Fighting Demons With Demons (or How to Set Sustainable Goals and Handle Jealousy)

Jealousy is natural, especially in a creative field. It's often magnified in photography because we tend to equate external factors with results. We look for excuses for others success rather than perhaps internally questioning our own abilities.

An example could be seeing a photo and thinking,

"Man, I could take that photo! If only..." 

  • ...I had a camera like that
  • ...I was in that beautiful location
  • ...I could afford that lens
  • ...I had a beautiful model to pose for me
  • ....I had a team of assistants to help me
  • ...I had lots of business connections like them

"...then I could TOTALLY take that photo. And better than them!"

So, firstly, its a bit of a false equivalence to think that way. Yes, on a pure skill level, maybe you could do a better job of taking a photo than them given the exact situation. Sure, you could probably take those really cool portraits you see in popular Instagram posts if you had a 50mm 1.2 lens. I'm confident you could take a great photo of a Victoria's Secret model with little effort. 

But that's not the point. It's like being upset that a generic hot dog stand in a ballpark makes hundreds of thousand of dollars a day while your small restaurant makes a few hundred dollars at best. It's really the apples to oranges of comparisons— don't use circumstance as an excuse for the creation of art (i.e the above examples)...the reality is that these circumstances are PART of the process of creation. It may not be part of the creative process (ex: being business savvy enough to get a high end fashion magazine to pay you for a shoot) per say, but it is part of the creation of the art. 

This is a bit beyond the point though. Today, let's talk about fighting those inner demons, setting sustainable goals for ourselves, and trying to stave off the inevitable feeling of jealousy. 


Jealousy is natural. Not as an artist, but as a human. It's something that most beings with higher intelligence are capable of feeling, so...don't be ashamed of it! It's natural. It's your bodies response for thinking "hey, I want _____ that this OTHER person has!"

The biggest downside to being jealous of another artist or photographer is that it can slowly consume you. You may find yourself uninterested in creating more work because other people similar to you are finding success. You may find yourself creating work or getting specific client work only to spite people (ex: fighting hard to get a job with ___ client knowing that someone you are jealous of got work with them too...and maybe you never wanted the job in the first place). It can often cause depression. 

The fact of the matter is, you can't stop the feeling of jealousy. It will come naturally, and it will fight you to the bitter end. There is no way to prevent being jealous of another persons success, especially in an industry that features few winners but many losers.

So how do we fight back?

Fight Your Demons With Demons

The worst way to fight against jealousy is to use circumstance to defend the action. This is often seen in the sentiment along the lines of:

"Oh, they may have ______ but are they REALLY happy?" 

This is just...well, frankly, stupid. This is also something like "oh, they got a job with ___? I bet the pay sucks!" or something equivalent. Similar to how being jealous of a photographer due to various circumstances is wrong (and petty) you shouldn't try to extinguish the fire of jealousy by making up falsehoods or trying to find ways to justify it. You're jealous. Accept this fact. You. Are. Jealous. This is OK. This is normal.

I think the best way to fight the demon of jealousy is to actually point the jealousy somewhere else. If jealousy is the act of wanting something that another person has or has achieved, try to make yourself 'internally jealous', if you will. Be jealous of your former self, your former success, or use your own 'self' as a motivator.

So let's use the gym as an example of jealousy. A typical thought when seeing a very strong guy or gal lift more than you could be;

"Man, they are lifting so much! I could do that too if I ______(insert the first devil of jealousy: circumstance as an excuse) but I don't."

Once the jealousy sits in, we tend to find the excuse or justification for it

"Well, even if they can lift that much, they are probably secretly ____ (insert a false reason or justification for your own feelings)"

So, obviously this is a bad sign. The problem, if you're analysing it closely, is that it is a very external feeling. We are projecting our needs and wants on to a fictionalized version of someone else—we are jealous because of someone else because we could see ourselves in that situation. We project our desires on to someone's success, and the fact that we don't actually have those desires manifested leads to this downward spiral of depression, jealousy, and anger.

This is where you fight back. Instead of this outward projection, focus on JUST yourself. If you are jealous because someone just ran a 7 minute mile at the gym, instead, be maybe jealous of the fact that you, in your peak, could run a mile in 8 minutes.

Perhaps the better phrase is 'motivate yourself because of yourself'. The idea is that you should  be judging your success, failure, and creative abilities against yourself. You need to judge your success based on PERSONAL growth, not the success of other people. Don't think your slow because someone runs faster than you. Know that you are getting faster because you are shaving seconds off of your run. 

The same idea applies to your art. Don't be jealous of others. Instead, fight that demon with  your own demon. It's OK, say you are jealous of someone else's success. But also admit that your are frustrated by your lack of success. THEN, and this is important: after accepting that your are frustrated, do something about it. Just make sure you are getting better because it is what YOU want. 

I suppose the best way to express this idea is to realize that there is always going to be someone better, more creative, etc. than you. This is fine. But there is almost always a better version of you out there, and that person is the person you should be jealous of. Be jealous of the version of you that has woken up an hour before their normal morning routine to work out. Be jealous of the version of you that solved tough creative problems almost instantly. This is where jealousy should lie. Not with other people, but with yourself. You are transforming this external projection into an internal reflection—you change outward jealousy with inward inspiration. 

Setting Sustainable Goals

Along these lines, you need to set goals that are attainable. Don't kill yourself by working 18 hour days trying to fit more work in to get better. Your goal should always be simple: be a better person today than you were yesterday. You need to accept the fact that you can always be better, and the only way to do that is to try harder. Jealousy can often lead towards inaction / depression. Don't let that happen. You'll never satisfy the demon of jealousy when you measure yourself against someone else, but you can find yourself at peace with your own demons if you conquer a sustainable goal. Don't make your goal to make 100k from your photography business. Make it to earn 10 percent more this year than last year. Don't be frustrated that someone's Instagram photo got 2000 'likes'. Try to get your photo a few dozen more. 

By having small incremental goals, you set yourself up for an existence that can feed off of itself. You always have the same desire as before (the need to succeed, be popular, etc.) but this time it is set as an achievable standard because YOU are the only one standing in the way. 

It's a difficult way to think—you are basically judging yourself by using yourself as a template—but once you are able to think like this you will find yourself less concerned with typical bouts of jealousy that others may get. I'm not saying that you need to always be happy or to be complacent. No. I'm saying that you should find yourself in a state where you always want to improve. Be a better you by being a better you. 

You'll still find jealousy pop up from time to time, but just remember at the end of the day you need to just focus on yourself. Jealousy often gets you no where in life. Do you want your art to be fueled by an itch you can never scratch? You'll be climbing the ladder of "success" forever. Instead, focus on yourself and only yourself. At the bare minimum you'll find happiness, and that can lead to much more happiness than being jealous ever got you.