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Turn Envy into Inspiration

image from SleepingBear

Have you heard?

That e-course filled up in a day! He got a book deal! The online sale sold out in an hour! She's making enough money to support herself! He was invited to teach! She's getting national media coverage!

Gossip, gossip; murmur, murmur.

Here's the deal: The online community (and the rest of the world, for that matter) is made up of two kinds of people: the doers -- the movers and shakers -- who get all the attention and do all the cool projects; and the wannabes, who wish they could be like the doers.

Whoa. Do I really believe that? Not exactly. But here's what I do know to be true: There's an epidemic of envy in the online community. I'm not pointing fingers or throwing stones in a glass house here. I have been part of the epidemic. I speak of what I know.

You know who I mean when I say "the doers," right? Those folks who frolic among the clouds, slide down rainbows, and sleep on lavender scented moonbeams while money and high quality organic chocolate pour into their bank accounts. They're smart and beautiful; well connected and well loved; prolific and profitable. We each have our own private list of such people. Maybe it's filled with artists, writers, and photographers. Or maybe it includes entrepreneurs, tech gurus, and public speakers. Or food bloggers, craft bloggers, and mommy bloggers.

The online world is huge, but every list is extremely specific, isn't it? My list may be completely different from yours, but a lot of the accompanying thoughts and emotions are the same. The people on these lists are the ones we blog stalk, obsess over, and analyze. We feel like a loser when they announce yet another success. We get snarky and think, "Well, must be nice!" Then we feel uplifted and affirmed when they respond to one of our comments or emails. We're their biggest fans and their biggest critics. We've become the TMZ of blog celebrities, the British tabloids for online royalty.

Envy brings out the worst in us because we believe that envy is a "bad" emotion. As kids we're taught to share and to play nice. We know we're supposed to be generous and happy for others -- this is woven into the ethical fabric of our social consciousness. So when we feel envious, we often feel guilty and embarrassed. And from our shame can come a callousness designed to cover up the fact that we're feeling an emotion we've been taught is wrong.

We turn envy into anger because anger gives us a feeling of power.

But here's the thing: We envy what we covet. We covet what we love. And we love -- are you ready? here it comes! -- we love what we're meant for.

I'm going to repeat that, in a boldfaced, bulleted list kind of way, in case you're like me and tend to skim blog posts too quickly:

  • We envy what we covet.
  • We covet what we love.
  • We love what we're meant for.

Jealousy is a compass. It points us to our true north, to what we value and long for the most. I learned this from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. (I know, I know. This book is quoted all the time in certain creative circles. But for good reason, I say.)

We need to stop reacting to jealousy with guilt and the subsequent mean-spiritedness. Now here's where I'm going to get all Zen on you. The next time someone on your list announces a fabulous new project, success, or accolade, just notice your jealously. Sit with it. Get curious about it (as this astute life coach would say). Look at it with a beginner's mind and wonder about it. What does it mean? Why do you feel this way?

What is it about that other person's situation that you want? Is it the recognition? The creative freedom? The money? Don't judge this. Just admit to yourself why you envy that other person. When you know the reasons for your envy, you'll see what you covet. When you see what you covet, you can discover what you love. And when you've discovered what you love, you'll know what you are meant for.

Then you can turn your envy into inspiration. (Which is sort of like turning that frown upside down, but not so rhyme-y.)

image from SleepingBear

In other words, unpacking our envy allows us to target our motivating factors. Then, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves about someone else's good fortune, we can start moving in the direction of our own. If you're a good-hearted person with a desire to live fully and authentically, I promise that this will feel so much better than kvetching about someone else's success.

And here's the shocking secret I've recently learned: Those doers -- the people we think have all their shit together, those amazingly creative and popular peeps -- they often feel like wannabes, too. They struggle and they fail and they feel lonely sometimes. Just like the rest of us wannabes!

Wait? Could it be? We're all wannabes? Maybe.

Or maybe we're all doers in different stages of doing.

I once read that experiencing a beautiful piece of art won't make the true artist jealous; rather, it will inspire her in her own art. I took that as truth for awhile, but it depressed and discouraged me because sometimes I see amazing things and I do feel jealous. Therefore, I came to believe that I wasn't a true artist.

But that axiom is an oversimplification of things. Envy is a naturally occurring reaction, but it doesn't have to turn ugly. We can choose whether or not to turn our envy into inspiration. Like all worthwhile commitments, it's one I have to choose again and again.

