Last weekend I watched the hilarious comedy Bridesmaids. Besides being a side-splittingly funny view of two best friends’ (one the bride and the other the maid of honor) adventures in wedding planning, there was a serious message about jealousy. The protagonist, who is asked by her BFF to be her maid of honor, struggles to balance her feelings of failure after her cake business goes belly up with her friend’s excitement about getting married. Her obvious envy and insecurity makes her do crazy and ultimately hurtful things that threaten her friendship with the bride to be.
Most of us like to think we are too mature to experience jealousy but even the most evolved among us can have bouts of it when we least expect it. I can remember a very clear incident of jealousy for me. When I was a manager working at a PR firm in New York my sole goal at the time was to land an international assignment in one of our Asian offices. It was my dream. I did everything “right”. I made sure I had visibility among the right senior leaders; I landed plumb assignments on some of our biggest and most profitable client accounts, and every performance review I let my interest in an international assignment be known.
The gut punch came when a good friend and colleague of mine, who had less tenure than me at the firm, landed an assignment in China. I was beside myself. How in the hell did he get that assignment? What made him more qualified than me? While outwardly I was happy for him (and he was very qualified for the position to be fair), inside I seethed and raged that I wasn’t chosen. I was flat out jealous. I stayed pissed off for a couple of weeks. Then somewhere along the way I pulled myself together and got down to work. I took my fate into my own hands and decided I wasn’t going to wait around for someone else to help me to fulfill a dream I had for many years. I started interviewing at other firms and looking at international teaching opportunities. At the encouragement of a good friend, I took the Foreign Service exam to become a Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State. To my shock and delight I passed the exam and was invited to Washington DC to interview. Ironically, while I was in the midst of the interview process and mentally preparing to quit my job, the CEO of the APAC region of my firm called me and asked me if I’d be willing to take a two-year assignment in Shanghai. After much deliberation, I accepted the position.
That moment taught me a powerful lesson about jealousy and the way it can hang like a dark cloud overhead if you allow it. For me the turning point came when I recognized that I could do something about how I was feeling. The question for you is how can you put your feelings of jealousy into perspective and make them work for you? Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Understand the underlying root cause of your jealousy. Accept it and then fix it. When you feel jealous, there is no point in denying it. Instead accept it and ask yourself “What is this telling me about how I’m feeling about my own life?” Often jealousy is a marker that we are dissatisfied with something in our lives. Rather than fixate on what a friend has and you don’t, figure out what changes you need to make in your life to be more fulfilled and then do something even if it’s just one tiny baby step towards your goal.
- Recognize that the grass isn’t always greener. We all love a success story and often when we see others who have made great achievements, we don’t think about the struggles and suffering that they may have experienced to get to where they are. Don’t assume that successful people got to where they are without effort, sacrifice or even heartache.
- Think abundance not scarcity. Some of us go through life acting as if there is not enough to go around. We act as if someone else’s success means there will be nothing left for us. Nothing can be further from the truth! We should celebrate the success and good fortune of those around us and draw inspiration from it. When I see a friend experience a success, I truly feel happy and inspired that I can do more to realize my dreams, that it’s possible for anyone even me.
- Practice expressing positive emotions and positive regard. The thing I hate about jealousy is that it makes you feel so bad. Jealousy creates that pit in your stomach and a bitter taste in your mouth. I have a wonderful friend, Tracey, who is by far one of the most positive people I know. I used to tease her about being “relentlessly optimistic” but you know what? She’s on to something. She writes in her blog, Vine2Victory, about the adversity she experienced in her life including four corporate lay-offs. Through it all she maintains an air of grace, a sense of humor and an aura of deep calm and positivity. She is truly a role model.
- Just say “no” to trash talk. Let’s face it, we are at a place in our culture today where trash talk and insults score points. It might feel good to blow off steam and talk smack about someone but more often than not, it just makes you look jealous and petty. All that negative talk also takes up mental space and energy you could be using to work towards realizing your own dreams for your own success. Practice expressing the kind of support and care for others that you’d like to receive.
We are all works in progress and none of us is immune to the green-eyed monster every now and then. But next time you feel yourself making a snarky remark when someone shares a success or expresses their joy, stop and ask yourself what your feelings of jealousy might really be telling you. What do you think? When’s the last time you felt jealous and how did you deal with it?
