I recently had a very interesting discussion with someone close to me about jealousy and the nature of envy and what it can lead people to do. It was not the first time I had thought about it, but this conversation got me really thinking about the subject. And in reviewing my past experiences and relationships, I sort of began to realize how much of our lives is dictated by envy of others and what others have and envy of things we desire to acquire.
You see, I began to realize the majority of us are raised to be envious human beings. We are taught that it is the way of the way of the world and that in order to succeed in life we need to go through it with copious amounts of jealousy. We aren’t taught this as directly as I’ve just put it. Instead, these beliefs are transmitted to us by being told we need to be competitive, we have to be the top dogs in the room, we have to take others’ successes to another level and outshine them, and so on and so forth. In school, we are told we should be A-students, in our jobs we are supposed to beat others to that promotion, and in our social lives we ought to have a lot of friends who like and admire us.
All of these virtues and expectations that are instilled in us from the moment we are born create deep insecurities within that can lead us to feel less-than if others appear to be doing better than us in some area that is important to us. That feeling often transmutes into jealousy which can then lead us to act irrationally in an effort to compensate for what feels like a deficit in us and in our lives. In modern times, we have even developed a symptomatically-telling popular slang called FOMO or Fear of Missing Out to describe this state.
Furthermore, it doesn’t help that we live in a social media saturated world where most of us present to the world the most ideal, filtered, and manufactured versions of our lives. We broadcast to the world the best times of our lives, the trips we take, the successes we have and we rarely if ever broadcast the failures and tribulations we endure. This can leave the impression to many people that everyone else has got it figured out and if we don’t have it all figured out, in one aspect or another, we are a failure. And so this perpetuates an ongoing cycle of self-depreciation and envying of others.
But there is a way to break free of this cycle and to break others we care for out of it as well. Typical to most lasting transformations this process begins with ourselves. The first step is to realize that comparing ourselves to others is a futile process because there is always going to be someone who can do something we aspire to do and who can do it better than us. Our goal when we see and meet people like this is, instead of becoming envious, is to become hungry. Become hungry to learn from them. Become hungry to absorb as much information as you can from them. Observe how they do what they do and, if you have a personal relationship or can develop a personal relationship with them, ask them to mentor you. Realize that it is a gift to always have someone who is doing or being something you aspire to be better than you, because that means there is more for you to learn. Replace jealousy with curiosity and you will get much further.
The second step is to acknowledge your own uniqueness and individuality and to realize that no one can know you or figure you out as good as you can if you put your mind to it. And once you come to that understanding you realize that the only comparison to yourself that you ought to have is to the version of yourself that you want to be and not the version of anyone else. When you fully assimilate this belief into your being and into your life, you will become more motivated. And the reason that you will be more motivated is that, when you actually think about it, you have no clue what you’re personally capable of. You know what others you have previously compared yourself to are capable of by the tangible results you see in their lives. But when you are racing against the best version of yourself that you can become, you realize that the well is bottomless.
You really don’t know how far you can push your mental, physical, and emotional abilities. And if you let this drive to discover the bottom of your well of talent drive you, people will observe what you are able to do in a day’s work and be amazed. You will begin to astonish yourself with the relationships you are able to cultivate and the discoveries about yourself that you make along the way. Apparently the Navy SEALs have a rule that when your mind is telling you you’re done that you’re only 40 percent through. Imagine adopting the belief that the best version of you that you can conceive of is only 40 or 30 or 20 percent or less of what you are truly capable of and that the only way to know what you are truly capable of in your relationships, business, and body is by reaching your goals. This kind of intrinsic motivation is greater than any drive you can gain from pursuing someone else’s path.
That is the simple, or not-so-simple, 2 step process that eliminates jealousy and other forms of envy from our own personal being. However, even if we eliminate it from our minds and hearts, we can’t quite eliminate it from our lives. The reason is that just as we can be envious of others so can others be of us. The neat trick is transforming other’s envy or jealousy of you into a more productive force for their own wellbeing.
The way to effect this transformation in others begins with being a masterful listener and observer (see The Mastery of Listening for more on the topic). If you step outside of your head for a moment, you can begin to catch glimpses of what is inside the other person’s. Pay attention to the person’s body language and listen to the feelings and overall vibe you are getting from them and trust it. Do this consistently and you will begin to become good at noticing when jealousy is creeping into the conversation.
The next step, after being a great listener/observer and identifying jealousy when it is occurring, is to gently steer the conversation towards the person you are conversing with. The best antidote to jealousy from another is to acknowledge that person. Acknowledge them for how much you have learned from them, acknowledge them for the accomplishments in their life that have inspired you, acknowledge them for their companionship, and acknowledge them for whatever it is in them you find inspiring. If you do this, I can guarantee you that 9.9 times out of 10, they will go from envying you and your accomplishments to being inspired by what you have done and thinking on how to live similarly in their own lives.
You might say, but what if the person I’m talking to hasn’t inspired me or what if they don’t have a quality I like or what if I just met them and don’t know them well enough to speak of them in that way? My answer is that you’re not digging hard enough. And you want to dig hard because otherwise you will come off as not genuine which will only worsen the tide of the interaction you are having. If you are interacting with someone(s) that you have known for some time, even if you don’t find anything attractive about their personality, you can find some lesson to learn from them whether from something good or bad about them and you can find within you gratitude for the lesson you have learned from them and then convey that gratitude in a sincere, respectful and genuine way.
Let’s do an example. Let’s say you are talking with someone who, because you are listening carefully, you notice is getting a little jealous of you or something about what you said. From your history with that person, let’s say you know that they’re always late to everything and that it always irritates you. Since you want to leave an atmosphere of inspiration as opposed to envy, you can then begin to think of what lesson you can learn from their constant tardiness. Perhaps, the lesson you learn is that every moment counts and that time spent with others is really valuable to you. Once you determine that that is in fact the lesson, spend a moment or 2 becoming grateful for it and them. And so you might say, after that exercise, to the person “hey Jane” or “hey John, you know I always enjoy every time that we hangout.” And if they ask you to elaborate, you don’t have to disclose the whole tardiness thing. Instead you can point to something else more positive, but the genuine nature of the moment is not lost on either of you. Likewise with a recent acquaintance, if you dig, you can pick up something about them that you genuinely like—be it something they’re wearing or the way they speak, etcetera—and express that sentiment to them.
Some of us who grew up a certain way may resist the idea that we ought to help others with their jealousy issues. I do not entirely disagree. At the end of the day we are all responsible for our own emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing (see 10 Game Changing Ideas For Living Life On Your Own Terms for more on that). However, a lot of us resist the idea not from a holistic viewpoint but because we have been programmed that it’s good if others are jealous of us because it must mean we’re doing something right. However, I firmly believe that perpetuating jealousy in others is a very destructive force both for others and for ourselves and if encouraged it can lead others to attempt to sabotage you and themselves, whether directly or indirectly. Whereas as if we are able to deposit seeds of inspiration in others, the amount of good that can come from it is potentially incalculable.
Most often a person does not hate or envy another because they actually truly despise that person, but because they see something in that person that they, consciously or unconsciously, perceive to be lacking in their own selves. If we are able to recognize that truth, then I believe it is our responsibility to help heal each other of these wounds of lack. And one way we can heal these wounds is through inspiring others.