You know how it goes …
You see someone’s incredible vacation photos on social media, while you watch the rain pour down outside your tiny office window (or, worse, as you stare at the windowless grey walls of your cube).
Or you hear about an old friend who just got an amazing promotion at a company you’d kill to work at.
Or your coworker gushes about how sweet her husband was for surprising her with concert tickets for their one-year anniversary, while you haven’t even been on a date in months.
The envy starts to creep in, and you’re left feeling annoyed, resentful, deflated, or just plain sad.
The worst part of jealousy is the self-judgment and shame that often comes along with it. Many of my clients, after embarrassedly sharing a situation where they felt envious, will say things like, “I have to plaster on a smile and fake excitement, even though I feel like the jealousy is strangling me. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy for that person??”
I’m guilty of this, too — both feeling jealous and judging myself for it.
Back when I was in school, I used to get really nervous about public speaking, so I was naturally super jealous of people who could speak in front of a crowd with total ease and confidence. I wanted to be the kind of person who had valuable things to say and spoke about them effortlessly and confidently.
But then I would get embarrassed for feeling jealous and pretend like I didn’t actually care about sharing my voice. Feeling ashamed of my jealousy caused me to disown a deep desire of mine.
Thankfully, in the past few years I not only released my fear of speaking up and sharing my voice … I also stopped feeling guilty and ashamed of my jealousy.
In fact, I now love when I get jealous because I believe it’s one of the very best tools for figuring out what you’re passionate about, making authentic decisions, and getting over analysis paralysis.
JEALOUSY IS INCREDIBLY CLARIFYING
Think of the world as a massive catalogue of potential life choices.
Every person you encounter — family members, friends, coworkers, the guy in line at Starbucks, the girl you’ve never met but follow on Instagram — is displaying a particular set of life possibilities that’s available to you. You’ll discover countless career choices, personality traits, parenting styles, relationship dynamics, vacation destinations, health lifestyles, etc.
You’re constantly being presented with more and more possible life choices. And because of technology and our increasingly interconnected world, we’re aware of more options than ever before in human history. It’s incredibly exciting, and also likely to send you straight into analysis paralysis.
With so many potential life choices, it can feel impossible to distinguish what you want in life.
That’s why jealousy is so important.
Every time you feel jealous about something, it’s because you want some version of that. In a world full of countless choices, your jealousy is one of the best clarifying tools to narrow down your options based on what you deeply want.
You may not want the exact version of whatever you’re jealous of, but it’s triggering a deep desire that’s worth exploring.
JEALOUSY IS NOT THE SAME AS ADMIRATION
In order to get the most clarifying power out of your jealousy, you’ll need to be able to distinguish it from admiration, respect, and generally feeling impressed.
I admire, respect, and am super impressed by the U.S. women’s gymnastic team who absolutely dominated in this year’s Olympics. I swear, those girls defy physics.
But I wouldn’t say I feel jealous of them. I don’t want to be a gymnast or win Olympic gold medals. I just appreciate their talent without any personal attachment.
Jealousy, on the other hand, feels more personal. It’s distinguished by a deep craving, a longing for something you wish you had. If you feel truly jealous, it shines a glaring spotlight on some area of your life you wish were different.
That’s how you can be sure there’s a desire underneath of it.
HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR SHAME AROUND JEALOUSY AND USE IT FOR GOOD
Because jealousy can feel so uncomfortable, most of us have an unconscious, negative reaction to it. Here are some of the most common ways I see people act when they feel jealous:
- They criticize or somehow discredit the person they’re jealous of to make themselves feel better. (“Sure, she has a gorgeous home, but I bet she’s drowning in debt to pay for it.”)
- They criticize themselves for feeling jealous in the first place. (“If I were a better person, I’d be happy for them instead of jealous.”)
- They assume other people have something they don’t. (“If I had my best friend’s courage, I’d ask for a raise just like she did.”)
- They feel like they’re falling behind. (“Everyone on Facebook is happily married, and I’m still single. I’m so behind!”)
Here’s what to do instead:
- Stop judging your jealousy and remember it’s there to help you.
- Send gratitude toward the person you’re jealous of for shining a spotlight on a deep desire of yours.
- Question it! What about that do you really want? Why do you want it?
- Then ask yourself, what might you have to do to get closer to that thing you want?
HOW OTHER PEOPLE HAVE MADE THE SHIFT
One client of mine, Emily, confided that she felt a huge surge of jealousy at a wedding she’d recently attended. At first she didn’t understand why she felt green with envy while watching the newly married couple, since she was there with her long-time boyfriend.
Once we questioned her jealousy, however, it became clear that she wasn’t happy in her relationship anymore. Watching the blissfully happy couple on their wedding day threw into stark contrast how disengaged she felt in her current relationship. As difficult as it was, that realization gave her the courage to end a relationship that wasn’t right for her, which opened her up to one that was.
Another client, Julie, was a working mom who always believed she wanted to “have it all” — the career, the marriage, the kids, the house, everything. She was always silently judging stay-at-home moms for “giving up on their careers.”
One day, though, she admitted to me that she was actually secretly jealous of those stay-at-home moms. Her judgment was just a way of masking a desire that she had disowned. When she finally gave herself permission to accept her desire to stay at home more often with her kids, she quit her full-time job for a 10-hour-a-week position, and now she’s so much happier.
Yet another client, Stephen, started working for himself, which was a long-time dream of his. He expected to be ecstatic to work totally on his own, according to his own vision and schedule, but quickly found himself jealous of his friends who got to work with co-workers and teammates every day.
That jealousy revealed his desire for collaboration and teamwork, which had become practically nonexistent since quitting his job. So he started developing partnerships with other local business owners and created a mastermind group that met twice a month to get that sense of camaraderie and collaboration.
The next time you feel jealous, remember that you don’t have to mutter “congrats” through gritted teeth, or try to “snap yourself out of it,” or feel ashamed and berate yourself for your envy. Instead, recognize it as the helpful, clarifying tool that it is for helping you identify what you really want so you can go after it.
Now I’d love to hear from you: Tell me about a time you recently felt jealous. Looking back through this new perspective, what did that jealousy reveal about a deeper desire you have? Let me know, in the comments.
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