Shame

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Before I start, it’s important to know that I’m not writing this to convince anyone to send money. We’ll be OK, truly. I’m writing this because much like depression, shame withers in the light. I don’t want the specter of “what if someone finds out” to live in my brain, rent free. And perhaps hearing our misfortune will help someone else avoid a similar one.

In order to understand how someone could have $12,518.42 stolen from them without noticing, it’s important to explain our situation over the past 18 months or so. Because on the surface, the notion of losing that much money and not noticing seems like wealth and privilege at an incomprehensible level. If exposing financial information makes you uncomfortable, you might want to click away, because I’ll be using some real numbers.

In the middle of the pandemic, my job changed. Part of that change included no longer receiving employer-sponsored healthcare. I receive a generous stipend, but it doesn’t come close to covering a solo plan. So we added some out of pocket money to the stipend, and started paying for COBRA. (That allows us to keep the healthcare from my last job, paying the full premium plus administrative fees for up to 18 months)

We also have adult children in their early 20s. They were underemployed thanks to the pandemic, and we have been helping them make ends meet. Plus, Donna’s part-time teaching position was even more part time this past school year. Add to that a massive repair bill on my aging pickup truck, existing debt from our barn experience — and the stage is set for a pretty rough financial gauntlet.

With our new expenses and decreased income, it was clear that we would be making less than we spend every month. We had about $17,000 in the bank, and about $20,000 of credit available across our 5 credit cards. Knowing that would only keep us afloat temporarily, we started doing everything we could to add income while decreasing expenses. Sadly, most of our expenses are fixed, and while we could have canceled Netflix, that small savings in the middle of a pandemic didn’t seem worth it. Anyway, we were going deeper into debt every month, but surviving.

Donna took as many sub positions as she could on the days she wasn’t teaching. I worked my DayJob as a sysadmin, and then started cartooning, writing, and creating training videos for YouTube. While my efforts might smack a bit of mid-life crisis, the bulk of my previous career was making training videos, and I’d been a professional writer for years at Linux Journal. The only oddball item was my daily comic, but since I found the process relaxing, it was almost a daily therapy session for me.

So for the past year plus, we’ve been using credit cards for everything possible, and paying the minimum balance due, with additional payments as more money came in. We knew our credit card debt would rise, and our bank account would dwindle, but the hope was to slow the bleeding until I started to bring in some serious revenue from my after work endeavors. It would certainly take a while, but the clock we were trying to beat was a combination of “not running out of money and credit” plus “we have 18 months of COBRA”.

I’d like to say we had a clearer plan, or even a more succinct goal. Unfortunately, we just had stress, chaos, and a faint hope that “something” would give. Perhaps I’d get a job offer that included benefits. Perhaps the school where Donna worked would offer a medical plan. Maybe my YouTube channel would take off, or my comic would go viral. But what it actually meant was many, many credit card charges, and many, many payments to credit cards coming out of our shrinking checking account.

And that’s how it happened.

Back in September of 2021, lost in our myriad of credit card payments, a new credit card payment posted. “Credit One Bank” took an ACH payment for $182.95 out of our account. That’s about the size of other credit card payments that constantly come out of our account, and at first glace I assumed it was our Meijer credit card, which is a branded card from one of the countless credit companies.

As the months went on, there were more and more payments from “Credit One Bank”, all varying from the $100-$300 range, which again, matched our other credit card payments surprisingly close. Looking back, I should have seen it. Of COURSE I should have seen it. There were 4 days in a row where $182.75 was taken out. And while I don’t remember seeing those payments, I probably saw them and assumed I was looking at the same payment. But I didn’t notice.

See, our account balances were changing in just the way we expected them to change. Our credit card debt was rising, and our bank account was shrinking. That’s not ideal, but it wasn’t unexpected. And so we weren’t suspicious that something was wrong. We saw that our money was going away faster than we hoped, and so we focused harder on making more money, not picking apart our bank statements. Heck, we probably subconsciously avoided looking at our bank statements, because we knew it would only add stress to an almost unbearably stressful situation!

