s so obvious to me now.

I’ve never really been the type to feel jealous about someone else’s house or car or sheitel or material possessions. So, amusingly, naively, smugly, I thought I was just, I don’t know, immune to struggle in this area. It wasn’t something I needed to work on, not something I could relate to. It was someone else’s problem, not mine.

It didn’t occur to me that jealousy was my problem, too, until Hevria’s launch.

Before Hevria, I had been internet-friendly with Elad. I felt that he supported my writing. So when Hevria launched and I realized that I hadn’t been invited to the party, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut.

Here was a website devoted to Jewish creatives. And I…wasn’t part of it. Hevria was awesome. My friends were psyched about it. And I wasn’t part of it.

Because people I liked were so excited, I pretended to be excited, too. I promoted Hevria on my blog and on Facebook. I commented on the posts, connected with some of the writers. I really worked on the concept of “mitoch lo lishmah bo lishmah.” Fake it ‘til you make it.

But deeply, on the inside, a part of me was reading the pieces and thinking “Why you and not me? Why you and not me?”

It was hard. Whenever a friend would make an offhand comment about how I should write for Hevria, I would shrug and feel frustrated that I wasn’t already. I focused on writing, on getting published to bigger sites. Buried in these efforts was an underlying desire to prove myself. To prove that I was good enough to be considered, that I was also accomplished like those other writers, the ones that were deemed worthy. If Hevria didn’t want me for their site, I would make myself into a known writer to spite them. Yeah, it was a super healthy motivation, clearly.

So I had this complicated relationship going. I was in pain about not being part of a site that I was actively promoting. And I was so hurt about not being included, and I wanted to ask Elad why. Why not me. But I felt like that would be a ridiculous thing to ask. Ridiculous because I felt like it exposed something negative about my ego, about how I thought I deserved something.

One night, after having a glass or two of wine, I mustered the courage to send him a message. And he confirmed basically what I thought had happened. I was too in-the-box, not edgy enough, not a fit.

But I used to be edgy. I used to be out of the box. And now I was so deeply in the box that I agreed with Elad that I wouldn’t have been a fit. When Hevria launched, I didn’t really get it. I didn’t understand what was happening, what kind of community was being made. Was it safe? Was it kosher?

Over time, through my continued, if initially inauthentic support, I began to genuinely appreciate Hevria. I began to open up, to see that it was possible for my in-the-box present to be connected to my out-of-the-box past. I began to realize how it was possible to love and appreciate Jews who were different than me. I especially connected to Rachel Kann’s poetry. Reading her words opened a fount of creativity within me, inspiring me to start writing music again after a long dry spell.

Because my fake it ’til I make it approach had more or less worked, I conveniently avoided having to deal with my feelings of jealousy. Until Hevria’s first anniversary rolled around. It was a celebration of a year of the amazingness of Hevria. Can you imagine, I had been jealous for a whole year and thought that I had dealt with it. I thought I was an adult.

But I wasn’t. I really wasn’t, and seeing all the celebratory posts unleashed all the pain of not being included. It was post after post reminding me that I didn’t make the cut. One night, when the pain reached a tipping point, I reached out to Rachel Kann, who I deeply respect, and released my petty emotions all over her in a Facebook message typed hastily from my phone.

Because she is an amazing human being, more evolved and self-aware than I am, she responded with kindness that I didn’t deserve. She wisely told me that if I actually feel my feelings, they will pass. Then she said that she tried not to think too much about the things she wished she had. She listed a number of things. And I had all those things. Every one.

I was humbled.

I was living the life and yet I was wishing for the successes of other people to be mine.

What’s even crazier is that the day I had this conversation with Rachel was the SAME DAY Hevria was opened up to guest posts. The same day.

I don’t believe in coincidences, and it was too much for me to process.

For an entire year I had been complaining and bitter about not being invited to the party. And then, just like that, the door was open. I could submit something.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. The possibility of being rejected again was paralyzing. I had been telling myself this entire time that I was just as good as any of the writers, that I deserved to be a part of the site. What would happen if I submitted something and it was rejected? My narrative would fall apart. I would have nurtured those negative emotions for nothing.

I declared to my husband that I would never write for Hevria. Not even if they asked me to! Nope.

It was more comfortable to live in a world where I didn’t have to take that risk, didn’t have to dig deep into myself and take an honest account of what I was feeling, of who I was, who I wanted to be.

But I couldn’t deny that I wanted to write here. That I felt a kinship to the writers, to the community that was being created.

I had to acknowledge that I while I was jealous of the success of others, I wasn’t always putting in much effort to even make art, to create anything that could even lead to success. I was frustrated because I knew I had the potential to create, but because of my stage in life, I wasn’t able to put as much time or energy into creation as I would like to.

And I needed to recognize that at this phase of my life, with four kids, I only have a small amount of time to write and do music. And I do. I make a lot of art, all things considered, and I wasn’t appreciating that at all. I was looking at people with completely different life circumstances and at different stages and wanting what they had. I was being greedy. I wasn’t being grateful for what I can do, what I had been doing.

In addition to the limitations of time, I was also letting my hurt feelings hold me back. I was not submitting anything to Hevria, even though I had ideas for posts that seemed like they would only fit here. I was holding that grudge of not being invited at the beginning. I was holding it and not letting go.

But I eventually grew tired of holding onto the pain. I made peace with the idea of rejection. My heart caught up with my brain. I wrote this piece about my experience of taking control of the narrative of my life as a Jew. As I was writing it, Elad contacted me about doing a guest post.

Kismet.

I wish I could create a step-by-step primer on how not to be jealous, but it’s really been a process of being honest with myself over and over and over again. And of being patient, because it takes time to internalize concepts like not being jealous. But I see how the more I have been able to integrate this perspective into my life, the easier it is to be happy at the successes of others. So that’s encouraging.

I still struggle with jealousy, with being happy with my creative life. I try not to be greedy and not to want everything, but instead, to want what is possible for me to have. And to actually take steps towards creation instead of being too scared to take it out of the realm of potential.

And to be grateful, no matter the outcome.