I saw Bridesmaids a few weeks ago on a flight. My poor seat mates must’ve thought I was crazy because I guffawed and cried throughout the entire movie. I think my reaction had to do with having recently walked down the aisle myself. However, I love that you used the movie as a starting point for a serious issue we all suffer from from time to time. Your suggested tactics to move beyond the green-eyed monster are great. Thanks for sharing.
Kalyn – Bridesmaids is definitely one of my favorite movies these days. I love all of the themes about female friendship and competition (yet another good blog post idea, I think!) and jealousy all captured in the heady and emotional time of planning a wedding. Thanks for stopping by!
Wow, Portia… this is a great entry… and very timely for me. The green-eyed monster recently paid me a visit a couple of weeks ago and I am still trying to get over it. You are so right — a big part of that is analyzing WHY you are jealous and what is at the core of the emotion. Obviously, if we were all totally secure in ourselves, there would be no real reason to be jealous of another person. So, jealousy can be a tool that gets you to take a closer look at yourself and your insecurities. Instead of resenting another person for having what you don’t or being something you aren’t, we need to ask ourselves if those possessions or qualities are things we should really try for or develop ourselves… and then take steps toward that goal if it’s worthwhile. Sometimes you lose track of your own self-esteem and you don’t realize you are lacking in it until the jealous feelings emerge. That’s what the jealousy is really all about for me. I think the Dalai Lama once said that you should love your enemies… because they can teach you the most (e.g., about yourself), and I think the same holds true with folks toward whom we feel jealousy — we may feel compelled to hate and resent and envy them, but ultimately, they can teach us a lot about ourselves… if we only get a mirror and take a good hard look. Anyway, thanks again for your post!
Laurel, the self-esteem issue is right on point. I think when we are feeling bad about ourselves is when we are most vulnerable to jealousy. I really like His Holiness thoughts on loving our enemies (though let’s face it, I’m not so evolved that I can think this right away. I need to work on this). A good friend of mine, also a Buddhist talked about how adversity and negative emotions can be a gift because they teach us so much. I think this is in the same vein. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
Oh, and by the way… perhaps you should write an article about why other people LIKE to make you jealous. That’s the flip side, of course. …Because sometimes it can be intentional. ; >
Absolutely true! I’ve experienced this first hand but now when I recognize that someone is trying to make me jealous, I refuse to buy in to that kind of toxicity. That’s a deal breaker for me.
The third rail of friendship… jealousy! Excellent post with insightful comments. I will add that when it comes to jealousy, we sometimes look through a micro lens instead of a macro lens. As an example, when I was in film school I was very jealous of one of my classmates. We worked together on one of her projects and I subconsciously undermined it. To this day, I am quite remorseful because what I didn’t understand about myself then, I get now, fastforward 10 + years later. My classmate was about 4 years older than I was at the time. She had a Masters Degree. She has a lot more practice and experience at her craft than I did. She had well known writers as her mentors in college. I was just beginning so the expectation that my work could be at her level was… delusional! (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours chapter in OUTLIERS is a fantastic explanation of success- those who achieve it and those who are still working at it).
As for those who try to make us jealous… sometimes people use the only currency they have- other people’s insecurities. Underneath that, a very insecure person who tries to make other people feel as badly as they do. All smoke and no fire. Don’t buy that person’s BS. Instead, send them light and healing.
Cynthia, GREAT example and so true! I am always reminded of what Gladwell said about what makes the truly great people great. I ask myself how many things have I put 10,000 hours into (well, maybe this blog, LOL)? Most of us don’t want to work for the achievement we see others have. Great comment.
Oh jealousy. I do admit that I am sometimes jealous especially of other people’s achievements. But, I realize that we are all unique and that i am my own person and that I dont need to compete with them to feel good about myself. I only need to compete at my own personal best to be the best I can be. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.
Blessing, that’s exactly right. Sometimes we are so busy looking over our shoulder that we forget to just focus on ourselves. I agree. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
I think that we have to remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We don’t always know a person’s journey to how they got success. Their success may be a reward for all their hard work. And even in cases where it isn’t, we just have to focus on self.
Yes! I agree with you and Blessing on this, we need to stop worrying about what others have and focus on ourselves.