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.)
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?