Friday, March 16, 2012

Their Brilliant Careers

Though I lost touch with many of my college friends, I did check in now and again on their professional accomplishments. One became a Broadway director, another a Broadway actor; one acquired acting fame in Hollywood, another took home an Oscar for directing. I swelled with pride for all of them—I felt joy, never envy, for their success.

A couple of months ago, I read this:

“My friends are professionally accomplished, and have big important jobs. Using classic Under-Achiever logic, I feel I don’t need to do more with my life, because they are doing so much. It’s kind of like I’m achieving by association. (Keep up the good work, guys! I like feeling important.)”
—Jane Clancy, author of The Literary Horse

I knew just what she was talking about—I nodded. I felt the same way—I laughed!

And then something weird happened.

An e-mail about the publishing industry popped into my inbox, as one does nearly every day, to inform me about who signed with which agent, whose book is headed for the silver screen, and what I should be doing on social media to market myself. I usually scan these e-mails and read only the bits I feel connected to.

On this particular scan, a name gobsmacked me—a name from my college (g)olden days, a name I’d followed for years when the fellow was doing well in Hollywood but then I lost track of him. Now I knew why he’d disappeared: He’d left the bright lights for a professorship, and while he was instructing wannabe actors on howtobe actors, he started writing children’s plays and musicals, which segued into writing YA fantasy fiction, which landed him an agent and a three-book deal for a cool million (and then $ome).


This time, it was only a little like I was achieving by association. My joy for my friend was fleeting; in its place rose a pang of envy, foreign to me and ugly.

What happened to my usual pride? Why was this different?

Did I yearn for that kind of recognition? Pine for the money? What?

It took a few days to figure out, but I came to the conclusion that I have a problem with people who excel at more than one thing. Well, TWO things are okay, I suppose. But this guy was good on stage, on screen, as an academic, as a playwright, and now as a novelist.

It just felt unfair. It made me feel like I was a kid in the schoolyard again, wondering when someone would pick me to be on the dodgeball team.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. I really have nothing to compare it to. My pride had been sucker-punched. I can do a lot of things, too; I just don’t excel at many of them. After whimpering a bit, I got over it. And now I’m happy for my friend. Really.

As Jane says, “Keep up the good work, guys! I like feeling important.”

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