And then this month, August 2022, 11 months after that first “Credit One Bank” payment snuck into our life, we ran out of money. Our mortgage payment bounced because its auto-withdrawal happened a couple days before my paycheck was deposited. I had already moved the posting date, because I saw the writing on the wall, but even that only kicked the can down the road a month. Our checking account was in the red, we’d gotten multiple overdraft fees applied on top (because other smaller payments were trying to clear after the account went negative). And only a couple of our credit cards had credit available at all.

It’s embarrassing. And it sucks. But things like Twitter verification, a Wikipedia page, and a well-known-in-certain-circles name does not always equal the underlying financial success it hints at.

So anyway, my paycheck posted, and our account was limping along in the black again. Since our credit was about dried up, we’d been strategically deciding what to pay and when to pay it. So our credit card payments, even the minimum amount due, had to be timed to our paychecks. And that brings us to this week. Yesterday, in fact. My paycheck wasn’t due to post until today (the 18th), and I was watching our account balance like a hawk, making sure nothing tried to clear before my paycheck was in there. And wouldn’t you know it, Credit One Bank was posting a payment for $168.64.

I KNEW I hadn’t made a payment, because after the mortgage fiasco, our balance was too low for that. And so when I logged in to all our various credit card accounts, trying to figure out why one of them automatically made a payment, I couldn’t find a payment for that amount. Anywhere.

And of course then I started looking at our account history, and quickly realized what I should have realized 11 months ago. Someone was making a credit card payment with our account, but it wasn’t us. Or at least, it wasn’t only us. As I searched the transaction history, I found that over the past 11 months, there have been 54 payments taken out. The dates and amounts are fairly random, but vary from $100-$350 or so. And added together, they equal $12,518.42. It turns out that initial $17,000 we had in our account wasn’t dwindling as quickly as we thought, or at least we weren’t “dwindling” it.

I spent most of yesterday talking to the bank, and to the police. Today I have to drive back to the bank (and hour drive, one way, ugh) to finish closing our compromised account and set up a new one so we can continue making our mortgage payments, car payment, and credit card payments. And now, I need to fight to get money back from “Credit One Bank”, even though in my communications with them yesterday have proven to be anything but helpful.

Our bank, Straits Area Federal Credit Union, has shifted a bit. At first, they told me all they could do was stop further withdrawals by charging me a $25 stop payment fee. But after talking to the police officer as I filed a report, he encouraged me to go physically to the main office, and talk to someone a bit higher up the food chain. I’m glad I did, because now they’re going to reimburse me for the previous 60 days, and for some reason the first 60 days of fraudulent charges. Assuming that happens (I’m signing paperwork today), it will put $4,595 back into my new account. The remaining $7,923.37 will likely never get recovered. But I will be sending all the information to “Credit One Bank”, and hoping they do the right thing. Regardless of the outcome, it will take months before I know anything.

I’m not gonna lie, while that $4,595 will be incredibly helpful in the short term, we’re clearly still teetering on the edge of disaster. Thankfully, there’s a bit of good news in this bleak story.

When summer started, Donna clearly couldn’t get anymore subbing jobs, so she applied for a part time position at one of our favorite places on earth. McLean & Eakin Booksellers. She got the job, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen her love what she does more than when she’s working at the bookstore. The owners must recognize how much she was made for the job, and without prompting, called Donna in to offer her a full time, year round position. And believe it or not, this small town, independent bookstore provides health insurance for their full time employees.

Health. Care. Insurance.

Our COBRA eligibility runs out in November, and we did not have a plan for what we were going to do after that. The middling insurance plan I was quoted to buy on our own was over $30,000/yr, and that was without dental or optical. Donna getting a job that provided healthcare was unexpected, and the most amazing news we’d gotten in a very long time. I don’t even know what the plan will look like, but it honestly doesn’t matter, because whatever the benefits include will be more than that nothing we could afford once November hits.

