I’m part of a few Facebook groups for creatives and business owners. One topic that has come up a lot lately is professional envy.
A lot of the advice around dealing with envy seems to be along the lines of “just stop it.”
Given that envy is an emotion with an important purpose, however, this isn’t great advice. Nor is it entirely realistic. Expecting ourselves never to feel envious is like expecting ourselves never ever to find anyone else remotely attractive just because we’re in a committed relationship.
The feelings will happen at some point. It’s what we do with them that matters.
First things first: the difference between envy and jealousy
Before we go any further, let’s clear up the difference between envy and jealousy. Some people use these words interchangeably, but they have different meanings:
Jealousy is fearing that someone will take something or someone important away from us.
Envy occurs when someone else has something we lack. It’s born from a sense of inferiority and includes a hope that the person might lose what they have in some way.
In other words, jealousy is a triangle: us, the person who is a perceived threat, and the person or thing we don’t want to lose.
Envy only involves two parties: us and the other person. When we feel envious of someone, sometimes it’s because we want what they have. Sometimes, we just don’t want them to have it.
A couple of important things to remember about envy:
1. It’s not fair or accurate to compare someone else’s curated outsides to your messy and human insides. We just don’t know what someone else’s day to day looks like or what’s really going on for them (nor does it matter).
2. While we can’t stop ourselves feeling these feelings altogether, we don’t want to buy into the stories behind them.
We might want to justify those feelings by pinpointing all the ways the object of our dis-affection is THE WORST PERSON. Chances are, though, they’re probably not.
Yes, they might carefully curate their public image. Yes they might have a team of ninja support staff doing the not-so-fun helper work behind the scenes. Yes, they might have networked their way straight into Oprah’s chair without producing anything of real substance or originality.
But so what?
They’re not making you any less good enough by doing their thing. You’re doing that by comparing yourself to them.
3. Scratching that envy itch by acting on your feelings is a total waste of energy and time. You can be someone who rises to meet others, or be someone who tries to bring others down to your level.
How to use your envy for good
In psychology, there’s a concept called “the golden shadow.” This is the idea that positive aspects also lie within the “shadow” side of our personality—we just need to learn how to reintegrate them.
Feeling envious towards someone sucks. It can feel like you’re being ripped apart from the inside.
It can also be a wake-up call.
There’s a reason envy towards one person and not towards another. Usually, it’s because they are reflecting something we’re capable of that we’re not owning in our own lives. Envy is a sign that you are not owning something in yourself. It’s part of you saying “Helloooooo, you are 100% capable of this too.”
Your envy is a signpost. It points you towards needs you’re not meeting (stability, security, comfort, etc.). It also points you towards your own potential.
Your envy highlights the fact that you could totally write a book too, if you were willing to sit with the discomfort of being a beginner. It says you could speak at that conference as well, if you were willing to risk rejection by submitting a pitch. It points out that you are capable of doing your own version of what this person has done—if you’re willing to put in the work, be consistent, and dare to do it your way.
In summary, envy isn’t the emotional demon we make it out to be. We don’t want to get mired in comparisonitis and we certainly don’t want to waste time turning into social justice warrior trolls. But envy can point us to the places we’re holding ourselves back, keeping ourselves small, and open up possibilities for a brighter, creatively bolder future.
How do you deal with creative envy? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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Image: William Felkner