(30 Things To Stop Spending Time On If You Want to Be Successful #19)
“Don’t envy the lives of others. Often you only see the surface. If you delve deeper, everyone faces challenges. Each one; without exception.”
— Mufti Menk
If there is one thing that is true about our social media saturated culture it is that we envy the perceived success of other people. We may never outright admit that this is the case, but underneath all of our favorites and retweets and shares, there is a brewing storm of envy that exists deep within all of us.
Of course, we try to keep it ethical and sane. We probably wouldn’t tell a friend outright that their #ThrowbackThursday photo from 25 years ago is ugly. We may think it and even gossip about it to our other friends which is equally as evil. But as much as possible, we support people in their success.
It seems to me that Morrissey was right in 1992 on many levels when he sang, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”.
Envy as it turns out is a natural human emotion. Envy shows up in the subtlest of ways. As in when someone gets the promotion we want, or a friend gets married first, or a younger sibling is the first to have a baby, and on and on it goes. We not only feel unhappy about the success of someone else, but we feel inferior too.
We experience envy because it assists us in measuring ourselves and our success against someone else and their success. (It is closely connected to competition which is dangerous in and of itself but we do it anyway.) Dr. Mary C. Lamia says, “Envy makes you work hard and it seems as though you keep coming back again and again to measuring your self-worth against that of the other person.”
Here’s the thing about envying other people and their success. No matter who you are, where you go, or how much you accomplish, there will always be someone who is outdoing you or seemingly doing better than you. The thing about that is, the people you think are doing better than you also think someone else is doing better than them.
You can have great life experience, impressive Ivy league education, the finest house and car, and a six figure income, but if you like to compare yourself to others, you will find someone who has better life experience, a more distinguished education, a finer house and car, and a seven figure income. If you don’t stop envying the success of other people, you will never be satisfied and you will hold yourself back from making progress.
On top of that, envy is a horrible emotion. It only ruins your self-esteem and causes you to feel bad about your own achievements. It also has a way of making you think obsessively about how far you have to go to catch up to the other person. It’s like running a race. If number 5 is constantly looking over at number 6 or number 4, number 5 is certainly going to lose the race. Why? Because you don’t get ahead by comparing.
Like any other problem or bad habit in life, you have to acknowledge it in order to end it. Admitting to envy can feel like a threat because you’re really admitting to an inner insecurity. But if you don’t let it know that you’re aware of it, you’ll never get past it. Trying to rationalize it away doesn’t work either. Our envy of someone else often has nothing to do with that person or even with the object of their success. In the grand scheme of things, their success doesn’t directly affect you.
We can also combat envy by letting it alert us to things that are within our power to improve on. Envy that results from things outside of our control will only result in more resentment and frustration on our part. But let’s be honest, if a friend got into a great school because she studied hard, made good grades, and aced the SAT, then her success might serve as a great motivation for you to stop skipping classes, turning in half-baked homework, and not studying extra on weekends.
Comparison (the first cousin to envy) can be an extremely dark and sticky place. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. If you have found an admirable quality or character trait in someone else’s life, it is perfectly fine to work to develop that same trait in your own life. So for example, if a friend is hard-working and honest and you’re not so much, perhaps a little more of that willingness to work and be honest about it may go a long way if you want it too.
We tend to envy those who are successful. And it’s not that we are jealous of the person but more of what they have or have accomplished. What we need to realize is that behind all that success many times is a lot of pain, heartbreak, long nights, early mornings, loss, and frustration. It’s no superbly happy journey to success. The journey is often long and arduous, even tumultuous and stormy.
If you’re not willing to deal with all the issues behind the scenes — problems, sickness, missed deadlines, crappy work, do-overs and retakes — then you need to question what it is that you’re so envious of. You have no idea what it takes for people to actually get to the pinnacle of their success. Don’t act like the object of your envy came about because of sheer luck or a stroke of effortless genius. We really can’t catch a clue about what happens behind the scenes based off a plot summary or lyrics to a song.
Finally, don’t forget to be thankful. Harold G. Coffin said, “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” You have done something or have something in your life that you can be grateful for and should be proud of. Being truly grateful has nothing at all to do with boosting ego, but everything to do with refocusing on what’s right and good in your life and choosing to be happy about your own success and the success of others.
And yes, we all have that old handy thing called free will. And we can choose to act and think in ways that are unenvious of other people and their success. We can’t control the emotion of envy, but we can choose how it manifests itself in our lives. Acknowledging a feeling takes the sting out of it. We can intentionally boost our confidence and improve ourselves by letting go of envy, celebrating others, and taking the time to be happy with our achievements.
“Jealousy, greed and envy won’t get you very far in life, because you’ll always feel discontent and unhappy about yourself, your life and the people around you.”