For those who write, create or compose for a living, negative self-talk and comparisons to others can wreak havoc on their mental health, their creativity and their livelihoods. Letting go of comparisons and jealousy isn’t easy, but failure to do so can be crippling. Novelist Camille DeAngelis conquers this challenge in her new self-help book, “Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People.”
We talked to DeAngelis about why creatives need to separate success from their own self-worth, what that mental shift has done for her and more. The following excerpts of our conversation have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What was the inspiration for “Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People”?
Life Without Envy came from a really personal experience. I had published two novels and the second novel went out of print, partly because of the shakeup in the publishing industry after the economic downturn. At the time, I felt very lost and very frustrated. It seemed like everybody else was having an easier time of it. My friends or fellow authors seemed to be getting book deals.
Then I realized that if I wanted to feel a sense of satisfaction in my work again that I really need to re-jig my own thought process about this whole business and my own creativity. I wanted to feel that my work was seen and appreciated and I wasn’t feeling that, but I realized that I needed to figure out why did I need that.
That personal growth experience that sort of lead me to getting the idea for this bookL. Then as I was starting to outline it, I thought what might be a real breath of fresh air for a lot of people. I sense that some people are still resistant to reading it because the book requires you to take a close and uncomfortable look at your own thought processes and recognize how you are feeding your own happiness.
How did your work or your life improve as a result of the “life without envy” mindset?
The real difference is on the inside. I really focused on creative satisfaction as opposed to success. The way that I define that is success is predicated on factors beyond my control, whereas satisfaction is something I allow myself through my own labor and my own focus. I can decide that I want to follow through on a particular project. If you’re always looking for your sense of fulfillment from outside of yourself, you’re never going to be happy.
I feel like I’m a much happier person than I used to be and writing this book definitely helped. I feel like I’m being useful by having written the Life Without Envy. One of the chapters in the book is “make yourself useful.” It doesn’t have to be some grand selfless gesture. Just little acts of kindness and being a good member of the community can make a big difference for your mood and your happiness.
Why do you think artists and other creative professionals are so vulnerable to negative thoughts?
In other callings, the work isn’t so personal. In our case, what we are creating is so deeply personal. It’s really hard to separate the effort and all of the heart that went into it from its reception. If your work is going well and you’re getting fellowships and awards and other forms of recognition, then you feel like you’re making a worthwhile contribution. Somebody else could be doing work that is just as inspiring and interesting and different and groundbreaking, who isn’t getting that kind of reception. Is that person’s contribution any less important, because they’re not getting as much recognition for it?
I think that part of why we have such a problem with mental illness and depression is because we have these unhealthy attitudes that we are unconsciously buying into as young artists and then become more entrenched as we get older.
You mentioned earlier about being part of a community, but creative work can be very isolating. Any tips on finding that community?
I met some of my best readers in grad school. It’s not necessary to go to an expensive graduate school, but the connections you’ve made there and the work you produced there, you can make those connections [at grad school]. There are plenty of other resources for whatever kind of art you’re making. I think it’s mostly down to making it a priority to make connections.
Especially with the internet, it’s much easier than it was 10-15 years ago to find your people. It takes time and patience because you’re not going to find your ideal critique partner or people you’re simpatico with right away. There are so many different kinds of creative friendship and so many different kinds of communities. It’s mostly a matter of realizing that, for your art and for your own mental wellbeing, you need to make it a priority to surround yourself with loving and supportive, like-minded artists.
About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter@UrbanMuseWriter.