So, to sum it all up in a nicely alliterative, yet somewhat smarmy way: Inspiration can inoculate us against the envy epidemic.

What do you think?

References (1)

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  • Response
    That e-course filled up in a day! He got a book deal! The online sale sold out in an hour! She's making enough money to support herself! He was invited to teach! She's getting national media coverage! Gossip, gossip; murmur, murmur. Here's the deal: The online community (and the ...

Reader Comments (42)

Well, off the top of my head, I think that you _are_ a true artist and very wise. Oh, and I think I may copy those three points onto a sticky note & attach it to my computer monitor. ;-)
August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElaine


How cool!

Thank you for speaking out here and crafting this topic into such a great post :-)
August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Someone just brought this post to my attention and it's absolutely exquisite. Thank you for the inspiration.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermom101
This is spot-on! It would mean so much less heartache in the world if more people would take this on board and pro-actively use their envy in the way that you suggest. As you say, it doesn't have to be negative. Bravo for a superb post.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter@girlosophy
This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning! Thank you.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Other Laura
Wow (here via Mom-101) I needed to read this right now. I agree with Elaine---I'm going to put those three points on sticky notes and stick them on my monitor.

Beautifully written.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFairly Odd Mother
This is fantastic! Thank you.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterharrytimes
Just beautiful - and so on target and timely given the shenanigans that have been brewing on the interwebs. -Christine
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas
I wish I could be as positive as you.

Ha! Just kidding. But this is a beautiful article with a very important message. I don't think of myself as envious, but as I was reading your post I found myself thinking about how many times I witness something truly amazing and my mind immediately says, "I suck." Thanks for writing this.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Flanagan
A wise poet, John O'Donahue has said, "Desires are the messengers of our un-lived lives, calling us to attention."

Another brilliant mentor once told me, "The purpose of jealousy is to teach us about what we want more of in our lives."

My Catholic school upbringing makes it a sin.

So happy to have many teachers helping me untangle the mysterious shadow side of existence.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJodi
I love your post. It is very true and came at a good time for me. Thank you.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoanie
I too was sent here by one of my biggest sources of inspiration (and jealousy). I love this post I will be bookmarking so that I can re-read it frequently. So the one thing you left out is what you need after you're feeling inspiration--motivation.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGray Matter Matters
What an insightful post! I'll try not to be jealous of your brilliance - haha! :) No really, I love how you've reframed envy as a way to get clear about what's important to you.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Lee
Great blog entry. It had a re-setting effect on me, giving me the right mind-set to focus on what I need to do to be happy. A lot of people - myself included - who seem to be "doers" are in reality just more aware of their successes and make an effort to promote them. Perception is reality, after all.

We're all in the same boat. All capable of being successful.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie
Thank you so much for this great lesson in turning around envy and jealousy.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEllecubed
Sometimes things come to you when you need them most and this article tiptoed into my life
at the right moment. It is just a beautiful way of looking at things and have shared this with family and friends.
Thank you so much!
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenH
I enjoyed reading this and the reminder that we can control how we use our envy is timely. I'm reminded of a post on Art of Noncomformity about expanding the pie. Both concepts go together, I feel. Thanks for a great article.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAudrey
Oh wow! Powerful words and a powerful way of learning more about oneself and transforming all that energy into something constructive and healing. Thank you!
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
way to hit the nail on the head! (i'm kind of envious. . . .)
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura.
Love The Artist's Way, love how you turned a "negative" emotion into something viable
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Hasson
Good God, woman! Did you not just speak some of the most inspired truth ever?! There is so much love and hate in the online community. So easy to get stuck comparing yourself to another. So easy. That is the curse of it. You have to find your own way, like you said, be inspired instead of being jealous. I am inspired when I see people I consider to be friends succeed. It means it is all possible. Everything.
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLu
this is just what i needed to read today. it is sometimes tough to admit wanting recognition, but it seems to be a running theme in my life these days. and why do i always forget that i can choose to turn things around? thanks for the reminder!
August 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrenée
Jenna, loved this so much, truly. my therapist-y mind started firing all over the place. :)
August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen P.
Congratulations on an exquisitely written post!

I love your honesty. Many times I've felt envious of others and ashamed for feeling that way. It comforts me to know that I'm not alone. And it comforts me to acknowledge that I'm a doer too, just in a different stage of doing.

Thank you. :)
August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteph
Thank you! Well put. I loved The Artist's Way and the morning pages - but this was an excellent reframing reminder too.
August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTena Laing

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