One of my closest friends, Scott Dalton, recently had an article published (which you should read here because it's so good), and when he shared his success with me, I was ecstatic. It feels weird to say but I was almost as happy as I would have been if I had been the one whose article was getting published. I called him as soon as I read the article and we talked with the enthusiasm of two kids who had just learned to start a campfire by themselves. Sure, he had been the one who started the fire, but it didn't really matter because I was just happy to share in the warmth he created.
This interaction caused me to start thinking about what makes it easy to celebrate the success of others. In this instance, it was easy for me to celebrate with Scott, but truthfully, our interaction could've gone a completely different direction. I could've just as easily responded to his success with jealousy. I mean, I want to have my writing published too. I want the same success. Our desires in this area are no different, so jealousy and joy were really two equally realistic responses. So what was it that pushed me away from jealousy and towards joy?
Before we answer that, I want to talk about the Golden Globes. Yes, the awards for film and television shows. The Golden Globes aired a little while ago and I watched a majority of the show with a couple of friends. Now, if you know anything about the Golden Globes, you know that La La Land won every award it was nominated for, which, at least to my understanding, is a pretty big deal. What you should also know is that my friends and I are huge fans of La La Land. Basically, we think it's the greatest movie under the sun.
This resulted in a lot of cheering and celebrating every time La La Land won an award. The loudest cheer was for Emma Stone, for obvious reasons, but the award I was happiest about was when Damien Chazelle won for Best Screenplay. Why? Because I want that. I want the same success he is experiencing. Just like having a friend get an article published, I felt like I was watching another friend get recognized for his hard work. The weird thing is that Damien and I aren't friends (although if he's reading this, we should be), but that didn't prevent me from celebrating his success.
I share these stories not to show how good I am at celebrating the successes of others. Because I'm not. But I'm learning. And what I think it comes down to is two things: an ability to relate, and an abundance mentality.
When Scott's article was published, I understood the work he had put in ahead of time. When Damien won Best Screenplay, I understood that it had taken him over six years to get that movie made. I could relate to both of them. I knew where they were coming from and I knew how much that success must mean to them, because I know how much it would mean to me. The second thing I recognized was that their success was not disadvantageous to me and my work. Their recognition for great writing was not an insult to my own writing. Friends getting published and strangers getting awarded do nothing to hurt me.
And that's because I don't have a scarcity mentality. There is an abundance of publication seeking new writers. Scott getting recognized by one did not mean that he was taking recognition away from me. In fact, he only confirmed that it was possible for someone like us to get recognized. And the same is true with Damien. People are always recognizing and celebrating good work, so I should do the same. @@If I want to be celebrated tomorrow, I have to celebrate others today@@.
If I could, I'd like to go back to the campfire metaphor. In this situation, I'm talking about writing and the creative fields, but I think this concept is true anywhere. Scott, Damien, and I are all writing and making art. In a sense, we're gathering sticks together. Sure, our sticks look a little different. Scott's is a theological article, Damien's is a blockbuster movie, and mine is a small blog, but they're all sticks and they're all going to the same fire pit. And what we all want is for these sticks to catch flame. We want people to see what we create. We want sparks. We want heat. We want fire.
The thing about campfires is that once they're lit, no one checks to see whose sticks were the ones that started to burn. That's not how it works. No, you all gather sticks and bring them into camp with the realization that if just one catches fire, regardless of who brought it to the pit, that's a win for everyone in camp. The success of one provides warmth for all.
Of course, when the campfire starts to burn, I have the option to pull out all of my sticks. I could get upset when I see the fire coming from other sticks and be frustrated that those flames aren't my own. But who would ever do that? In a campfire setting, that's obviously counterproductive, but we (or at least I) do this in our lives all the time. We envy each other's success and choose to disengage out of frustration. Instead, we should keep our sticks in the pit and feed off the flame of others. Because when you're near a fire, you should lean in with the understanding that fire spreads quickly to other flammable objects. The same is true with success. It spreads to those who are eager to celebrate.
And I think that's the key to celebrating the success of others. It's recognizing that everyone in your field is working with the same fire. It's knowing that success isn't scarce, but rather abundant. It's learning that there is more joy in sitting around campfires other people started than there is in isolating ourselves to rub our own sticks together.
I don't have this down yet. I'm still learning, but here's what I think: jealousy is a fire extinguisher and celebration is a lighter fluid. If we all want fire, we should choose to celebrate.