Look hard enough at anyone and you will find something to envy. Their swaggering confidence, their house in New Hampshire, their stacks of degrees, their 1969 Ford Mustang. All our friends have something we would gladly snatch up if it were offered, but aren’t necessarily willing to pursue ourselves.
We feel okay with this type of envy. It’s the jovial kind of envy that we toss around at barbeques and birthday parties. “Man, James, you’ve really worked hard on those calves. I’d do that too but I like hammock too much.”
Queue the chuckle chuckle.
But there is another kind of envy. A dangerous kind.
It really gets rough when someone has a score of things that you are really, really working hard to get yourself, but can’t seem to achieve. It gets doubly rough when that person hasn’t appeared to work as hard as you, or is younger than you or is dimmer than you. You wonder how this oaf has achieved the dream job or the dream girl when, clearly, you are smarter, better looking and more deserving.
This kind of envy worms it’s way into our soul. We try to laugh it off. We try to get our friends to talk bad about them. We try to make excuses for ourselves. “Well, I would have gotten my doctorate too if I didn’t have three kids to take care of!”
Meanwhile, the envy continues its destructive pong-like bounce around our sense of self. Our family and friends tire of hearing about it so we have to keep it inside, where it grows to monstrous proportions.
Ann Lamot writes about this feeling in her book Bird By Bird. Feel free to replace the word “write” and “writing” with any other endeavor in which you have invested your soul.
“Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.” (page 122)
When you find the green-eyed monster has visited your life, understand that the jealousy has not stemmed from your desire to obtain the thing.
Repeat, we are never, ever jealous of the thing they have.
Because secretly, we know we could get the thing. It’s totally possible to own that 1969 Mustang or get that dream job. We could get our doctorate, or get married. If we wanted to, we could!
But there is one thing our friends have that we don’t feel we can obtain.
We are jealous that our friend had the courage to submit to agents and risk rejection.
We are jealous that our friend had the courage to live in poverty for eight years in order to complete that doctorate.
We are jealous that our friend had the courage to agree to forever devote their resources to their future spouse with no guarantee of reciprocation or happiness.
In any endeavor, you risk missing out on something else. A doctorate degree may mean you hardly see your kids or have to delay the house on the hill. A publishing contract may mean you have to dumb down your beautiful ideas, ruin your masterpiece and die on the midlist. Getting married means that you may have to think of someone else above yourself, you may get bored or restless or feel trapped.
Because we are smart and we know things could go so very wrong so very quickly, we don’t dare.
But our friend did dare.
And they won.
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