I don’t know about you, but talking about “ugly” emotions is tricky. There is a shame many of us experience with feelings that are seen as unpleasant, negative or socially unacceptably. But that doesn’t stop us from experiencing them. The shame or guilt we feel from these emotional reactions often prevents us from talking about them, making it hard to digest them, tackle them and even learn from them. And by not dealing with them, we’re likely to experience them over and over.
So let’s remove the shame, and talk about it.
I have been processing feelings of envy lately. There, I said it. I admit it. I’m putting it out into the world. I feel it in my professional life, and in my personal life. I feel it with people I strongly dislike, and with people I adore.
It’s not quite jealousy, it’s not quite resentment or desire. It’s a deep feeling, like a churning weight in the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it; I don’t really understand it. It feels ugly, and until now I was embarrassed to admit it.
When it comes to success (my trigger for envy), I truly want to be an advocate for other people. I genuinely celebrate the successes, accomplishments, and wins of the people around me. The world is competitive, even cut throat at times. I see society, especially professional female culture, shifting towards a place of peer advocacy, where we openly acknowledge and cheer for the people around us. I want to be a part of that movement, and it’s a norm I want to push forward.
Someone else’s progress doesn’t effect yours. Someone else winning, doesn’t mean you’re losing. They are just at a different stage of their journey; you have no idea what has led them to this point. Honor their path, it’s different from yours. And that’s totally ok!
So how can I sit here, genuinely happy for someone, and at the same time be feeling that awful pit in my stomach? How can envy and celebration co-exist? I find myself questioning the authenticity of my happiness, if it’s coupled with a toxic emotional reaction. Am I really happy for them? Or am I just pretending?
If I’m genuinely happy for them, does it mean that I’m not happy about myself? Is the envy emotion stemming from dissatisfaction in my own circumstances which leads to the longing for what someone else has?
Maybe, but also maybe not. I don’t know the answer.
I love my life. I have been incredibly blessed on all fronts (let’s not forget to credit hard work here too). There is probably always a desire for more, but I’m also content and I’m happy. So if that’s true, why do I still experience envy?
We may not be able to fully understand the why. But there are steps we can take to tame the envy beast. I found the actions outlined by this Harvard Business Review article helpful as a starting point.
- Pinpoint what makes you envious — the key is to recognize the circumstances and qualities in others that trigger your envy.
- Don’t focus on other people; focus on yourself — rather than comparing yourself to others, try measuring your present self against your past self.
- Affirm yourself — remind yourself of your own strengths and successes.
I am a big proponent of self-awareness. Much of my personal growth is credited to an ability to be self-aware. I push myself to acknowledge my short comings, I dig into the root cause of the issue, and then I take steps to make it better. I’m trying to do that with envy.
I acknowledge that I’m experiencing envy. I want to change that. I’m digging into what causes it (starting by pinpointing what makes me envious, and trying to understand why). Then I’m pushing myself to counteract the envy feels with a focus on myself and my success. I’m reminding myself that other people’s success doesn’t impact mine. Trust the process, trust the journey. I can only control my circumstances.
Let’s be real — it’s hard. But growth is hard. I wont claim to have mastered this, I know I’ll be working on it for a long time. Just talking about it makes me feel better though. I encourage you to know that you’re not alone in your feelings of envy, and that there are steps we can take to shift away from this emotional reaction.
It’s hard. I think it might always be hard. But growth is hard, so let’s lean into it.
Questions for Reflection:
- What triggers your envy?
- How does envy make you feel?
- What if you compare your present self to your past self, instead of comparing yourself to others. Are you proud of what YOU have accomplished?
- What small steps will you take, when envy rears it’s head, to shift away from the negative and push yourself towards something positive (like personal affirmation)?