I cried like a blubbering idiot. And that, I’m not ashamed of.

Look, we’re far from being financially stable. My napkin math shows that we have about $65,000 in credit card debt, one mortgage with $60,000 remaining, another with $100,000 remaining, and a car loan with $13,000 still outstanding. My DayJob isn’t in immediate jeopardy, but I maintain datacenters for servers that operate in the cryptocurrency world, so longevity and stability are not guaranteed. But in spite of this current financial setback with Credit One Bank, we actually have a bit more hope than we’ve had in a while.

Donna will be working full time, starting some time before November. My YouTube channel was recently monetized, and while it’s only bringing it $100 or so a month, it’s a start. I’ve been working with an editor about a potential book deal, and while my comic hasn’t taken off — I still really enjoy it, and perhaps someday others will enjoy it too. I’ve even built up enough content on YouTube, that I don’t feel bad starting a Patreon page for people who want to support my creative endeavors. (It’s not live yet, but once I get the patron benefits sorted this week, it might be one more trickle of income)

So yeah. It’s been a rough month. But it’s also been a good month. We really will be OK, and my intent is certainly not to make anyone worry about us. We didn’t fall for a scam, and yet we ended up losing the bulk of our “cushion” in arguably the worst time ever. My hope is that everyone looks a bit closer at their checking account after reading this, and if you do end up a victim of bank fraud — know that someone else’s evil is not a character flaw of yours. Be kind, maybe especially to yourself. It’s easy to be like Blue, and since I draw him, I know it first hand.

How THIS Keeps Happening

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It occurred to me today that I’m not really sure if the things I publish are the things I allow to get out of my think-meat, or if they’re things I can’t keep inside it. It probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but my brain (jerk that it is) thinks a lot. A LOT.

Now, I’ve always assumed that I objectively look at all the thinky thinks, and then determine, “ah yes, this kernel of insight is worthy of the masses.” But, yeah, no. I’m rarely, if ever, proud of the stuff I write. I might be proud of myself for sharing things, but never do I think, “This. This is what people need to hear.” Other people say things much better than I do, and they’re almost always more qualified to say things betterer than me. (Apart from a very, VERY narrow area of expertise. I’m pretty confident with my Kool-Aid making skillz…)

So what I write, like this for instance, is almost certainly not because I think it will make the world a better place. And I know I don’t do it for praise, because for my spheroid-jiggly-ponder-box, praise is a double-edged sword.

(Short explanation: “Shawn, that was incredible” makes me very much assume that whatever I just created is now the low bar for all future creations, and if it really WAS good, then I might as well not bother, because I’ll never create something that good again, and if I make something worse, I’ll let down everyone.)

I guess that means whatever I end up publishing is just think-juice I couldn’t quite keep inside. I suppose writing is my emotional outlet. But even that doesn’t explain why I click “Publish”, because there are plenty of drafts here on my bloggity-blog that will never see the light of day. So it’s more than just a need to write, because writing doesn’t need publishing to be an outlet for emotion. (See also: Diaries. But no, I don’t have a diary. OMG, is *this* my diary?) So why do I publish anything, ever?

Maybe narcissism? Maybe I seek the self-destructive praise of others? Maybe I hope that one person will read my escaped thoughts and realize they’re not alone in this weird, judgmental world? I honestly don’t know. But for some reason, I often feel compelled to share my thoughts, even when they’re weird, or personal, or scary, or all of the above. Apparently creating and sharing are very different endeavors. A lot of what I create isn’t shared — but a surprisingly large percentage of it is.

I was talking to a friend today about the “highlight reel” aspect of most social media. Many, or maybe most folks share the best and happiest parts of their day, or they make sure the part of their persona that lives “in frame” is squeaky clean and perfect. There’s the other side of that coin, when people post about how bad things are, looking for either help, or pity, or even just attention. But the mundane seldom makes it on Instagram. Or blog posts. Yet, here we are.

