October 14, 2010

There is Enough

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Tuesday night a friend and I went to a panel on writing. We were wrapped in scarves, and had just finished eating soup and sandwiches. The evening felt so collegiate, as we carried our trays in the bright lighting of a cafeteria-like restaurant and ventured out into the cool night in our tweed blazers to attend a lecture. We were in good moods.

A writing teacher of mine was speaking on the panel, and the evening was organized by a woman my teacher thought I ought next to take a class with. The room was packed, and to complete that fall feeling of being at the big game, we sat on bleachers in the back of the college bookstore. The writer in charge was a high-octane, fast-talking, take-no-prisoners MC, unapologetically cutting off authors who droned on a little long. “We’ve got a lot to cover, so I’ll just summarize your points,” she interjected.

As each author talked––about stalking agents in bars or soliciting quotes from Ian Frazier––I found myself growing more and more antsy and irritated. I was hugely annoyed by everyone earnestly taking notes about how to publish a bestseller. When the question and answer period was over and people started queuing up for coffee and cookies, I just wanted to flee to the nearest bar.

My friend is a writer, too. She may not realize that I consider her my spiritual guru. (“You’re more spiritually evolved,” I said, “cause you’ve had more lives.” “More lives, like, reincarnation?” “Yeah. You’re, like, of the air,” I explained, “and I’m still of the earth.” This is what I sound like, by the by, after half a Brooklyn lager.) But despite being on a higher plane, she shared my post-panel insecurity. To succeed, it seemed, we had to press the pedal to the metal: be out networking, sending out query letters, pitching stories, tirelessly taking workshops, going for it, full-throttle, determined and unshakable. It all made me want to pull the covers over my head. Besides, how could we elbow our way in, I thought, when there are so many people out there doing it already? The world doesn’t need another Mary Cantwell or M.F.K. Fisher. There’s no room for us.

And then my friend told me about her dad. How for many years he felt competitive with a colleague who was, for all intents and purposes, a genius. He spoke a billion languages and could play any instrument he picked up, and my friend’s father was always trying to keep up. And then one day watching this guy be all geniusy, my friend’s dad was struck with a bolt of enlightenment, and he just started laughing. He suddenly felt the relief of letting his colleague reap the spoils of his success without feeling personally threatened. And so, when my friend one day was feeling insecure about something herself––someone at school, let’s say––her dad gave her a talk. “Someone will always be smarter than you. And that’s okay. There’s space for you, too.”

It reminded me of the advice I grew up with. Someone will always have more than you: more beauty, more money, more talent, more smarts. But someone will always have less.

The and that’s okay part was what I needed to hear. There’s room for all of us. There’s enough success, money, and love to go around. There is no scarcity, really, unless we choose to look at life through that lens. One person’s success doesn’t take away from our own; someone else’s triumph doesn’t mean less triumph for us. There’s enough for everybody.

I like the way Natalie Goldberg puts it in Writing Down the Bones:

Don’t be jealous, especially secretly. That’s the worst kind. If someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us. Don’t make writers, “other,” different from you: “They are good and I am bad.” Don’t create that dichotomy. It makes it hard to become good if you create that duality. The opposite, of course, is also true: if you say, “I am great and they aren’t,” then you become proud, unable to grow as a writer or hear criticism of your work. Just: “They are good and I am good.” That statement gives a lot of space. “They have been at it longer, and I can walk their path for a while and learn from them.”

In yogic philosophy, there’s the concept of mudita: “a sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.” More is more, and I can stand to hear it again: “If someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us.”

I’ve always been afraid of running out of money, things to say, or ideas to write about. But writing a daily column for Yahoo! has taught me an important lesson about scarcity. There is no shortage of ideas. In fact, the practice of continually making yourself open to inspiration, ushers in only more. Creativity begets more creativity, love begets more love. And perhaps the same is true: success for some begets success for others. There is enough, for all of us.

vintage dictionary card available on etsy

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Comments

  • Starlene: This is something I really struggle with. My friends and family tell me to sell my homemade goods but I see what others are making and selling and feel mine just don’t measure up. The last few months have been really bad. I just haven’t felt good enough. But that line – “there is space for you too”, that was brilliant. Thanks, I really needed this today.4 years ago

  • Jora: Love this. Thank you.4 years ago

  • Miranda M.: One of my favorite posts! Gorgeous words, gorgeous thoughts. I will be rereading this whenever I need a lift of inspiration. Thank you, Sarah.4 years ago

  • Lisa (dinner party): Beautifully put, Sarah. One of my favorite posts here and something I always need to hear.4 years ago

  • Tori: this is just what i needed to hear! i’m applying to MFA programs and it’s a gongshow out there. but “they are good and i am good”–beautiful.4 years ago

  • So glad you all needed to hear this, too. In time, I’ll probably need someone to remind me I wrote it. :) 4 years ago

  • Kanesha: This is so fantastic, honest, and clear. Thank you, Sarah!
    I went to a lecture this week to hear Marie Wilson talk about women leaders (specifically in politics). The message she communicated so clearly were the benefits of supporting each other, as women, and making space for each other.

    Marie Wilson
    http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org/about/marie/4 years ago

  • Tricia A: Thank you so much for this post! I am so inspired and moved by everything you said. (tears!) I’ve really been in this space lately….although….we are all human and it’s easy to get caught up in the crap. THERE IS ENOUGH.4 years ago

  • Tricia A: ALSO: Did not know about your Yahoo column so thanks for sharing! Another place I can stalk you….hahahahhahah : )4 years ago

  • MrsB: Can I have you for my guru?? ;-)

    x4 years ago

  • Tiffany: Thank you for this beautiful reminder!! And I’ll be checking out your yahoo column too! xo4 years ago

  • Kamiah: Well, this is ironic. I was all ready to write a post along these very same lines, and then I come here and say to myself — Dang it! She said what I wanted to say, but she said it better! Then began the thoughts that I should just crawl in a blogger cave and never return.

    But then I remembered the whole point of your post (and the roughly formulated idea I had), and I calmed down and decided to not crawl in a cave.

    Wonderful post!4 years ago

  • susan: This is now my favorite post you have written. Thank you for making my day. The added bonus of the vintage dictionary was just the icing on the cake.
    xo4 years ago

  • Kamiah, Yeah! There’s enough room for everyone’s blog posts about there being room! :) 4 years ago

  • Margaret Roach: Thank you, wise one.4 years ago

  • Karen: You *are* great. This was beautiful; thank you for sharing.4 years ago

  • Suzy: Yes, we all need to be reminded since we are constantly bombarded with people who have “more.” But jealousy is an ugly emotion–it’s yucky to feel and often makes our actions ugly. Thank you for the reminder. And P.S. Why is it so bloody easy to be hard on ourselves and so very difficult to simply cheer ourselves on?4 years ago

  • Lynne: Thank you for sharing!
    I struggled with this for so many years and finally I realized that I was enough and that I had value. When I came to that place I found a joy and peace that I’d never experienced before. These past few years have been a revelation to me and it might sound corny but now there is more than enough in my life.
    I love your posts and wish you more than enough in your journey :) 4 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: Thank you so much, Sarah. I needed to hear this – I’ll be rereading it often. xo4 years ago

  • Joy: I love this post, Sarah. Also, have you ever read Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill? I have been reading it and keep thinking of you and your blog.4 years ago

  • Rebecca: Sarah, I had to comment on this. I really think that it’s something that a lot of women struggle with, especially those of us who were/are “good girls”! The truth of the matter is that there is *always* going to be someone who is smarter, prettier, thinner, more charismatic, more successful..or all of the above! It’s hard to accept this, and even the fact that all of those prettier, smarter, etc people are just as insecure doesn’t help.
    I try not to beat myself up too much anymore for not being the “best” at something, or for feeling too ashamed of jealous of people…. just acknowledge what I’m feeling and move on.
    Thanks for the reminder, and the honesty!
    Rebecca in TO
    Thanks for the4 years ago

  • Suzy, “Why is it so bloody easy to be hard on ourselves and so very difficult to simply cheer ourselves on?”––an excellent question, akin, I think, to why is it so easy to do the things that make me feel bad and so hard to do the things that make me feel good? Working on it!

    Lynne, That is so inspiring to hear, cause I think we all want to get to that place. It reminds me of the time a friend just announced to me, “I’ve decided to love myself, just the way I am.” It sounds corny and so simple, but it felt like a revelation.

    Joy, I’ve never read that book but it has been sitting in my Amazon wishlist for years! Maybe it’s time to bump it to the top.

    Rebecca, And: those prettier, smarter etc people have people who are prettier, smarter etc than them! Makes you wonder: who is at the top? But then again, I guess that’s the point. No one!4 years ago

  • Claire: Thank you thank you thank you! I just wrote a blog post on this the other day, after my coworker and I had a similar discussion (and similar worries). This is just a reminder that everything will be okay; it always is.4 years ago

  • Sara Rose: “You’re like of the air.” is my second thing I love about this post, the first being the post itself since I’m in the midst of my own writers ennui also. MUAH.4 years ago

  • KW: Thank you for this post, I really needed to read it. I am a painter and I often freak myself out, telling myself I’m not as good as other local artists so no one will ever want to buy my work. I get jealous of other artists and their talent and success, especially when they are close to my age. This post has given my some great stuff to think about, so thank you. :) 4 years ago

  • Allison: Girlie, I am very proud of you! Xox4 years ago

  • Hannah: I can see from all the comments that I am not the only one who really needed to hear this, especially from someone whose level of success I admire. I have been harboring a lot of secret jealousy, and I needed a quick smack to remember how destructive that can be. I am also a painter and feel really similar to the way KW described in her comment above mine, and just recently I’ve realized how silly it is that I’ve been painting and so afraid to share it with anyone. I’m even afraid to put paintings up on my little blog that is only read by my friends and family. I keep comparing myself to craft/art-blog mavens and etsy superstars, and while its nice to have someone to look up to, I needed to be told that there is room for me too. Thanks!4 years ago

  • Kristina S: I loved this so much. Thanks!4 years ago

  • Alicia: Thank you. That last paragraph was so inspiring to me.4 years ago

  • molly: “just more clarity in the world for all of us”

    HOO boy.

    Too true. Too easy to forget.4 years ago

  • michelle marlahan: found your blog through some friends… just lovely!

    this post really speaks to me. jealousy is one of my demons and shows up in my teaching, in writing… scarcity around money, time, and and …

    such sage advice here. love the goldberg piece and the reminder that making room for inspiration opens a fountain for more!

    thanks!4 years ago

  • Lesley: I’ve been away from your blog for awhile, and I’m been catching up on old posts. I want to tell you that I’m so glad you’re doing what your doing. You move people with your writing, Sarah. I’ve been down lately and your blog is really making me feel refreshed.

    This post reminded me of when I worked in newspapers, and how I was always so worried about whether my ideas were original enough, or creative enough. Then a friend said: “All of our ideas, 99 percent of the time, have been done before. The question is: how can we tell it in a unique way, that speaks to our own perspective?”

    It really resonated with me, because I felt like my perspective mattered, even if I wasn’t a hot-shot reporter.

    Also, I’m buying Natalie Goldberg’s book. She sounds wonderful.4 years ago

  • So glad you’re back, Lesley, and thank you so, so much. I absolutely love what you’re friend said about originality. Such an important thing to keep in mind. Also, YES on Writing Down the Bones. Every writer should own it. I hope you love it.4 years ago

  • Meanie: Thank you so much for writing this!3 years ago

  • Ashley: Thank you!

    I found this again while looking up your recipe for the tart with beets (thank you for that as well!), and this is the exact reminder that I needed today.3 years ago

  • Vanessa: So beautiful! I almost want to cry. How did you get your gig as a columnist with Yahoo! by the way? :) 2 years ago

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