Looking for bad karma? Just begrudge someone else’s success

Looking for bad karma? Just begrudge someone else’s success

I’ve got a confession to make, and it’s an ugly one: one of my most petty traits is that I sometimes find myself begrudging someone else for experiencing the success that I’ve been longing for. That’s a really ugly admission to make, and I wish I could say it isn’t true, but it is. I find myself fighting that same demon from time to time. Not constantly, but often enough that I have recognized it as a problem I have to solve.

I’m not sure I can really explain the feeling. It doesn’t feel like jealousy to me, but maybe that’s all it is plain and simple. More than experiencing these feelings as jealousy, I tend to feel an overwhelming sense of injustice having been inflicted upon me. When I feel like I’ve worked so hard for something, and then don’t reap the “proper” rewards for my efforts, the disappointment hurts. But it hurts more when somebody else–even someone in my life that I care about–achieves it and I don’t. Watching someone else enjoy the rewards makes me dwell on questions like, “Why do they get to enjoy this thing I’ve wanted so badly, but haven’t been given?”

Disappointement Road sign
One sure way to stay on this road is to wish failure upon the next guy.

I’m not referring strictly to success in the musical arena. I’ve experienced this thing in different areas of my life, and music is one of them. I don’t have it completely figured out, and certainly I haven’t solved this problem, but I can say with complete certainty that it is caustic to my soul. When I allow this to happen to me, I can fall into a very dark pit of depression. I’ve had sleepless nights because of this. It’s not like it happens all the time, or even frequently, but it does happen, and I hate it.

It’s so easy to feel like we’ve been working so hard that we deserve the reward we’re after. Success in music almost seems custom made for pulling us into this type of despair. We work so hard at our craft. And of course, we think that our art is worth hearing and that the world should love it. We are emotionally invested, and we tend to accept only commercial success as definitive success. We think all that hard work has earned us the right to the success we are owed. But the world keeps reminding me over and over that it doesn’t see things the same way. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, we probably know that we didn’t work as hard as we need to or as hard as we could. We just want it to be the way we want it. We can so easily fall into the trap of thinking that we have the right to the outcome we desire, when in reality, no such rights exist.

I talked a couple days ago of the stoic philosophers’ concept the the Dichotomy of Control in my Don’t tether your happiness to musical success post, and I think this is very closely related to that topic. After all, I only have control over the things I can do to try and achieve success. I have little control over how my music is accepted by any one individual, or the world as a whole, and I certainly don’t have any control over the success the next guy enjoys unless I’m actively working to help or hinder that success.

I don’t even want the other guy to fail in reality. I’m happy for the success of others at least generally and idealistically. But when I sink down into this pit, I can actually find myself hoping that somebody else’s song fails, and that they’ll be told they’re not good enough. If I can’t have it, they can’t have it. If you’ve ever experienced thoughts like those, you know how they work on you to make you feel like a pretty rotten person.

Another thing about this type of feeling is that it provides cover for you. You shift the blame onto some other force that’s not being fair–a music supervisor who won’t return your calls, or a receptionist who isn’t smart enough to recognize your genius and thus won’t connect you to the guy who certainly will. As soon as we start shifting blame like this, we’re letting ourselves off the hook. In reality, if our music was really good enough, then the supervisor would be calling us. If we were really kind enough, genuine enough, and persistent enough, that receptionist might be happy to put our calls through. But even still, it may be out of that person’s hand. Maybe they’ve been instructed not to let any calls go through. In that case, it’s not the receptionist’s fault for stopping us, it’s our own fault for not working hard enough to find the right way in.

Those are just examples, but the truth is that what it seems like it always boils down to for me is that in the end it has been my own action or inaction that kept me from succeeding–it’s not someone else’s failure to do the right thing, it’s mine. And those times when I wallow in the dark muck of depression over some perceived slight or injustice, I know logically that it’s mainly my own fault. That’s not to say that there are not forces working against us. I mean, it is entirely possible that the receptionist just doesn’t like me for some reason. But I can do little to control that other than to be a more pleasant person and hope for the best. But we can’t let that one person, or that one situation, or that one problem stop us. We have to push through. We have to write better music. We have to do a better job recording and mixing it. We have to more expertly handle the business end. We have to learn from the rejection and do better the next time. Man, that’s hard.

Blaming our failures on other forces just ineffectively shifts the responsibility away from us and takes us even further from our goals. And it’s certain that wishing for someone else to fail simply because we didn’t achieve what we wanted can generate nothing but bad, bad karma. When I have these feelings, they’re quickly followed by very bad feelings about myself. What kind of person must I be to wish failure upon someone else? And that’s likely what leads me into depression. Not only do I feel bad because I didn’t achieve a thing, but now I feel massively guilty because I hate someone else’s success.

Thankfully, I can normally pull myself out of this funk after a day and night. Rarely does it last into two days. So at least I can say that I’m mostly winning the fight against this wretched demon. If you struggle with similar feelings, I’m sorry for you. But maybe it helps to know you’re not alone. Keep fighting. Keep your focus on what you need to do to succeed. And if you can, celebrate the success of others. I believe that if we support others in their quest for success, the good we do will come back around to help us one day. I hate those bad feelings, but I’m learning to allow for them in hopes that it will help me more quickly move beyond them. Maybe that will help you too.


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