Last week, I came down with a bad case of envy.
It hit me without warning. One moment I was perfectly happy scrolling along my Facebook wall, and the next thing I know I am suddenly burning all over in green flames.
What happened was that I chanced upon the fan page of a good friend, who used to be a regular Write Club member until a couple of years back and is now making some splashes in the stand up comedy circuit.
Let me correct that. Not ‘some splashes’. Many splashes. Many big splashes. At least from his Facebook activity I could gauge this much. Everything he says gets liked and shared a ridiculous number of times (I mean that in the nicest way possible), and as an author looking to build a platform, I couldn’t help but obsess over those numbers.
I shook my head for a few minutes. I closed my window. I shut down my computer, went downstairs to have my shower. I ate my dinner quietly. I read a book. I went to sleep.
I slept well.
The next morning, when I was brushing my teeth, I slowed down to think a little bit about what I’d felt the night before.
I made a few observations:
- The person who was the object of my envy was not even in my industry. His skills are not comparable to mine. So there was no good ‘reason’ for the way I was feeling.
- A large part of me is happy for his ‘success’. So I did not begrudge him what he had. I just wanted it for myself. And I also felt frustrated at the apparent ease with which he has ‘leapfrogged’ over me in this ‘race’.
- A couple of years back, he and I were peers. Strictly speaking, I had more ‘fame’ and ‘success’ than he did back then, because I’d already become a published author whereas he was yet to enter stand-up comedy. Much of my envy therefore stems from the notion in my head that we both began at the same level, and yet he has achieved ‘more’ in less time.
- I was also aware of a bit of resentment that he has ‘moved on’. Whereas before we would spend a lot of time together talking things out, now I don’t hear much from him. This is natural. People move on all the time. I’m not suggesting that this is wrong of him, but I must still accept that I feel resentment at being ‘left behind’.
- Social media has finally put a number to a concept such as success. Whereas in an earlier era, unless someone flashed it in your face, you wouldn’t necessarily know how ‘successful’ or ‘popular’ a person was. But today, all you need to do is go to Facebook and check the number of likes, the number of shares, the number of comments. ‘Social success’ and ‘fame’ finally can be backed up by numbers. At least apparently.
What did I do to combat it?
First, I acknowledged the emotion. It was there. There was no point denying it. Now I had to work through it.
And because I’m a writer, I wrote to myself. I made four separate lists:
- All the things in my life that I’m grateful for
- All the things in my life that I have and the object of my envy doesn’t. (This is a purely subjective list, and can also turn mean. But it does give perspective.)
- Three versions of myself: as I was a year ago, as I am now, and as I want to be a year from now, both from a personal and a professional standpoint. So I was making conscious attempts to compare myself only to myself. In a sense, perhaps, I was reminding myself that each person’s journey was different.
- I made a fourth list of all the ways in which my ‘public’ face was different to my private face. This I did to remind myself that what we see on a person’s public profile is never the whole picture.
Then I sat down, looked at this list, read it word for word very slowly. That morning at breakfast, I spoke to my wife about it. That afternoon at lunch, I confessed about it to a friend. And now I’m writing here.
Did it work?
Strangely enough, it did. In the last few days I went back to my friend’s page and read some of his posts. I could do so without feeling that familiar knot in the stomach. I was able to even enjoy some of his jokes. (I’d always thought he was funny.) Today I find that I can be genuinely happy for him. The exercise I put myself through may have saved our friendship. At least it did from my side.
But it got me thinking…
Just like I was envious of my friend, could it be that someone else who doesn’t have what I have (whatever it is) is right at this moment envious of me?
In a previous post about Cressida, I raised the point of how human beings have this habit of looking ahead, up the ladder, at the path that is to come. We don’t spend all that much time looking back over our shoulders. We move on. We don’t move back enough. So perhaps during that time when I was struck by this jealousy, I was guilty of that too. Was I so obsessed with what I thought I must achieve that I could not appreciate what I already had?
There is a deep reluctance to speak about these dark emotions. Anger. Lust. Envy. Greed. We don’t acknowledge these to ourselves, much less to people around us. Even though these are governed by instinct, without the interference of our thinking brains. Feeling them is not wrong. Indeed, we don’t have a choice. But why don’t we talk about them more?
Here’s a video that speaks of this huge hole in the conversation about envy. And she talks about how to plug it too. Good watch.
What about you?
Can you recall a time when you felt envious about somebody or something? Did you have trouble accepting it to yourself? Did you work through it or did you avoid it? If the latter, can you share some of your methods on how you overcame your envy? I would love to hear your stories.
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to my newsletter and stay in touch