Angst-istentialism within, so feel free to walk on by, Isaac Hayes-style, if this does you no favors.
Two things hit me after unpacking from a recent trip to see my parents in NYC. #1: Among the goodies I brought with me to read on the flight was a spanking new translation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, possibly the best rendition in English yet of that old chestnut — yes, better even than the Pevear and Volokhonsky version from the 1990s that got me taking the classics seriously again.
#2 was realizing all my copies of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s books have gone missing. I suspect they went poof in my move. What a shame: Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream, The Room, The Demon — all were as formative as they get. I came to Dostoevsky after Selby, but I could see how the latter gleaned from the former, and I couldn't imagine a life of reading without either one now. I'd originally owned a QPB three-in-one edition that packed the first three of those books in a single volume — it had been, of all places, on the remaindered table at a Barnes & Noble in NYC some years back, but it had suffered water damage somewhere along the way and had been falling apart last I checked. Probably for the best that I replaced it.
Both of those combined to poke me very gently in a tender part of my ego's underside that I had all but forgotten about: the spot where, once upon a time, I had imagined myself doing the "Selby thing", or the "Dostoevsky thing". Or the "Philip K. Dick thing", or the thing for just about anyone else I could name and claim as an influence.
The worst part of realizing I was never going to do the Selby thing was not that I couldn't "write like him"; any style can be outwardly imitated. (Most everyone who did the "write a story like Hemingway" exercise in high school knows this.) It was that his life was not and never would be mine to live, and thus I would never be able to inform my work with so much an an erg of his existence. I'd lived relatively comfy, while tuberculosis had left him without one lung and missing most of the second one (and a bunch of ribs to boot) at the tender age of twenty.
I also knew too well I didn't have the nerve to throw it all away and do something crazy. Every time I'd tried to do something even remotely like that, I'd realized all too quickly how what seems like the romantic chaos of a life "lived to the fullest" is nothing but a horrible pain in the rear when you're actually living it.
It's easy to be jealous of other people for having what to you seems like a life from which more can be drawn. Other peoples' lives always look more interesting, for the simple reason that they're not our own, and for the other simple reason that we are always subtly convinced that someone else always somehow has it better than we do.
The idea that someone else's life is more interesting than ours is a horrible trap. I know people who lead what we might call fascinating lives, but their own brothers or parents won't even speak to them — so clearly there's someone else in the world who doesn't find what they do fascinating. The fact that you do just means all the more your fascination is a matter of prejudice and point of view.
I don't have any magic answers for how to stop comparing yourself to others. I've been doing it incessantly for years. One thing I have gleaned from looking into it, though, is that the comparisons inevitably revolve around some specific thing in the moment that troubles us, or persists with us. If we're chronically ill, and we are in a moment where our chronic illnesses are particularly unmanageable and annoying, we envy those blessed with good health. If we struggled for years in obscurity, we envy those with even a modicum of fame or recognition. (The two are not the same.) If we're made to feel inadequate for being female, we envy females who seem protected from all of that because of status or privilege — or, we envy males who rarely get affected by such things.
This is not to say that such feelings are never well-motivated, especially not that last one. This is more about how myopic jealousy makes it difficult to see the real problem. If you think of the real problem as I'm stuck being this person here instead of being that person over there, you're never going to see the issues for what they really are.
Two authors come to mind in my case, both of whom I've been personally acquainted with. One is now a successful writer for a mainstream pop-culture franchise; the other has had a career as a novelist and a creator of various original comic titles. It took me a long time to realize I wasn't jealous of their talent or their opportunities; it was that I hated myself for not having the discipline to follow through the way they had. The problem wasn't with them, but me.
But it was sure tempting to project it on them, to pretend my failure was because of their success, that their achievements only existed because they had been stolen off my table. How many of us walk around thinking something along these lines and never realize it? How many of us believe, without ever questioning it, that the best model for our own success is someone else's?
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind