Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “Why didn’t I come up with that idea first?” or “I wish I had their job or relationship” and then got sucked into an emotional tornado of jealousy, self-doubt, and shame? If this thought pattern sounds familiar, you may be feeling envious.
Don’t Worry, You’re Normal, and You’re Not Alone
We’ve all been taught to be appalled by envy and ashamed to feel it. Envy is widely recognized as a green monster and as one of the Seven Deadly Sins in Roman Catholicism.
As an Arab who was born and raised in the Middle East, I’ve been traditionally taught to say “Mashallah” after every compliment and to be careful about sharing my plans and accomplishments with others to protect myself from evil eyes.
But the truth is, I’m no stranger to envy. On a low day, I succumb to the social media allure, scroll through the ‘gram and can’t help but wonder why am I not a globetrotting, Nutella-eating yogi, a YouTube vlogging sensation, a bestselling author, a Forbes 30 under 30? I sometimes catch myself thinking, “I wish I was as driven and committed as X, or as creative and artsy as Y, or as connected and influential as Z?”
If you’re anything like me, most people will tell you that you’re wasting your time being ungrateful and downright entitled. And while I do believe, to a great extent, that envy can be a slippery slope leading us down the rabbit hole of “never enough,” I’m also with the growing number of people who argue that envy is actually an important emotion that we shouldn’t dismiss or ignore.
Now, I’m no expert on naming and taming feelings, but here are three methods that I found useful for understanding envy and turning it into a positive driving force.
1) Celebrate the Possibilities
The fact that someone else is successfully pursuing a dream that may be similar to yours doesn’t mean that you can’t do it too or that you’re too late to the game or falling behind in life.
In fact, as life and business coach Marie Forleo puts it, “Often times in this life, it’s really hard to become what we cannot see. Many of us need to see examples of other people doing things before we can even understand what’s possible in our own lives.”
For instance, you may feel stuck in our own job, but isn’t it motivating to see someone else take a risk and go after his or her dream job? You may not be in a relationship, but isn’t it inspiring to know that such true love is possible? If they did it, then you can do it too
2) Accept the Invitation
Some consider envy an invitation to get to know oneself better; it can be an indicator of something in your life that needs more focus and attention or an area where you need to step up your game. Author and millennial motivator Amber Rae goes so far as to refer to envy as ‘inspiration in disguise.’
So the next time you see your friends’, colleagues’, or a stranger’s success and feel a pang, don’t deny it or beat yourself up with shame. Instead, take note of your feelings of envy and use them as a valuable clue toward who you want to be. Accept the invitation and open yourself up to what envy has to teach you about your desires and aspirations.
3) Dig Deeper
Get honest with yourself and question your emotions. What is it about this person’s job, relationship or lifestyle that you really want and why? For instance, if you noticed that you feel envious whenever you see pictures of globetrotting yogis on Instagram, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should quit your job and become a world-traveling yogi yourself.
Don’t let envy take you off track towards chasing other people’s dreams. Instead, try to analyze what exactly you’re envious of and whether that trait, skill or lifestyle that you envy is aligned with your own goals and priorities.
I want what I have. I have what I want.
Going back to the yogi example, you might discover that you’re craving a more flexible lifestyle that allows you to travel and explore more often. Or you might find out that you envy this person’s confidence in expressing themselves, which might inspire you to share some of your own writing or poetry. Perhaps you envy their physical appearance and strength, which might trigger you to make working on improving your own physique a priority.
The key is to use your envy as a guide for designing a life and career you love and as a nudge to taking action in pursuit of your dreams and goals.
Need help getting started? Here’s a simple exercise you can complete next time you catch yourself getting a little green with envy. Give it a go and let me know if it’s helpful by in the comments section below.
I’m envious of ___________
Is achieving this objective aligned with my own values, goals, and priorities right now? (Yes/No)
If yes, my next move is ___________________
This article first appeared on the Experience Institute’s blog.