Being moral despite it all

enjoythejourneyWe all struggle and work hard and scrape by and then someone, out of the blue, has success doing what we’ve been struggling to do and barely made any headway on.

I have a friend who has started a film festival and is frustrated that other festivals start up and seem to find donors easily. I am an author and despite my efforts to publicize my books, and despite my moderate success at selling them (I do better than most), I don’t have a New York Times Bestseller – so clearly I am a failure. Aren’t I?

The answer is, of course, not. But it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to watch other people get ahead and catch lucky breaks while the rest of us mere mortals can’t seem to figure out how to get people to take us seriously.

So, how can we be our best ethically and emotionally when we are so frustrated and find ourselves getting jealous that others are having an easier time finding success?

The key for me is to remind myself that I don’t have all the facts. The reality is that even people who seem to catch lucky breaks had to work hard and struggle to find their success. Think of J.K. Rowling, who was on public assistance when she was writing her first book, and who was a single mom. There is no way what she went through to complete her book was easy. She probably felt frustrated at other people’s success too. And she probably thought about giving up.

A lot of times people struggle for years before becoming an overnight sensation. My husband likes to joke that it takes 8 years of really hard work to become an overnight success. He tells me this to motivate me to keep going when I feel like quitting.

I think it is normal to be frustrated and to feel like a bit of a failure when comparing yourself to others. But that shouldn’t stop you from working towards your goals if you think your goals are important. My husband doesn’t let me give up on my work because he thinks what I am doing is important. And it is.

So here are my remedies to help myself feel better when I am feeling low because someone else seems to have capture magic in a bottle.

  1. I sing “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat some worms” out loud to myself to make myself laugh and to remind myself that everyone feels this way at some point.
  2. I remind myself of the wise words of a punk rock friend of mine. Everyone vacillates between thinking they can take on the world and that they are the best thing that ever happened, to thinking that they are total crap and who told you you could sing anyway! I like to remember her words because these emotional lows are just that, lows. I will cycle back to unrestrained and irrational exuberance and hubris shortly.
  3. I imagine Dora in Finding Nemo singing “Just Keep Swimming” while she swims down into the blackness. At the end of the day, all you can do is just keep on swimming and trying to make forward progress despite having no clue where you are going or where you will end up. What are your alternatives after all? To give up? On life? I don’t think so.

And if all that doesn’t work, get a cute – hang in there kitty poster. That should do the trick.


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1 thought on “Being moral despite it all”

  1. Thanks for this Jennifer! As your graphic says, ultimately, we cannot be so attached to outcomes for our happiness. Even reminding ourselves of J.K. Rowling's struggles paints a picture wherein we imagine ourselves in a similar narrative, but merely at an earlier point. This may very well be a fantasy (and statistically, it is). In fact, the vast majority of us will *never* become famous or rich for what we do. And it won't be because we didn't try. This cannot be the prerequisite for happiness.

    In the end, neither money nor fame has any kind of value. This is why it seems to me that what we do we should do for the experience itself, rather than becoming attached to some particular outcome, over which we really have little to no control. If we paint, it should be because we love to paint. If we write it should be because we love to write, and so on. If we wouldn't be happy playing music our whole life and never becoming famous for it, then we shouldn't be playing music.

    The same goes for activities designed to help others. If what we are doing is worthy; if it helps one person, then it will have been worth it, even if it fades into oblivion. Nothing will change the fact that we helped that one person. We should be helpful to others because we want to be a compassionate helpful person. And, a person who is compassionate and unknown is every bit as successful at having become compassionate, than a person who is compassionate and well known. If we place our sense of value on pure motivation and our choices, and not on any particular set of outcomes, then we will have already become an overnight success.


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