SO my fellow creators, I have two questions:
1) Why do you create?
2) How do you decide what to share?

Just Do the Next Thing

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I often think about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall. If you aren’t familiar with the married comedy duo, it’s not surprising. They were the act who followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. How could you possibly follow that?!? Thankfully, Justin Bieber didn’t recently make Linux training videos that I have to follow. But the thing is, this past week has been a surprisingly good week with regard to the things I’m creating being appreciated by other humans. (And maybe robots, I’m ok with that. Meep morp, y’all. How ’bout those electrons, am I right?)

The problem is, one success feels like setting the bar for the next thing. And a big success makes for a really high bar.

After this blog was shared by a super popular friend of mine on Twitter (the same friend who often shares my comic… he’s basically my ex-naval fairy godmother), and then one of my youtube videos was showcased in a Hackaday article by another friend, the traffic and popularity of my stuff has stepped up a bit. No, I’m not an influencer, or a YouTube celebrity, or parking a Tesla in my garage… (or, you know, having a garage) — but I crossed the monetization threshold on YouTube (the process of which apparently takes about a month, and then I could make DOZENS of cents a day!) I was sent a tech product to review without me asking or buying it, and there are actual conversations happening in the comment sections of my stuff.

OMG, I’m Too Good Looking, and My Wallet is Too Fat…

I know, I know. Complaining about a modicum of success is pretty douchey. I mean, isn’t being successful exactly what I’m intending to do with all this writing and newslettering and podcasting and videoing and cartooning and… everything? And Shawn, if you can’t handle a video getting 1000 views without feeling overwhelmed, you’d better hope you never actually make it big.

And yeah, I get all that. And I do hope the success continues. Heck, my lofty aspirations include the need and ability to actually hire people to join me in my endeavors. The problem I’m mulling over now is that I find it difficult to do the next thing when the last thing was deemed “worthy and good” by the masses. I think as humans (or robots, still love you guys) we tend to look at a very narrow slice of time. Heck, we practice “living in the present” as a way to stay healthy in mind and body. But the road to success is long. For some of us, very long. And while intellectually I understand a video that gets 10,000 views isn’t 100 times better than a video that gets 100 views, it sure feels that way. Let me get very specific. I’ll use my YouTube channel as the example, because this week has some prime examples of what I’m talking about.

The Hackaday Debacle of Awesomeness

One of the many things I do, is to occasionally co-host on FLOSS Weekly over at TWiT.tv. One of the OTHER occasional co-hosts is Jonathan Bennett. We don’t know each other in meat-space, but I consider him a friend, and if we were at a tech conference, we’d totally hang out and be nerdy. Anyway, he’s a writer at Hackaday.com — and last week he included my SSH Tunnels video in an article he wrote. It sent a flood of users to my tiny YouTube channel, and quickly elevated that video to like 7,000 views in the first week. Most of my videos get about 100 views in that timeframe. It also brought in lots of new eyeballs, who subscribed to my channel, which increased the views on my other videos, and there was a snowball effect that gave my tiny channel a boost.

Again, my channel is small. We’re not talking fame and fortune, we’re talking a cool growth acceleration. Like I mentioned above, it even bumped me over the monetization threshold, so that approval process started.

But HERE is the crux of the situation. My brain tells me that SSH Tunnelling video must have been the cream of my video crop. THAT VIDEO is what will breed more success. Whatever I did there is what I need to do every time, and improve on. Because for some reason, my brain says, “This is a video of a creator that has 3,000 subscribers. If you want to increase to 5,000 subscribers, you clearly need a video that’s about twice as good.”

Now I KNOW that’s not how it actually works. Heck, even my observation of older videos getting more views proves that it’s not a single video that raises the bar of adequacy. But as I often point out, brains are not logical. They’re emotional, fickle, jiggly think-meats which assume the worst and never appreciate the best. And so, I didn’t make another video that whole week. The week where I was getting more and more people interested in my channel and my content. I was crippled with fear that I’d release a video that wasn’t better than the SSH Tunnel video. And people would know that the apparent “star quality content” was a fluke.

