Every time this subject comes up it drives me crazy. I've always contended that I love my jealous feelings, that they push me beyond my self-imposed limitations and let me know what I want.
But maybe I'm not feeling jealous. I've never looked at someone else's stuff and thought that mine was better, so mine should have the same acclaim, or be published in New York. I never, ever compare down.
Dear dog, I don't want to launch a career with better than what I think is 'bad.'
When I went to conservatory, I remember telling the guy in one of the interviews that I'd rather be the worst musician at the best school, than the best musician at a mediocre school. (I got my wish, LOL -- hopefully I changed that after a year or two!) The point is, if I'd gone somewhere where I was the best, where would that have taken me? I would've improved a little, but very little. My skills as a freshman in conservatory compared to my skills when I left? Big difference. Huge difference. Not as huge as it should've been, but ... I improved.
Remember the four-minute mile? Everyone thought it was impossible to run a mile under four minutes. Everyone tried for years and years and years, and no one could do it. Roger Bannister did it in 1954, and then all of a sudden, many followed suit.
If you can't see someone do something better than you, then you're going to be going for something you've never seen done before--a task that's incredibly difficult. Once you see it's possible, it'll be much easier.
We become what we look at. If we read stuff we think is bad, and we compare ourselves to what we think is bad, then that's going to be as good as we'll get.
Maybe it's because I've lived in the music world all my life, where everything is subjective. I'm comfortable with subjective judging and subjective comparisons, because it's all I've known. With music, you have to be perfect first, and then better. And then, if you're extraordinarily better than perfect, an amazing talent that just leaves people breathless, then you can have a sure win.
I've always thought of that area above perfect as artistry, although plenty of amazing talents have shown great artistry below perfection.
Other than that? It comes down to luck.
I think most art is similar in this regard. Read and compare yourself to the best writers you can find, make your skills as perfect as you can, and then try to be better than perfect. All while allowing yourself to write imperfectly, so you can get through that darned first draft and not stumble over writer's block. ;-)
But I don't compare down, I compare up.
It not only keeps me humble, but it gives me a guiding light, something to strive for, and the knowledge of what I need to work on to improve. Who has time to compare down? I'm too busy looking up, and hoping to be as good as them when I grow up.
In the end, it's like golf. The only person you're really competing with is yourself. Sure, I'm "jealous" of my top ten list to the right, but do I wish them to be worse writers? No! Because if they were, I would be worse, too. That would be sad. If I 'beat' someone today, I pray they'll beat me tomorrow. Then we can drive each other, and our art, to a higher level.
We need each other, we really do.