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The Ugliness of the MacArthurs: The Reality Behind Artistic Jealousy

10/05/2012 02:25 pm ET | Updated Dec 05, 2012

The MacArthur Genius Grants were announced -- did you feel it, that sharp pang?

Let me first say there's nothing truly ugly about the MacArthur Genius grants. In fact, they're downright beautiful. They're the modern-day patron with no strings attached. Creatives and academicians get recognized without the begging, or the Kickstarter campaigns or the social lobbying. They just focus on their work and, lo and behold, they get noticed. It's the genius's dream... to have his genius recognized. So what makes them ugly? Well, it's the hideous announcement itself.

It's as if someone died, that's the only way to explain it. It's like you're reading the obituaries and you see a name or a face that you recognize but you had no idea they'd been sick.

A few days ago, like you've done for a few years in a row now, you were innocently reading the list of the newly announced recipients of the MacArthur Genius grants. Every year you've seen people who were doing great things and usually their work or their achievements were so lofty that you could only envy them from a distance. But this time, for the first time, there was a name you knew. That changed everything. With that name recognition came the most hideous part of the MacArthur announcement and that's the ensuing artistic jealousy. Let's work through it together, shall we?

So what does that shameful pang mean and how do we use it?

1. It's important to note first when you don't feel the pang. We don't feel it when we compare ourselves to mega superstars or the mega rich because what they have is seemingly so unattainable we excuse them for having it (think: Beyoncé and Jay-Z or Brad and Angelina). We blame their wondrous fates on the alignment of the stars. We only feel the real pang of envy when someone we perceive to be our equal gets something we perceive we should also have.

What do we do with that feeling?
We realize that jealousy is a "me" problem, not a "them" problem. There are usually two reasons we don't have what someone else has:

A). It wasn't meant for us, it's not our time, our story is still being written. Or...

B). We aren't working hard enough, smart enough, creatively enough or working on the right thing and need to make a change.

2. That sting of covetousness also comes when we feel something another person has is undeserved. (For the record: that's probably NOT the case with the MacArthurs.)

How do we cope? We ask ourselves two questions:

A). Does it matter? Probably not. Also, they might actually deserve it.

B). What can you do about it? No action needed. Think about it. If someone gets something it's usually because they worked hard for it, were given it as a gift, or they schemed for it (again, the latter is probably not the case with the MacArthurs). Either way, it belongs to them. Let them have it. Focus your energy on being ready to receive what you've been working so hard for.

3. The worse part of artistic jealousy? If we're not careful, that pang makes us second guess the worthiness of our own art. Sit with that for a second.

Digest this: Just because someone who does what you do is recognized ahead of you does not mean that what you do is unworthy of recognition or doesn't have value.

For so many, this is the negative tipping point, thinking that there's not enough recognition to go around, not enough room for your research or enough stages on which to perform. But that's simply a lie the bad old Scarcity Demon tells to get you to quit. So keep working and remember there has to be movement in order for momentum to catch.

As varied and diverse as the recipients of the MacArthur Genius grants are, they all have one thing in common. They were moving and in action. They weren't waiting around to be discovered. They believed so strongly in their work that they didn't stop to see if someone else cared about how parasitic worms found hosts through their sense of smell. They simply trusted they were on to something and kept it moving. They only slowed down just a bit to take a really important call from Chicago.

So remember, next year, when you're reading that list and you recognize my name on it. Don't be jealous. Know that I deserved it, get back in the game and keep it moving.

Congrats to the 2012 MacArthur Geniuses! See the full listing here.