I have been thinking a lot lately about this topic. It comes up a lot in e-mails from aspiring artists, and sometimes in casual conversations. I think that nearly every new artist suffers from it to some extent. It's hard not to look around and become bitter that others are succeeding when you feel that you deserve it just as much as they do, and you are struggling. It can be really easy to believe that hard work and talent have nothing to do with it, because you work hard and you're talented, so why aren't you swimming in cash and adoration?
The truth is that most people don't work nearly as hard as they think they do. I know, I know. You work several hours a day and tell everyone that will listen about your artwork. But do you really?
I used to think I worked really hard. It seems to me, looking back, that everything was so much easier when I was 20. I didn't have a family, I didn't have to worry about money like I do now, and I could work all day and half the night if I wanted to and pay the price for it the next day.
But now I have to think about taking care of my son, and if I'm too tired to do it, who will feed him, play with him, change his diapers? And all of that takes a ton of time out of my schedule. My husband is also a consideration. He works a very crazy schedule that is different every day, and he still wants to spend time with me when he comes home at night. And someone has to cook dinner, and that's usually me. Plus I have to take care of myself, and do laundry, clean... it's kind of a wonder I get anything done. And if I still worked like I did when I was 20, I wouldn't.
All of these extra responsibilities have made me really reevaluate my work and what I do. Was I maximizing all of my time? Or was I wasting some of it? Did I work as hard as I thought I did, or did I just work really hard in short bursts before I got distracted? And how much of that time did I just brood over how successful other people were?
The truth was that I spent a lot of time distracting myself from work. Maybe the painting I was working on was giving me trouble, and I was distracting myself rather than deal with feeling discouraged by my own work and lack of skill at painting rocks. Or maybe my most recent piece hadn't immediately flown off the shelves like the piece before it, and I was discouraged by my lack of immediate success. Whatever the reason, I was wasting my own time. And I was jealous of other artists because of it.
All that wasted time was time that I wasn't busy painting, so I had time to think about other things. Things like, the apparent success of another artist, opportunities that were not offered to me, jealousy of another artist's skills, or wondering why other people were more successful but maybe not as skilled. I realized I spent a lot of time on all of this. And I obviously didn't feel good about it, so why was I doing it?
I realized I had to stop it, but it's not easy (maybe not even possible) to just tell yourself to stop thinking about something and be done with it. You have to find something else to do with those wasted emotions. I decided that if I wanted to be as successful as I hoped to be, that I would have to stop going and finding something else to do when I got stuck on a painting, and would just work on a different part of the painting. When I felt disappointed that an artist with less skill was winning an award or grant that I wanted, I decided to work twice as hard and get the money on my own.
Once I started doing these things, I felt I had fewer reasons to be jealous, probably because I had fewer excuses and no time for it. I used to be lucky to finish three or four paintings in a month. Now, if I have to, I can finish three or four in a week.
Sometimes, jealousy is healthy. Seeing work that is way better than yours and wishing you could do it should inspire you. But if it discourages you from even trying, your jealousy has become unhealthy. Jealousy is pretty normal, and everybody deals with it sometimes. Some people are naturally more jealous than others, and as hard as you try you won't be able to completely rid yourself of that aspect of your personality. Once you stop fighting it and embrace it as an inspiration, you will see what you are really capable of, but you have to be willing to be honest with yourself.
Are you doing your best?
Are you working as hard as you can?
Are you making a lot of excuses for why you "can't"?