Brains suck. (I actually accidentally typed “Brians suck”, and autocorrect was just going to let me insult innocent Brians everywhere. C’mon robots, I thought we were friends?!?)

The week went by, and the popularity boom waned. I still garnered quite a few new subscribers, which was incredible, but instead of riding that incoming wave, I floundered and released no new content. On Friday, I felt so terrible about not releasing anything, that I threw together a video on Linux Certifications, and posted it. I figured it would flop, but at least I was trying. (That video is honestly doing really well, which is weird, because it hasn’t been boosted by anything external. So who knows.)

So What Have You Learned, Shawn?

Honestly? I have no idea. Here’s the thing though — it’s pretty common with anyone who gets a bump of success, that they struggle with their next endeavor. One-hit wonders, authors who write a successful book, middle-aged men who get a compliment on how their hair looks… we all flounder with how to meet or exceed whatever we did that was deemed “good”.

The only advice I really have is that maybe we shouldn’t try to outdo ourselves. Just like it’s unhealthy to compare our success to other people, comparing ourselves to the most successful thing we’ve done is just silly. I’m just as good as that guy who made the SSH Tunnel video, because I’m that guy. I wasn’t trying to specifically make a stand-out creation, I was just doing what I love. Greatness isn’t a thing we do, it’s the way we do the things we do. Trying hard to be a more perfect self seems silly. We’re already exactly ourselves.

So just do the next thing. And in the words of Paul McCartney, Let it Be.

Doing One Thing Well, or Not

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When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s the deal:

For the past decade plus, I’ve been a trainer for CBT Nuggets. Many of my videos are still in their catalog, and most people would have no idea I’m not working there anymore. I’m currently a full time sysadmin managing a bunch of Linux systems in various datacenters around the western US. But a couple things made me want to do more than just my DayJob.

  • The pandemic proved that jobs are not a sure thing. So many folks were laid off, or lost their jobs entirely, it was a scary wakeup call. A single income stream, even a really good stream, is scary if it might disappear.
  • I really really miss making training videos.
  • I really really miss writing for Linux Journal.
  • My kids are grown now, so I have a little more time on my hands.
  • My kids are grown now, and they’re currently trying to survive in an economy where surviving, much less thriving, is difficult. I want to set an example on how to diversify income.

Anyway, for those reasons and probably more, I decided to go “all in” for the entire 2022 calendar year. I still have a DayJob, so this means lots of after-work work. But again, it’s a good time in my life for that sort of thing. I’m not missing anyone’s basketball games, etc. As of right now, I’m about a third of the way through the year, and I’ve learned a few things.

There’s no Right Way, but Lots of Wrong Ways

My biggest focus thus far has been with YouTube. Yes, a 46 year old man becoming a “YouTuber” seems like a sad sort of midlife crisis, but I actually have a lot of experience making videos. And I’m a bit of a camera whore (I really like being on camera/mic). So YouTube actually makes a lot of sense. But oh my goodness are there nuances with the platform. For example:

You Must be Genuine

I think I do OK with this one. I’m not good at being fake. But… I’m a fairly weird dude, so maybe I should strive to be genuinely Ryan Reynolds… but Ryan Reynolds already does that, so y’all are stuck with me. Seriously though, I think people assume that unless they’re super charismatic, they’re too boring. That’s honestly just not the case. I’m a pretty boring guy. But when I’m passionate or excited about something, that’s when I light up. And everyone is like that about something. I tend to get excited about a LOT of things (more on that later), but the common adage to, “write what you know” works for YouTube as well. When you’re excited about something, that passion is contagious.

