Envy is given a bad rap.
Definitions of envy conjure up associations with pain, distress, disadvantage and resentment.
“Envy is pain at the good fortune of others.”(Aristotle)
Envy is “a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage of another”.
It can cause a person to want to “inflict misfortune on others to reduce their status”.
Envy rises like a dark, warm, sticky surge – heavy and oozing – ferocious in its search for an outlet to satisfy its unbridled need for destruction and decay.
Power lies in how you respond
It’s not the feeling of envy that matters – after all, feelings come and go. It’s what you do with that feeling – power lies in how you react.
Focusing on the stereotypical view of envy – as above – belies its full nature. Envy is a two-headed beast.
The choice is yours. Which head will you feed?
You can react negatively and try to sabotage those who inspire such feelings within you.
Or you can harness its flow, and use it to delve deeper – into your true wants and needs. In this way, envy reveals its precious value, helping you to discover your deepest desires.
For those of us who struggle to determine what we truly want in life…
Or those overwhelmed by a sheer multiplicity of options…
Or folk seemingly lacking in desire because it’s been buried so deep –
Choose to harness the stirring power of envy, to propel you into your purpose.
Don’t waste the gift of envy. Trap its power, seize its energy, uncover its insight and lessons.
Lesson 1: Envy focuses on lack
It causes us to focus on what someone else has that in comparison to what we lack.
Why not focus on what you do have? And the great experiences you’ve already had? Let envy remind you of your blessings and fortunes, of what has been and continues to be good in your life.
Lesson 2: Challenge yourself more
Perhaps your envy is pointing to the fact that you are not challenging yourself enough, or not in a meaningful way. Perhaps you are not envious of a person’s specific achievement, but are simply envious of the fact that they are achieving, that they are growing and seeing success in their world, that they are feeling fulfilled and on flow.
Perhaps your life is filled with “ok” but not with “wow” – it’s not truly fulfilling. This could indicate that your life has become too comfortable or too narrow – after all your life and experiences are a sign of your exposure. Perhaps you need to add more peak experiences and more defining moments.
Make your life so fulfilling – so awe inspiring – that you have no time to focus on what others are doing.
Lesson 3: Harness the power of envy – delve deep, be specific
Think for a moment. Someone close to you – we’ll call him Fred – announces they are about to do “X”, and you feel deeply envious. What would that “X” be … FOR YOU?
- Travel the world for a year?
- Set up a bakery?
- Found a charity?
- Become a New York Times best-selling novelist?
- Win an award for top entrepreneur of the year?
Write down your X or Xs. Write down those desires that inspire deep feelings of envy to rise within you.
Pay attention to those feelings – they are trying to stir something inside you – to awaken you to a part of yourself that perhaps you’ve denied, forgotten, or buried. Take the approach that every emotion is trying to reveal something beneficial to you. Use the power of envy to fuel you towards taking action to get what is truly meaningful in life.
It’s now time to delve deeper. It’s time to explore the detail of why those Xs would make you so envious of Fred.
Let’s take Fred the novelist. Why exactly are you so envious of his achievement? Is it because he has published a book, and this has also been a long-term ambition of yours? Is it because he’s been recognised on the world stage for his craft and you want that validation too? Is it because he’s had an impact and delivered value for his audience, and you also want to make a meaningful contribution too?
Writing is a such a wide field – what kind of book has he written? Fiction? Non-fiction? About the threat to Beluga Whales or the downfall of the Ottoman Empire? Would you be more envious if he had released a book on the art of writing crime thrillers – a field much closer to your heart?
What about Fred the baker? Why are you envious of his trade? Is it because he’s been the first to open a gluten-free bakery in your town? Or is cake baking more of your passion – you would love to teach people how to bake instead?
Be specific about what it is you are envious of. Are you envious of Fred because he is travelling to Japan? Or would you be more envious if he was moving to St Lucia? Why?
Are you envious of Fred, simply because he has become an award-winning journalist or is it because he has been awarded for covering stories exposing modern day slavery in the fashion supply chain – because it’s important to you to be part of the movement to end this?
Take the time to write down the exact detail of what makes you truly envious. Let your envy of Fredtake you on a journey to discover what’s really meaningful to you.
Spend time digging deep beneath the veneer of the accomplishment you are envious of. This is because your envy is not about Fred. It’s about you. It’s all about you. Fred is a tool to help you uncover your deep authentic desires, your true passions that have meaning for you.
Lesson 4: A sense of mission
Another way to identify your deepest and most authentic desire is to focus on the bigger picture.
Do you feel a sense of mission around the accomplishment you envy?
