Beyoncé’s birthday is one day after mine. I know this because every year in college I used to watch the MTV Video Music Awards, and every year they used to talk about the celebrity-studded party she was going to throw in an exclusive palace decorated with live fairies and money trees. She’d appear onstage with her perfect hair and knock-you-down curves then blow the audience away before disappearing into a puff of smoke. I tried not to compare her birthday to my own, which was usually celebrated by tapping a keg with my roommates in the basement, except for the year when a pipe burst so we had to drink upstairs in the kitchen instead.
I tried not to compare Beyoncé’s life to mine, but I couldn’t help myself. How could this woman who was a mere twenty-four hours my junior be so wildly successful, while I couldn’t even decide which classes to take next semester? How had she achieved so much when I had achieved so little? I ignored the obvious facts that 1) she’s fiercely talented and 2) she works her ass off. I chose to be irrationally jealous, making annual jokes about Beyoncé stealing my thunder, again.
Soon, it wasn’t just Beyoncé who got my jealousy flowing. It was people I actually knew, which hit much closer to home. I began to pay close attention to job titles, because I didn’t really have one. People who had graduated three years after I did were legitimately calling themselves teachers and production assistants. I even knew a girl who became an FBI agent. The thought of working for the FBI didn’t appeal to me one bit, but I was still jealous. Not of her job, but at her clear career label, the way she seemed to have things figured out.
I subconsciously picked which elements of another person’s life to fixate on. It didn’t matter if they were living with their parents and generally miserable, I’d focus on the fact that they’d been published and I hadn’t. They had something concrete to write in that little box labeled “occupation” on the airplane landing card, whereas I was still writing student. Once I put writer, but changed it at the last minute because it felt like a fraudulent claim. The only things I was writing were emails and rambling journal entries.
The most uncomfortable part of remembering my jealousy is the knowledge that I was most jealous of people who worked toward what they wanted. Jealousy was just a cover emotion; I was actually annoyed with myself for not making the effort I knew I was capable of, the effort necessary to achieve success. I delayed making a full commitment to my writing because of the fear that I’d throw myself into it and still get nowhere. If that happened, then what? It was simpler to stay jealous.
When Jared and I first started dating, he introduced me to his friends from college, a couple who lived in Canberra and worked for the government. They had a cute little house with a wood-burning stove and real wine glasses; one of them even had a degree in communications, just like me. Unlike me, he had been published in several agricultural magazines, on top of his regular full-time job. There was the jealousy again, the feeling that someone else was living my life better than I was.
I started to notice that the more closely another person’s success aligned with what I wished for myself, the more acute my jealousy. I’d never wanted Beyoncé’s lavish parties (okay, maybe a little), but what stuck with me was the way she’d made a career out of self-expression. Writing for farming publications wasn’t for me, but Jared’s friend had found his niche, and that’s what I envied. I felt like I was floundering in my lack of direction, while all around me my peers were moving confidently in the direction of their dreams. Ironically, many of my own friends thought I was living a fantasy, traveling around the world without being tied down to one particular job.
When you don’t have growing up figured out, it’s easy to believe that everybody else does.
In an effort to color in my own future, I went back to school to do a master’s in writing. As I talked to the other students on the course, I started to see that very few people actually have confidence in what they’re doing. Despite this, some had written books or been published in magazines, largely because they had the guts to try. They weren’t luckier than I was or inherently better at life, and it gave me more faith in my own abilities. When I finally started taking risks with my own creative endeavors, I found that I was less envious of others (not totally jealousy-free, but mostly). I’m in a place now where I see other people’s success as inspiring, not a reminder of my own failings.
This year, Beyoncé and I turn thirty-three. I think back to the year we turned twenty-one, and I’m amazed by how far we’ve come since then. Of course I still felt a little flare of jealousy when I saw clips of her killing it in sequins in front of that flashing “FEMINIST” sign at the VMAs, but I don’t make jokes about her taking over my birthday anymore. I watched her perform, hug her partner, and kiss her baby, and I was a little awestruck. Why had I wasted energy being jealous of a stranger when I could have been learning from her?
As if Beyoncé would steal someone’s thunder; that woman makes her own, and it’d do me good to take notes on how she does it.