“Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own.” ~Unknown
My friend Kayla and I ran a student organization together at our graduate school. One day, we were sitting at the local café, talking about plans for the organization. Kayla had an idea for a major creative project she would drive and lead.
The idea was fabulous, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the idea of her doing this fabulous thing, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Over our coffees, I shared this concern and that. It wasn’t in line with our goals for the year. It would send the wrong message to our members. It probably wouldn’t work.
As I shared each concern, Kayla responded, eloquently. And bless my friend Kayla, then she said, “Tara, I’m listening to everything you are saying. I’m really trying to understand it, but the words are not making sense to me. You don’t sound like yourself. It feels like you are jealous.”
Whoa. What? Can you hear the little screeching to a halt sound in the background? Things just got hazy with time-just-slowed-down-and-I-sure-didn’t-expect-that wooziness.
Because Kayla is the amazing woman she is, she said this without a hint of accusation. She didn’t sound hurt or angry, righteous, or victimized. She said it as if it were a neutral observation.
In the moments she said it, I began to realize she was right.
I thought, here I am, jealous of a friend. I’m being that kind of person I’ve been hurt by. I’ve been on the other side of the table—sharing a creative idea, an ambition, and feeling it squelched because the other person was threatened. How did I get here?
But I didn’t say any of that. My ego couldn’t go there. I think I said something like I was so sorry she felt that way, that of course I supported her, and that we’d talk more and figure it out.
Kayla’s words changed the trajectory of that period of my life. I went home wondering, “How did this happen? How could I have gotten so far from my own happiness, so off track, that I can’t be present to the flourishing of someone I love dearly?
I was coming off the first grueling year of grad school, and through it, I had lost a lot of myself. I was out of touch spiritually. I was emotionally wound up about all kinds of things that had happened during that whirlwind year. As a result of that spiritual and emotional disconnection, I had started overeating, and I was caught up in compulsion around food.
Chaos was ruling. Soul was going underground.
Kayla’s words woke me up to that. When I went home, I saw crystal clear: if I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t support this person who I adore, who is doing a project that will advance a cause I’m passionate about, things have gotten pretty bad. I must have gotten very far off from doing my own right work, following my own dreams, cultivating my own happiness.
It was perfectly obvious to me in that moment that our ability to celebrate and affirm another’s brilliance, creativity, ambition is exactly correlated to how much we are honoring and standing with our own.
Within a few days, I started making changes. I surrendered my struggles. I decided things had to change. I got back on my own side again. I started resting, giving myself more reflection time and remembering my dreams.
I gave Kayla my support in moving forward with the project.
I gave up sugar, and all the other foods that I can’t handle, that make me a crazy person who can’t stop eating. (I’m happy to say that I haven’t had refined sugar in the six years since then, so this was a powerful change that stuck.)
I also started to look at how I turned to food to cope with stress, and to develop alternative ways of coping: talking with friends, journaling, spiritual practice, and the not-to-be-underestimated solution of napping!
Using Jealousy As a Gift
There’s a lesson here for all of us. When you feel jealous, instead of identifying with that feeling or beating yourself up for feeling it, let it serve as an important message.
Here’s how to do that:
1. When you experience jealousy, turn your focus from outward to inward.
This is hard, this is big, and this is where transformation begins.
2. Ask, what part of me is having trouble witnessing the x (success, brilliance, boldness, popularity, beauty, wealth, etc.) of another person?
Connect to that part. Focus in on the discomfort. Shine the light there and explore it.
3. Ask yourself: What message does that part of me have to share?
What does that part want for me? What does it want to create in my own life? What does it feel hurt about, prevented from doing, stuck around? Reflect on these questions by journaling about them or exploring them in meditation.
4. Feel the feelings fully.
Speak them. Process them. You can share them with the person you are jealous of, if that feels right in the relationship. Though I didn’t do this with Kayla because I was a scaredy-cat, I’ve done it with others since and it goes a long way to immediately diffuse the feelings of jealousy.
Once you’ve shone a light on it, it can’t run you in the same way. Or, share with another supportive listener, journal, or process the feelings by sitting quietly with them and feeling the sensations of them in your body. We forget all the time in our doing-focused culture that when it comes to feelings, just feeling them fully causes them to shift. It really does!
5. Explore: What am I willing to do to get back on track with myself in my life?
What would I need to be doing in my own life to be completely at home with—delighted by—this person’s glory? Your answers here point you toward your own glory.
6. Finally, consider: What do I need to do, in order to be the person I want to be in this relationship?
The first five steps are an important part of this. You may also want to put in place some boundaries for yourself like “no teasing this person” or “no comments” on the thing you are jealous of. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take a step back from the relationship until you can be the source of support they deserve.
When you give yourself full permission to shine, to try, to experiment, to fail, jealousy of others subsides. When your stand for your own dreams, and do the hard and brave things required to make them happen, you won’t feel that twinge of jealousy in the presence of others going after theirs.
And when you do feel jealous? Treat it as a powerful messenger. Jealousy shows you just where you need to go next on your own journey.
Photo by Mizrak