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Blog // Creativity
3 weeks ago

The Bridge Of Resentment

When we embark on ambitious projects we hope our friends will support us. It doesn’t always turn out that way.

Outside table for lunch. The veranda provides welcome shade from the afternoon sunshine. Fashionable cafe food. I’m chatting with a friend. We’re in similar situations. Trying to move our lives towards being more creative. We’re doing cool stuff. But dreaming of bigger, bolder projects. As we say goodbye, we wish each other well. We promise to be supportive and encouraging. A rising tide floats all boats, we say.

A few years later, I’m on the eve of self-publishing No Missing Tools. The book isn’t likely to change the world. There’s a good chance it might sink unnoticed. So many similar books face the same fate. But I’m investing my time and money anyway. It’s the biggest thing I’ve committed to in years. I email my friend to let them know it’s finally happening. The dream is coming true. I await a reply.

Nothing.

The week the book comes out, my friend takes to social media. They post a stream of links to recent work on art and creativity. All the regular best-selling names you already know. What they don’t do. Not even once. Is mention my book.

I didn’t understand it. I felt betrayed. This wasn’t the only person who promised to help, only to disappear when the time came. But it was the most extreme example.

Understanding What Happened

The experience would crash into my consciousness unannounced over the coming years. Especially on long bike rides and solitary walks along the beach. It made me angry. And sad. I journaled about it. It came up many times in therapy. Over time, I heard from other creatives, over and over again, of similar experiences. Friends and family greeting their creative output with unwelcome, unkind, even hostile reactions. Then it started to make sense.

It was about crossing the bridge of resentment.

I was on one side, my little self-published book in hand. My friend was on the other, holding their unrealised dreams. And they resented how that distance made them feel.

We don’t talk enough about out resentment. It’s a powerful feeling. Resentment can cloud our judgement. Making us bitter. Unable to celebrate other people’s success. Unable to see ourselves in a healthy way.

Resentment feels like anger, but what it expresses is envy.

The Power Of Resentment

It’s easy to fall into resentment when other people succeed. It can feel unfair that the attention is on them. One of the most hazardous things we can tell ourselves is “I could’ve done that.” Maybe. But we didn’t.

Resentment is caused by feeling powerless and lacking influence. The person feeling resentment reacts against looking impotent. They tend to lash out. They feel entitled to call out what, to them, looks like an injustice.

A lot of our culture is fuelled by resentment. We see it especially playing out in online dramas. Trolls are the embodiment of resentment. But resentment is also seeping into so many areas of life. And especially politics.

Resentment undermines our ability to enjoy life. Writing in her book, The Power of Fun, Catherine Price says,

“…if I were to identify a list of universal fun killers, resentment would be near the top of the list.”

Comparison And Competition

She goes on to describe resentment as toxic. It’s why the experience of watching someone cross the bridge matters. Resentment is all about comparison and competition. Seeing the world in either/or, winning or losing, binary ways.

But creativity is not a competition.

It can look like a competition because we’re conditioned to focus on the market. Sure, some artists get paid more than others. Some books top the bestseller lists. Others don’t. From accolades to royalty cheques, it can look like a competition.

But no one is competing with you to make the thing you can make.

The book you write. The music you make. The photos you create. They are yours. Other people can write and play and operate a camera. But their creative output is theirs. What they make doesn’t affect what you can make.*

When someone puts their work out into the world, it can evoke feelings in us. It should. That’s a wakeup call. A reminder to get on with our own work. It’s the moment when we have to embrace our own creativity. Rather than fall back into resentment.

Which is what I did. I resented my friend not supporting my work. I became fixated on the injustice of it. I let it poison my feelings about my social circle. And rob me of some of the joy of putting a big piece of work out into the world.

The People In Your World

Years ago, I wrote about how people can’t fulfil every role in our lives. We need at least seven different kinds of people around us. Friends aren’t always the best people to talk to about our career. Family won’t always get excited about our biggest projects.

And you might find yourself looking back at the bridge of resentment with a mix of confusion and anger. Wondering why your friends stopped on the other side and refused to cross with you.

Robert Frost talks about how “way leads on to way” when navigating our life. The path we choose matters less than the fact we chose one. And the story we tell about it.

While some people won’t cross the bridge with us, we meet others once we ourselves cross. I’m not suggesting this process isn’t painless. But it’s a change we cannot and should not avoid embracing.

*There are some kinds of risks. Theft of intellectual property. Plagiarism. And even the whole of whatever the hell AI turns out to be is. I’m not downplaying these risks. But they are a separate ethical issue.

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