You Must be Unique

This is really a carryover from the previous point. If you’re genuine, you’re unique. Because no one else is like you. When I started taking YouTube seriously, it was tempting to emulate other successful people on the platform. There is some value to seeing what works and doesn’t work but it’s important to only emulate what they do, and not who they are. It’s hard to be genuine or unique if you’re trying to be just like someone else.

Those two “rules” are the most important, at least I think so. Look, I’m not a professional at YouTube, and this isn’t an article on how to be a YouTuber, but I think without following those two ideals, it’s impossible to be happy as a content creator. The next points are important to be a financially successful YouTuber though. And I like them much less. 🙂

You Must be Specific

This is the whole idea of “niching down” on a subject. The narrower you focus your content, the more people you draw in. This seems backward, because a broader array of topics would capture the interests of more people. You know, a bigger net catches more fish. But since there are an almost infinite number of YouTube channels, people tend to gravitate toward the ones where every video hits their sweet spot. If you branch out, the number of people your particular eclectic tastes match will dwindle quickly.

For example, a few of my passions are Linux, A/V equipment, Birdwatching, Renewable Energy, and Kool-Aid. Any one of those subjects might resonate with people. But if I made a YouTube channel with all those topics? Very few people would subscribe, because while they might like one or two of those subjects, they’d get annoyed by videos popping up in their feed on the less desirable topics. So, they look for a channel that has videos on their specific likes, and subscribe to multiple channels. So a person with my particular tastes would subscribe to a Linux channel, a birdwatching channel, a few A/V review channels, and an 80’s retro beverage channel.

That’s difficult for me. Because while I intellectually understand why having a specific niche is vital for YouTube success, it feels very limiting. And honestly, I get bored. Even if it’s one of my passions, if I don’t feed the other beasts in my head, they get restless. And that is sorta where the point of this whole post is going. Because the last “rule” of YouTube is…

You Must be Consistent

Oddly enough, posting videos every day isn’t 7 times better than posting once a week. Sure, you get marginally more views, but more importantly than number of videos you produce is the consistency with which you produce them. But honestly, even this is extremely flexible.

The consistency you MUST strive for is having consistently good content. Releasing regularly is also good, but not as important as having consistently good quality videos. And look, what “good quality” means is very much up for debate and evolution. For example, most people agree that having music in videos keeps people watching. But… I generally don’t, because it feels contrived for my style. I just talk into a camera, demo stuff, and try to teach complicated topics in a way that makes them easy to understand. A soundtrack seems to detract from that, so at least for now, I don’t add music.

Bonus Must: Audio

This isn’t YouTube specific, but just a tip for anyone making video. People will look past questionable video quality (to a point), but audio quality is king. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a microphone first.

So What’s My Point?

I started the year making lots of videos in pretty short order. That was partly due to me really missing the training process. But also, I wanted to have a backlog of videos in place that new viewers could “binge” and get a taste for my style. So I worked hard to get a full “Linux Essentials” course created, making multiple videos a week, and publishing them in rapid succession. But that came at a cost.

At a mere 2 months in, I started to feel some burnout. This is not because I don’t enjoy teaching, or because videos aren’t interesting. It’s because some of those YouTube rules above are really oppressive. I understand my YouTube channel needs to be mostly Linux focused. But as a person, *I* can’t be all Linux focused all the time. So while the idea of doing one thing and doing it well is good advice, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t always work. My inability to be disingenuous works against me here. If I’m genuinely miserable doing one thing, that one thing I’m doing will be a miserable version of the thing.

I Need More Irons, and More Fire

Toward the beginning of my “Big Year”, I tried to follow the standard advice of not having too many irons in the fire. If I do lots of things, it spreads my time and talent thin, so everything will be mediocre at best. And even reading that last sentence, it makes sense. But human meat sacks don’t always follow logical rules. I’m starting to discover that if I don’t put lots of irons in lots of fires, my one big fire will burn out. I know that is stretching the metaphor hard, but basically, I can’t focus all my energy on one thing or that thing suffers.

