I am a jealous person. You wouldn’t know it upon early or even prolonged interaction. Closet envier may be the better description. I veil it rather expertly, kind of like the same way I hide the chocolate chip bag in the vegetable crisper – stealthy, I know.
The slope that I slide down usually goes something like this, “She has it all figured out. If only I could be that ____________(you fill in the blank)… in shape, clever, creative, funny, organized, etc. then I would be ____________(you fill in the blank again) …more happy, more successful, more fulfilled, more loved, more content more…who knows what, just “more.” It’s like mad libs for the unhealthy soul.
I use to just get upset with myself when this would happen… I’d be like “Really, Jess, you are a grown woman. You know better than this. You have a t-shirt that says empowered women empower women for goodness sakes.”
But these past couple of years, rather than throwing serious shade at myself when Lil’ E emerges (that’s what I’ve nicknamed my envy…we’ve become pals), I’ve tried to approach myself with a little more compassion.
So with compassion, grace and a healthy side of curiosity, there are three things I do that help me navigate green waters when I feel a flood of jealousy coming on.
1.) Get Curious – What really is beneath it?
For a long time when I would have thoughts that were less than pleasant, I avoided them. I figured if I didn’t acknowledge them, then they couldn’t find their way in. It was basically the adult equivalent of a child hiding from the monsters under her bed. It felt way too risky to allow myself to actually let in whatever was trying to work its’ way out.
After having my first child, as delighted as I was to be a new mother, I was also wrestling with intense feelings about my body, who I was in this new role, and if I would go back to work. Desperate and sleep deprived, my typical readily available reservation of will power to keep unpleasant thoughts at bay was beyond depleted. I needed another strategy. In yoga, they teach you to grow curious about any physical discomfort you may be feeling. I figured if curiosity could help change your perspective and relationship to physical pain, why not try it with emotional pain. So I did the thing I feared the most – I turned my attention directly toward the discomfort.
The first reflection to come from getting curious and pressing in rather than pushing away was that much of the time what I was calling jealousy was a mislabeled form of inadequacy. It stemmed from a place of not enoughness – I’m not doing enough… “enough in my career, enough with my kids, enough laundry, etc.” Or a different flavor, but same brand…”I’m not smart enough, skinny enough, strong enough, brave enough, committed enough, clear enough, cool enough, exciting enough.”
It seems so simple, but realizing this changed the game for me. Rather than chastising myself for not living up to some standard that even I didn’t know how to measure success by, I was going to need to seriously generate some love and acceptance for myself. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t push myself to grow and become better in areas that are important to me, but it is a acknowledgement that my starting default mode is that I am valuable and more than adequate. Embracing ourselves as enough and daring to actually believe it may be the most courageous thing we do. Recognizing “enoughness” is a daily practice.
2. Operate out of abundance – Can there be a “Yes, And…?”
So much of jealousy or inadequacy is steeped in either or thinking. There is no both. Either she is more successful or I am more successful. Either she and her partner are so much happier together or my partner and I are more happy together. Or let’s apply it directly to the educational front. “She is such an amazing teacher. She is always coming up with such dynamic lessons and her students adore her. I could never do this.” It comes from scarcity – an inherent sense that there is not enough success, opportunity, wealth, love, joy, happiness, you name it, to go around.
Ahhhh, but abundance, oh she is like my mom, now promoted to grammy, who has been stocking up on toys from Goodwill and garage sales since my husband and I got married over 15 years ago. Her house may only be 900 square feet, but possibilities abound at grammy’s house.
Abundance is spacious, open and full. When the walls of my heart feel like they are starting to press inward and suffocate my fragile sense of enoughness, I find myself quietly, but assertively whispering – “Open your heart, Jessie, open your heart. YES, there is enough for her AND for you.” It has created space for me to celebrate others and be compassionate with myself.
YES, she is a terrific teacher, AND so are you AND my gosh we need an arsenal of caring and innovative educators out there because kids need every ounce of support and love they can get from adults.
YES, she is in great shape, AND you are working hard to be healthy in all aspects of your life AND you look good, girl! YES, she is a terrific mom, AND you are too (even when you don’t bathe your children for 5 days).
And here is the best part, my friends. By practicing “Yes, and” thinking, I genuinely started to become more excited for people that I had previously been envious of. Instead of seeing others as competition, I started seeing them as allies or a source of inspiration.
3. Maybe it’s a sign of what you should do next
Another interesting thing that has surfaced as a result of exploring what was beneath my jealousy is that the people I was jealous of were writers, educators, speakers, communicators… essentially people who were doing things that I either really valued or wished I was brave enough to do. My jealousy, when I start observing her, is actually rather specific.
It is supremely easy for me to get excited about people’s successes who are achieving in arenas that I have less interest in. When my husband watches Youtube videos of off roading and salivates over how the car enthusiast describing his pursuits has triumphantly converted his back cabin into the perfect mobile camping set-up, guess who is not getting all hot and bothered – this girl! But when a friend of mine started to gain some traction in a field that I care deeply about, a little green started flowing through my veins.
Richard Rohr in his piece, Emotional Sobriety, says that “Emotions in and of themselves have no moral value; they are neither good nor bad. They are just sirens alerting us of something we should pay attention to. If we learn to listen to them instead of always obeying them, they can be very good teachers.”
So now, I listen, and I ask what this siren might point to. Is there a possibility that this emotion that I perceive as negative and bullish might actually be trying to alert me to my next step? Maybe I am so affected by my friend’s business success because brewing inside me is a desire to start a new venture, but I’m feeling afraid and wish I had the kahunas to just go for it like my courageous girlfriend. Could this actually be my soul’s way of bringing awareness to the rest of me?
My education is far from over, but I feel like I’m finally starting to understand what my teacher asks of me and surprisingly, I think she actually has my best interest in mind.