Sometime in January I made a commitment to get better. To become a better human being. To be less cynical and more open to the ideas of others. And while the short term results have for the most part been amazing, as I continue to practice I find myself routinely confronted with certain baggage that gets in the way of breaking through the din of the world to a more peaceful state-of-mind. 

Most notably the concepts that get in the way are envy and doubt. 

I consider myself a pretty good writer. Which in itself is a dangerous proposition. The reason is that ego is a powerful force, and once we consider ourselves with lofty regard, we walk a tightrope between humility and pride.

Humility is virtuous. Pride is the opposite. 

Still, I have had some success using words and ideas to move people, and it’s something that comes naturally. And because I’m a writer, that means I fall into the creative class—with other writers and artists. 

To be clear, I’ve never considered myself an “artist,” as such, since I’ve held “artists” to a higher plane–painters, photographers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, actors, etc. But in order to be an effective writer I rely on my imagination and experiences to create emotional resonance in people. And that emotional connection is the primary role of every artist. So, yes, as a writer I’m an artist. Reluctantly, I accept this. 

Fame and wealth. Two things I’m not. Nor are these things commonplace amongst the creative class. But sometimes when I lift my head up from work to look around? I see others like me enjoying a modicum of fame or wealth–and when I see what they’re creating, I often think … my work is better.

No, I don’t think this of every writer or artist I encounter. Most often I’m humbled by the talent of others and am unafraid to say so. But there are absolutely some folks out there who I feel like have had a few lucky breaks, with mediocre talent. 

That’s when envy rears its ugly head. 

It’s like this, I work as hard as anyone I know. I pour my heart into every keystroke. And I’m committed to revealing things shown to me through diligent observation that makes what I put out into the world fairly unique. Not that that striving for originality should be the goal of an artist, but offering a peripheral view of a common idea to make people think about things slightly differently is important to my work—in both the commercial world and in my art. 

Whether it’s busting my ass working as a writer building brands in the “real world,” or sweating the rhythm of a poem that has no commercial value, envy morphs into doubt when I see others succeed who look like they follow a template. 

What am I doing wrong? Do I sell out, follow a template, and state the obvious? Am I even capable of doing that? Will I ever succeed? Do I even have talent? 

As mentioned at the top, this year I’ve been working to become a better human being. I know it sounds lofty and a little pretentious, but it’s actually a selfish endeavor. The goal is to become happier. When I’m happy, I positively affect those around me. So far my practice has mostly consisted of service to others, and endeavoring to be relentlessly grateful. Grateful for what I have (and no, not just “stuff”), instead of worrying about what I don’t have. 

But envy and doubt consistently get in the way. Let’s call it decades of formatting. It’s hard to break through that formatting without some growing pains. 

Every person you will ever meet is carrying some thing that causes them stress and discomfort. Everyone. Mine is this. For now. Next week it’ll likely be something else. 

When these feelings of envy and doubt arise, it’s like a punch to the gut. Over. And over. But this is part of the practice, I’m learning. And so when these feelings do rise up, I tell myself that identifying them, naming them, and moving past them is part of the battle. And that the struggle is worth it. 

Besides, thanks to my life experiences I have a strong core. I can take a punch. 

I think. 

Photographs used with permission by Edward Boches. All rights reserved.

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Jim

Legend of the Dogwood

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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