For example, you find yourself being envious of your friend who is a local politician. Don’t stop there, take time to look wider than the actual role – which is just a concept, a label – it is instead an avenue that allows a person to express themselves. Do you feel committed to being of service to the public? To represent their needs and influence for change on their behalf? To serve this mission above and beyond and wider than the actual role you play in this? What do you truly believe in? What do you want to progress? What do you want to see continue and thrive?
There’s a difference in being envious of a role because of the attention, reward, or prestige it confers; and being envious because it’s a role you aspire to, as it allows you to bring forth your authentic contribution to the world. It takes discretion and determination to really delve beneath the layers and veneer of the roles society holds in high esteem, to really determine what truly suits you – what will truly satisfy you.
Let the mission beyond the role help you decide.
Lesson 5: Align your interests
No two people are the same. Even if you find yourself envious of a friend or colleague, when you delve deeper, you may find that you want a slightly different version of the goal they are developing. This difference in interests can be a positive ally in fulfilling desires as the realisation of big ambitions requires more than one person.
If your friend is setting up a restaurant and you feel a pang of envy, on investigating further, perhaps you realise your interest lies in being front of house and engaging with customers whereas your friend loves developing recipes and meals to delight guests. You realise you can indeed align your interests and work together instead of in competition or separately. You realise there are so many different avenues and possibilities within each niche and within the overall scope of a desire.
Lesson 6: Think in terms of contribution not competition
We spend so much time squabbling for domination or competing to be the best within the confines of relatively small spaces. Of course, competition exists for certain roles because there are a limited number of opportunities – we can’t all be Prime Minister in our lifetime.
But if we expand our scope beyond our immediate environment, we can see there’s a wealth of opportunities for us to be at our best. Just think – there are over 7 billion people in the world. That’s an immense number of problems to solve, and people needing our help and expertise.
If we think in terms of contribution, we can see that there’s enough space for us all to play our part. If we focus on enabling the best person to undertake a role (within a larger mission as above) given their particular blend of skills and characteristics, then there’s enough space for us all to contribute to the overall mission.
There’s enough space for all of us to enhance other people’s lives through music if we are not all looking to be the world’s top singer. There’s enough opportunities for us all to be leaders if we are not all looking to be the next Prime Minister.
There IS enough of the pie to go around. Competition becomes obsolete if we think in terms of contribution.
Lesson 7: Envy-inspiring desires and trade-offs
After identifying your envy-inspired desire, it’s time to pay attention to the reality of undertaking that goal. The associated lifestyle that would accompany achievement of that ambition – the hours, the length of any training or study required, financial implications, time away from home reduced time for socialising, etc. and any other trade-offs.
Delve deep and examine the pros and cons of the accomplishment you are envious of. Remember – there is a trade-off with every choice in life – having one thing means not having something else. It may help relieve the envy you feel once you acknowledge the sacrifices needed to achieve that goal – perhaps you realise they are sacrifices you aren’t in fact willing to make.
It’s about the whole package. Your envy needs to embrace the achievement of the goal as well as the work and trade-offs needed to get there. It’s not just about the external appearance of the package – the prestige, the rewards, the success. Envy loves these. Instead, a spotlight needs to be shone on the often undisclosed and unglamourous grind needed to achieve success.
Is your envy willing to undertake the trade-offs of success?
Lesson 8: Actualise your envy-inspired desire
Once you have identified your goal and are willing to embrace the trade-offs, it’s time to move from the world of ideas to reality. To really experience your envy-inspired desire in reality. It’s time to start implementing.
Take that first step no matter how small.
So, you want to open a bakery? Read a book or blog post by someone who has done the same. Start baking. Come up with a recipe. Research ingredients. Feel yourself becoming more aligned, interested and engaged as you start taking action towards fulfilment of your dream. Watch yourself become more motivated and less envious.
Perhaps you want to move abroad but are restricted in some way. What about travelling to the location for 2 weeks every 6 months? Or living there for 3 months of the year? In the meantime, read books, watch videos, spend time with people from that country – you can still be living the dream whilst on your way to full realisation of that dream. In fact, it’s an essential part of actualising the vision – building incrementally, taking actions no matter how small, and confirming the translation of the original idea into existence.
NO ROOM FOR envy
Embrace the power of envy. Envy isn’t something to run away from, to deny or repress. If harnessed correctly, envy can be our biggest blessing, helping us gain insight into our deepest needs and wants. The pang of envy can wake us up and help shine a light on our buried dreams and potential. It can show us where we have limited ourselves, where we have settled for less.
Our external circumstances can indeed have an impact on the full fulfilment of our desires. However, we can still strive to find small ways to live out our dreams. And in doing so – in honouring an authentic part of ourselves, we become happier – we become truly content.
This is important. Not just for you, but for all of us. Because the more we are at peace with ourselves, the more we are living our true path, the greater the harmony in the world.
So, live your best life – so there’s no room for envy.