How to be happy when other people succeed (and you’re in the same spot you were in 5 years ago)

By Brittany Taylor

How to be happy when other people succeed

...while you're stuck in the same spot you were in 5 years ago

by Brittany Taylor

Last updated june 19, 2019

Everything I know, I learned from Nickelodeon. No, really. It’s not far from the truth.

For example: There was a cartoon called As Told By Ginger, and it’s theme song was just—well, it was everything teenage life is, in hindsight. You don’t even need a beat to feel the realness. Here’s a snippet:


Someone once told me / The grass is much greener / On the other side / And I paid a visit / (Well, it's possible I missed it) / It seemed different / Yet exactly the same / (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

Title Theme

As Told by ginger

The grass is always greener—it’s an idiom you’ve heard before, a phrase we’re fond of saying when we're critical of the work we’re doing or the life we’re living. Once you begin comparing shades of green, though, another’s situation usually isn’t any better than your own.

It’s just different.

I want to tell you about a girl I knew in high school

There was this girl, this wonderful, interesting, smart girl in my high school class of 200-something teenagers. We were more friends than acquaintances, thanks to a shared love for Pride and Prejudice and a lot of classes together.

Emily at 16 was the best writer I knew. That wasn’t a surprise. Emily was damn good at everything I saw her attempt. So, when she let me read one of her stories, I also wasn’t surprised by how engrossing and lyrical it was. It was just her. Good, creative stuff is what she did. It flowed out of her.

I don’t remember when she told me she wanted to be an author. I do know it was around sophomore year when she put aside her dreams of full-time writer life (and an itch to sing on stage and play the violin with a professional orchestra). During the spring of senior year, she enrolled in business school, and that was that.

Until it wasn’t. After graduating with her business degree, she went for an MFA. Then, she got a job at a publishing house. And now, 12 years after we left high school, her first novel is in bookstores.

It comes out today, the day I’m publishing this post, and I’m so happy I could cry. Scratch that. I’m so happy I am crying. I tear up whenever I share the news with someone, which is often.

And without fail, they react the same way. They flash me a little knowing side-eye and say, “So, are you jealous?”

No. No, I’m not jealous. This is why:

I’ve seen the years of work that has gone into Emily’s success. Her publishing deal didn’t come through luck. It wasn’t because she knew someone who knew someone who owned a publishing company. It was because she nurtured her talent long enough and well enough to transform her work from better-than-average into remarkable.

She wanted this, but not in the way that most people want to be a writer. Usually, when people say that, they mean they want to have written, not that they actively want to write.

Emily has worked her fingers to the bone to give birth to this creation. She hasn’t just published, she has written, she writes. She has felt the pull of creative impulse and she had fed it. She has honed her craft. She has slowly, slowly dragged herself through the process, draft by draft. And years later, here she is. Published.

The big question: What about me?

What makes me so happy about a success that isn’t mine? Here it is: Emily’s success exists outside of my bubble.

Our dreams are separate. They require different work, different processes, different types of creativity. It’s not that I haven’t succeeded or that I’m discounting my own successes; I’ve done things I’m proud of. But this girl I knew when I was a girl has become a woman who is not just dreaming but achieving.

And I am so proud of her for that.

There’s no such thing as just one chance

The important think to remember when you begin feeling jealous of your friends or your competition is this: Everyone has a different rainbow to follow.

Another person’s success doesn’t limit your own ability to achieve your dreams. It doesn’t matter how similar you are or how similar your goals are—or, conversely, how different.

Take Emily and me. We’re both writers, we’re both creatives, we’re both women, we’re both graduates of the same high school, and we both share the same favorite English teacher. But even with those similarities, her success doesn’t limit my potential. There is more success out there—more success for both of us.

What you must know is that there is not just one publishing contract. There is not just one client. There is not just one project. There is not just one pay day. There is not just one opportunity. There are so many!

Work for creatives in the 21st century is not a zero-sum game. There is room for all of us to live and work and create and succeed.

The secret to being happy for others lies in recognizing the work that went into the success

It’s all about the process. And I don’t mean yours. Not the internal talking-yourself-off-the-ledge or berating-yourself-for-not-getting-there-first or throwing-yourself-a-5-minute-pity-party. The process I’m talking about is the other person’s, the hard work that led to the success you’re trying (and maybe failing) to be happy about.

As a group, we Americans tend to be suspicious of success stories. We buy into the American dream: Anything is possible if you work hard for it—but the working hard part isn’t optional. We love to hate people who come out of nowhere because we feel they haven’t earned it.

The same is true in the online world of creative business owners. Six figures in 6 months? Psh, we say to ourselves. From there, the narrative sounds like this: Obviously, you got lucky. You had connections. You had things I didn’t, and that’s why you’re doing so much better than I am.

Contrast that to a success story like my friend Emily’s—working for more than a decade, writing and rewriting the same book for years, dreaming of this since girlhood. Emily’s story is sympathetic. She’s worked hard, damn it! She deserves this win. And, what's more, she’s earned it.

How to be happy for others instead of sad for yourself

Not everyone knows how hard Emily’s worked for what she has. Because I know her story, I’m delighted by how far she’s come. Jealousy has never entered my mind (really). And I do think it’s because I see what she’s been through that makes me feel so unreservedly happy for her.

So, how can you reach that level of can’t-squee-loud-enough glee for creative friends, role models, mentors, and the randos you follow on Instagram—you know, those people whose histories you don’t know backwards and forwards? How can you squash that voice in your head that makes you write off the success of other bosses you hear about?

It all goes back to the secret: Learn about the work that went into the success. Here are a bunch of ways you can do that right now...

  • Stalk them on social media. Some bosses are share-a-holics (like, ahem, me) and have detailed the good and the bad on their favorite platforms. My go-to is Instagram, but you can do a Facebook search-and-scroll, too, to get a feel for the ups and downs that have led to this shining moment.
  • Listen to a podcast. Interviews offer bosses who don’t tend to  gush on social media an opportunity to lift the curtain on recent triumphs. Head to iTunes and search their name to see if they’ve been interviewed recently.
  • Subscribe to their content. When great stuff happens, we bosses have been programmed to share it so that other people can learn from the sweat equity we’ve put in to our projects. Look for blog posts, email newsletters, e-books, and subscription-only resource libraries that will take you behind-the-scenes of whatever good news has you turning (temporarily) green.

So go ahead, chickadee. Do a little research. Then, put a smile on. And a party hat, some spangles, and maybe a bell or two. It’s time to par-tay!

About the book

Puh-lease. Like I was gonna leave you hanging on the identity of my favorite author and her debut novel!

I had the great pleasure of going to high school with Emily X.R. Pan. Her book, The Astonishing Color of After, is a young adult novel that has garnered starred reviews from every single critic that counts, both online and in print. It’s also picked up major kudos from heavy-hitting authors including John Green and Holly Black. Bookstagram is going nuts for it, Goodreads adores it, and now you can, too.

A post shared by Emily X.R. Pan (@exrpan) on

Order a copy for yourself here.

Follow Emily on Instagram (and drool over the cover art) here.


Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.

Brittany Taylor


Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.


Brittany Taylor

Hello! My name is Brittany Taylor, and I am a ghostwriter based in Charleston, S.C.

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