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?