So as I enter the second trimester of the year, I’ve decided that I need to do more things. Even if I do those things a little less regularly, the things should end up being better in general. This rekindling of my blog is a prime example. I miss writing regularly, and the best way to scratch that itch is to write. Where better to write than in my own personal blog, where the only rules are ones I make up? I’m doing other things too, and will probably write about them here eventually, but off the top of my head:

  • Reading this blog as a “blogcast”, which is a word I made up. I think. It’s like a podcast, but is just me reading these words out loud.
  • Reviewing things on my review site.
  • Adding a video aspect to those reviews, probably on a new YouTube channel (not yet created).
  • Video blogging on a secondary YouTube channel (INSIDE The Brain of Shawn)
  • Speaking at events (virtually for now)
  • Drawing my comic
  • Learning Spanish
  • Constructing a micro datacenter at my farm
  • Trying to go outside more

My point is, rules are important, but they should always be examined and revised. Plus, the definition of success varies for the individual. I hope this “Big Year” of mine proves to be the start in a life long pursuit of passions and revenue streams. But if at the end of 2022 I discover that I really don’t like the whole “be a creator” thing? That’s valuable too. I’d rather be absolutely certain I don’t like something, than forever wonder what could have been.

Learn everything. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind.

Jelly is Lonely

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And of course I mean jelly people are lonely. Jealous people, that is. Actual jelly people are never lonely because they’re sweet and sticky, and people either want to lick them, or are stuck to them. And that’s weird, so I’m gonna stop.

Sometimes it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone. Particularly when they’re really good at something that you are super bad at. For example, I am not jealous of:

  • Olympic athletes
  • Basketball players (Olympic or otherwise)
  • Professional cake decorators
  • People with exotic taxidermy collections
  • Cave divers
  • Antique furniture collectors

Ok, it’s beginning to occur to me that it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone who is good at something you don’t want to do, regardless of skill level. But I still argue it’s easier to resist jealousy when someone else is really good at something I’m bad at doing. Here are some more examples, these I’m maybe envious of, not not really jealous:

  • People who can draw
    • (Yes, I see the irony and/or hypocrisy because I literally draw a web comic, but it doesn’t mean I can actually draw — just that I’m unwilling to let my lack of skill stop me…)
  • Really good photographers
  • People who understand how semicolons work
  • Physically attractive folks
  • Singers who can melt your soul with their voices. (I’m looking at you, every member of my immediate family)

And then there’s jealousy of possessions, which isn’t really about the person who has the stuff, but more about your own lack of stuff. Maybe this is covetousness? I think that’s just another flavor of jealousy though, so it counts even if it’s a bit different. And we don’t really need a whole list, because it’s usually:

  • People with money
  • The things people with money have and do

And I really can’t help with that last list, because wanting more and more and more is a much deeper issue, and I think it’s rarely solved by actually attaining those things. Although, having more money is honestly usually nicer than being poor. So while it might not be the solution to all life’s problems, it’s nice to have central air and a heated garage than to not have those things. (Or so I assume, I have neither) But that middle list of things you wish you could do, but other people are better can get ugly pretty quick.

If you are good at something, or you are trying to do well at something, and someone else is MUCH better than you at it — it’s easy to get bitterly jealous. Especially when the other person is able to accomplish such things with minimal effort. And no, I’m not talking about people who work hard for years and then get accused of being overnight successes when they finally make it big. I mean those people who are like, “Oh wow, I’ve never even tried waterskiing before. Check out this sick flip!” Thankfully those people are rare, and nobody likes them. Nobody likes you Dave…

Take my friend Jim, for instance. Jim and I actually have a lot in common. We’re both old, we’re both grumpy, we’re both incredibly unattractive.

Ok, that went sideways. Lemme try again. Jim and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both writers. We both like taking photos of birds. We both want to support ourselves and our loved ones using our creative abilities.

