Two weeks ago Facebook celebrated 10 years of making us depressed and envious by creating for each user a personalized video not unlike what you see in an Oscars “in memoriam” telecast. It was a wise move by Facebook’s corporate brass to create a video starring ourselves, because academic studies show Facebook encourages narcissism; feeding the pleasure center of our brains will keep us coming back. Did I mention how academics have also demonstrated that Facebook makes us depressed and envious?
When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. That’s what I am doing by faulting a popular social-media platform instead of myself.
In 2012, when I was enthusiastically cranking out personal essays in an MFA program and submitting them to journals, I enjoyed a narcissistic rush every time I posted on my personal Facebook page the news of another publication. In 2013, when I stopped submitting to literary journals because my shift to a book-length work had led me to stop writing essays, I instead was sure to “like” the posts by my creative-writer friends when they had something published. And I did “like” the posts; I was genuinely happy for their deserved success.
As time passed, and I began experiencing rejections of my book-length work, those victory posts by my peers became harder to stomach. My experience echoed what researchers have found re: Facebook and depression, that repeated viewings of others’ good news–exotic vacations, great meals, happy children–can make our lives appear less accomplished and pleasurable. Depression sets in, and then envy.
A would-be author I knew used a very interesting motivational strategy when seeking to break into the world of publishing. She took a photo of the most successful author of her fiction genre, put the woman’s face on the wall, and superimposed target rings over her face. Now I’m sure this would-be author’s goal was not to actually shoot her more successful rival in the head (although she may have contemplated it). The target, the would-be author told me, was her way of motivating herself to reach the same level of success.
The thing about any creative pursuit, however, is that more often than not success is not a zero-sum game. That would-be author could reach the same level of success as the established author without harming the other author’s sales. Readers can buy more than one book. There is always more than one publisher. When I see one of my Facebook friends received an acceptance letter from a literary journal, my rational mind knows my odds of future publication in that journal are in no way diminished.
That bullseye target worked for the would-be author I mentioned, because she is now a bestseller herself. I, however, have never found motivating myself by focusing on others’ success to be at all useful. I consider myself highly motivated, but I compete against my past self, so much so that it can be difficult for me to savor a victory because I am already looking ahead to the next accomplishment. But the real challenge comes for me when the barometer of success is external. Was I a better writer in 2012, when I was having essays published, than I was in 2013, when I was not?
I want to celebrate the success of others. I know that it is irrational to believe that their success in some way suggests that I am in fact a failure. But our minds are not always rational. So as I struggle emotionally through a dark, snow-blanketed winter, I’m limiting my exposure to my Facebook news feed, which unfortunately means I’m limiting my exposure to my friends. I tell myself a personal success–some small external indicator of accomplishment–will empower me to return and brave the celebratory posts of my peers. So I focus on determining what that small success will be and how to achieve it.
How do you motivate yourself to succeed in your creative endeavors? Are the successes of peers motivating to you or inhibiting?