Monday, July 10, 2017

Envy: ugly but useful

Journals are excellent listeners
when you're feeling wicked
insecure, and so are cars.
I read this recently:

When it hurts, pay attention. Life is trying to 
teach you something.

I thought about that. I thought about it a lot. A few days later, I needed it and did it come in pretty hamn dandy? Yes, it did. 

On Facebook the other day was a post featuring a long-ago friend of mine who has achieved, without breaking a sweat,  and not for the first time in her life, extraordinary success at something I kind of thought I would also have done by now, LOL.

It hurt.

Originally, I was going to try and describe the way my reaction unfurled, from the fake-cheery "Oh look at that!" to a more authentic "Oh, I did not need to see that today,  thank you very much," without using the word envy.
Because, oh my God.


"Envy" in my teen world was worse than "jealous." Jealous meant you were (admirably) ready to tangle with anyone who wanted to slow dance with your boyfriend to The Air That I Breathe "Envy" on the other hand, at least among my shallow, back-biting, blue eye-shadow and white lipstick-wearing peer group who knew about these things, was "wicked insecure."

Today, in my writer world, "envy" is the most uncomfortable of reactions to a peer's success. It feels disloyal. It feels childish. It feels wicked insecure. 

First I talked to my journal about it, then I went for a drive and thought about it. 

Do I wish I had her life? No.
Do I wish I were an award-winning writer? Yes and no, it's not a deal-breaker.
Do I wish I were younger and prettier? Not really, no.
Do I wish I could be more driven during times of scattered thinking? Or tougher, or more compelled to dispense every drop of talent from the gift set of skills that God gave me on my birthday?


I'm paying attention.

First, I'm realizing how infrequently I feel envious, because I have no practiced response to it. I just get wicked insecure.

Second, I'm understanding that I look up to some kick-ass writers, which means I have a pretty healthy opinion of my own potential if I think I should be up there with them, smiling down encouragingly on the Susans.

Third, if I'm side-eyeing my own accomplishments because of a Facebook post about a person I barely know anymore, I'm thinking it's time to have a little talk with the writer in the mirror.

Life is trying to teach me something.

Here are some things that occurred to me during my drive, after I felt the you-know-what.

Envy, even if it bums you out, is useful. It makes you think. It shakes you up. And, even if for a while you're pissed that someone else is more disciplined and driven, it can make you  change the way you behave.

Envy of course, is never about the person who's done "well" versus you, who have done "less well," because "well" is relative to one's personal failures and expectations.  What do we know from another person's idea of well?

Understanding envy doesn't come easy, and it doesn't  come with flowers and champagne. It usually comes with a mixed bouquet of self-pity, shame, and uncertainty over exactly how to feel better. 

Unlike perspective, which comes from inner reflection, envy is produced by outer events, the way a headache is produced by a rake in the lawn. Since you can't really know when an outer event might spring and make you wicked insecure, the best response is probably no response until you think about what life is trying to teach you.

Not for the first time, envious-me has sighed at how easy it seems for this one-time friend to soar, while real-me says from within, you know better.

I do know better. This person did not wind up in that Facebook post because she's lucky. She wound up there because she works her bum bum off.

It's been a little while, and I'm understanding that envy isn't about what my long ago friend has – but about what I haven't tried harder to get. I don't want what she's achieved, I just want the same flowers of tenacity and elegance in my bouquet when I walk into the future I am meant to marry.

I've seen a good example of what happens when you toss that bouquet.

You throw it to a Susan.

I feel better.


  1. I loved this post. The way you put words together is awe-inspiring. This post shows why you should be a writer until your fingers fall off...

  2. Why, thank you. Happy to let you know I have the fingers of a mere girl.

  3. In one of her books---can't recall which one---Anne Lamott talks about envy, specifically, her envy regarding an author friend who was more successful than she. Her passage was funny and, like your post, hit the spot. We all feel envy. Not everyone uses it as a tool to improve character, though like Ms. Lamott, you've made a good case for doing so. Great post!

    1. Thank you, Lisa. I love how willing Anne Lamott is to share the ins and outs of just being human.

  4. Bang-on! (Can we say that any more?) Brilliant!

    1. Oh, thank you Diane, and I've never heard that expression, but I like what I think it means.

  5. Perfect! Thanks for sharing and for being one of us lovely Susan/Sue/Suzanne's in this world!

  6. So wonderful, Susan. Yes, I've been guilty many times of the green-eyed monster. I think its part of being human and also, as you say, a great teacher.

    1. Thank you Laurie, and I would be lost without my journal to help me figure stuff out, but I know our flaws are there for a reason.

  7. You are so right about envy Susan - I envy people who love running (as per my fitness post) I envy people who have perfect families and adult children who live close by, I envy people with unlimited funds, and my list could probably continue. I don't want to swap lives, I just want a little of "I'll have what she's having" :)

    1. I also try to remember that what we see of a person is a tiny, tiny bit of who they really are. I think it's the unseen stuff that makes us similar, not better or worse.