And Jim posts photos like this. ALL THE FRIGGEN TIME. And he’s able to support himself using various creativity-based revenue streams. And he can grow a real moustache. It would be easy for me to be jealous of what he’s accomplished. Even though I know he’s worked for YEARS to build the skill required to do what he does.

Because jealousy isn’t rational. And it’s not even about the other person. Jealousy is frustration and disappointment in yourself and your situation. And to come back to my original point — jealousy is very lonely. And I use Jim as an example here, because I’m not actually jealous of his accomplishments. I’m honestly super happy for him. But there are people who turn me green on a regular basis.

I’m not going to specifically mention any of them here, because giving light to those demons only makes them stronger. And some folks might tell me, “oh you’re so much better than them, they suck” — or, “you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people”, and those responses aren’t really helpful even if they are true. Friggen Dave. Because jealousy isn’t rational. So what I do, and what I recommend everyone consider their own version of, is to steal from those people.

I should probably elaborate.

How to Steal Like a Winner

The nice thing about other people getting successful before you, is that you can learn from all the bad choices they made along the way. This actually works for both those people you’re jealous of, and those you’re not. For example, if he could do it over again, Jim would probably never befriend that annoying guy from Michigan. *ahem*ME*ahem* Seriously though, there are so many things I’ve learned from Jim’s success. The frustrations of social media platforms, the importance of personal online security (he gets death threats on the regular), how important it is to disregard hateful feedback, etc. Heck even his moustache — he taught me how to blow my nose when I grew my own sad face-caterpillar.

I have several friends who have published books. Some have self-published, some have used traditional publishing, and some have used multiple methods AND multiple publishers. I have very smart and successful friends. But even though I haven’t written a book yet — I already know the pros and cons of each method, and I know what publisher I absolutely wouldn’t use even if they wanted me. No, I won’t tell you the company. But you can still learn from my thievery — before you agree to publish with a company, talk to some authors who have already worked with them.

I’ve been hitting YouTube pretty hard recently, and the nature of YouTube means you can see the progression of successful creators as they build their channels. I know a few personally, but even if you don’t know the individual people, you can see what things work for them and what things don’t. This one has been invaluable for me. Because I’ve learned that I really hate the “narrow niche” required for YouTube success. That doesn’t mean I can’t be successful on YouTube, but it means I have to put energies elsewhere too. This blog, for instance. And my review blog. And various podcasts I contribute to. And secondary YouTube channels. And silly tweets. And web comics. All of those things help me to “niche down” on my main YouTube channel without feeling like I’m stifling myself. I wouldn’t have known any of that if I didn’t watch other successful creators and how they managed to be successful.

We can learn so much from those who are ahead of us. Even if they leapfrogged us getting there. From people I don’t like, I learn what not to do. And from those I strive to emulate, I learn from their successes and their failures. Heck, in many ways it’s better to let other people blaze the trail so it’s easier for us to get where they are going. But even that isn’t the healthiest way, in my opinion, to deal with jealousy.

Just. Enjoy. The. Beauty.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. If we can focus on appreciating how well other people do things, we can pretty quickly turn our jealousy into admiration. This even works if the people don’t “deserve it” in your opinion. Thank goodness they got lucky, right? Otherwise they’d be struggling forever. Those photos you wish you could take? Hey, you’re getting to look at them. Photos can be magical, and sure, being able to take them is incredible — but you still get to experience the magic first hand when you look at someone else’s work.

We already do this. Have you ever watched the Olympics? We are SO excited for those athletes who have devoted their lives to excellence. We will never be as good at their craft as they are, but that’s OK, we get to see them be great. That isn’t reserved for olympians. Are you jealous of Miley Cyrus’ voice? Maybe instead focus on how great it is to hear her sing. Do you wish you could dance like… um… I don’t really know any dancers. But if you have a dancing person in mind, isn’t it great to see them dance?

The point is, jealousy is a very strong emotion. But many times it’s easy to flip that strong negative emotion to admiration, which is a strong positive one. And that makes you a better person. One that someone might, you know, admire. 🙂