Motivated by Jealousy

Yes, that’s what I said. But maybe not in the way you might think. I’m not suggesting we need to gather up a bunch of jealousy and let it fester until we explode. Rather, if we understand what seems to be making us jealous, we may realize that it’s less about jealousy and more about dissatisfaction with our own progress.

I saw a friend’s post on social media the other day celebrating a pretty big accomplishment. And I started feeling a bit jealous. (Which, let’s be honest, is what most of social media causes us to do, but that’s a different story.) Getting jealous of the accomplishment was silly, though, because what he’d accomplished wasn’t something I even wanted. Weird, huh?

As I thought about it, I realized I wasn’t exactly jealous. If we go to the our friends at Merriam-Webster, we are jealous when we are “hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.” Hmmm. I certainly don’t consider my friend a rival (especially because I didn’t even want what he had accomplished). But maybe it was that “enjoy an advantage” part that hit me.

Or maybe it was more envy than jealous. Back to Merriam-Webster — envy is “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” Another hmmm. Still don’t want what he obtained, definitely wasn’t painful nor do I resent my friend. But there it is again about an “advantage.”

And then it hit me. The “advantage” I perceived was because he had done the hard work and I allowed it to make me feel like I was “less than” because I hadn’t done the same work. Seeing his achievement convinced me (temporarily) that I wasn’t doing enough or was falling behind.

Here’s how I dug myself out of that hole that might help you, too.

Know what you want. Our lists of things to do in life vary in number and complexity. Some people have just a few simple things they’re trying to accomplish, others have a few things that are monumental and then there are others who have a lot of little things — and everything in between. When you know what you want, you can easily move beyond a sense of jealousy or envy when someone achieves something that isn’t on your list. Instead, you can just be excited for them. Getting a new job in New Mexico? Not on my list. Taking a vacation on a beach? Not on my list. Visiting Antarctica? Oh, yeah, that’s definitely on my list. So what then?

Know when you intend to achieve it. When someone accomplishes something that you also want to do, that doesn’t in any way limit your ability to do so. When you look at your list of things to do in life, you’ll accomplish some before your first cup of coffee while others are much longer term. You may just be on a different timeline than your friend who just checked off one of your bucket list items. Visiting Antarctica is on my bucket list, but it is not something that I am planning on doing until I have a bit more flexibility to take an extended vacation so that I can really experience it to its fullest, rather than a quick in and out just to check it off my list. No sense wasting time on envy. And hey, I could learn from the experience of the other person to make my trip even more enjoyable.

Know what you’ve already achieved. The only person who has had your exact same experience is, well, you. Comparing ourselves to others is pointless, even if they have just accomplished something that we want and that we want now. But if we’re not willing to compare who we are today to who we were in the past, that’s a problem because it means we’re not willing to grow. Don’t waste time being jealous of the other person — use their achievement as a reminder that you need to make progress. Let it motivate you to move towards the next goal on your list. No one else’s.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that sometimes it may seem unfair when someone else accomplishes something that was on our list and that we wanted now. That doesn’t mean you should be jealous or envious of that person. For starters, just because we want something now doesn’t mean we can have it now. Maybe they did have an advantage. Or maybe it was caused by a decision by someone else (like a boss who decides who to promote when there’s only one opening). Or maybe the other person worked harder. Don’t get caught up in that woulda, coulda, shoulda loop. Go back to the loop above, clarify what you want, when you want it, what you’ve already achieved, and use that as momentum to propel you forward to achieve your goals.