When You Feel Behind: Turning Envy into Positive Action

Excited Woman

“It is the way that we react to circumstances that determines our feelings.” ~Dale Carnegie

I can remember the incident so clearly.

A few years ago, my friends and I were all sitting around a table in a restaurant. It was the holiday season, and I was in good spirits. It was nice to see everyone again. The snow was drifting gently outside, reminding me of eggnog and Christmas trees.

After we ordered our food and took turns asking each other what we were up to, it was one of my friends’ turn to share. She casually mentioned that she recently got a job offer. Everyone looked up, in a mix of surprise and curiosity.

“What company?” someone asked.

She answered proudly, full of giddiness and excitement. As I looked around, I could see some expressions beginning to sour. As for me, it felt like a stone had just dropped in my stomach.

I couldn’t believe it. Out of everyone I knew, she seemed the least likely person to get a prestigious job offer. My spirits were suddenly dampened as I tried to process what had just happened.

All throughout dinner, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that she had gotten a job offer from a company that I personally knew numerous other people had unsuccessfully applied to.

I had tried for the longest time to obtain an interview from the firm, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, she was failing many of her classes at the time, and seemed to have few relevant work experiences.

It completely turned everything I had thought about life and careers upside down, as if all my efforts to secure relevant internships and achieve in my academic career had gone to waste. I felt like I had failed myself.

Slowly, I shifted from blaming myself to blaming everything and everyone else around me. At the time, I told myself that things were simply not fair.

It’s been a few years since then, and I’ve had many days to reflect upon this experience, as well as how I’ve grown since then. Here are some things I did to turn from envious to positive and the lessons I learned along the way.

Focus on yourself.

Harboring negative feelings toward others, whether it’s hate, contempt, or envy, takes up energy and ends up exhausting us. It’s unproductive and it doesn’t better our lives. If anything, people easily pick up on these unattractive, negative vibes.

The most important part of ridding oneself of envy is changing the way we approach the situation. Realize that there is nothing you can to do change events outside your control. What you can do, however, is find ways to make changes in your own life.

I was spending so much energy on someone else’s achievements that it took away energy from my own. After the feelings of envy and disappointment passed (as they always do), I decided to explore different ways of improving myself.

I took up new activities, such as writing, and made an active effort to speak to different people from different walks of life to learn more about their experiences. Learning from others with more experience than me became a key theme in my life. I wanted to understand other people, their struggles, and how they overcame obstacles to become successful.

When I became more productive and filled my schedule with things to do, it felt like I had less space and time in my calendar to be envious. I was too busy!

Things are not always what they seem.

When we talk to people, especially those whom we rarely see, we tend to highlight the best parts of ourselves and our lives. Just logging into a social media website shows this phenomenon.

Similarly, you’ll likely only see the tip of the iceberg when you first talk to someone. Dig a little deeper and little specks will appear. Everyone’s life has both good and bad, but it’s unrealistic to compare our own lives, which we know inside out, to the shiny, clean surface of someone else’s.

As for my friend’s situation, I truly do not know how she obtained an offer from the company. Perhaps they liked something they saw in her credentials, or she was a better fit. Maybe someone she knew vouched for her abilities.

The point is, it doesn’t really matter for me. It’s so easy to wrack our brains over things that don’t fit within our worldview. Some things are difficult to understand, but we can do our best to acknowledge that we don’t have all the information at hand and try our best to work with what we do know.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

At the time, it felt like I was falling behind. Despite all my efforts, it was if someone had “leapfrogged” over me and was soaring ahead. I worried that setbacks would accumulate over time, and I would spend the rest of my life behind everyone else, always trying to catch up.

How wrong I was.

The thing is, life isn’t a straight line moving in one direction. It’s sort of like a stock market—wiggly and filled with ups and downs. It’s unpredictable, but if you focus on improving yourself, despite the ups and downs, the long-term trend will be upward.

Envy is an unproductive feeling. It’s perfectly natural and happens to everyone, but it can consume our own lives to the point that it’s unhealthy. Envy is a feeling of helplessness.

I learned that I have control over myself and my actions. I could take steps to improve myself by putting out a detailed action plan and implementing it.

Make learning become a major theme in your life. Seek to learn from others’ successes and difficulties and apply them as lessons in your own life.

Because regardless of the inevitable hurdles everyone faces, nothing can take away the knowledge one has gained from listening to others and the wisdom in knowing what to do.

Excited woman image via Shutterstock

About Melissa Chu

Melissa Chu helps people live better and build good habits at Jumpstart Your Dream Life. Reach your goals by downloading the guide How To Get Anything You Want.

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  • EquinoxSolstice92

    This is why I don’t like go on my main Facebook account anymore. Whenever I log in on my first account (I have two, by the way), I scroll down my newsfeed and I necome envious of my friends and relatives. If they’re partying or travelling, it makes me feel sad because it looks like they’re having fun without me. Ever since I stopped going on Facebook, I feel happier and worry less.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for sharing this! I looked it up, and it turns out that Facebook envy is actually pretty common. Although if you think about it, this is only one slice of their life – people don’t like to share the boring/sad parts of their life.

  • Peace Within

    You aren’t the only one who feels this way. Check this video out, I am sure you will like it.

  • Sarah

    I totally needed this… Just this past week I was dealing with this at work and found myself angry with someone elses success!! After a day or two I realized how ridiculous that was and started focusing on making myself just as successful, while being happy for others who have good things in their lives. Today is the first day I’ve been feeling much better about it all and then I read this! Perfect!!!

  • Katelynn

    This is awesome. I have been going through the exact same thing. It’s all about how you deal with the things you’ve got. What truly makes you happy. I realized after the first semester of university that things don’t go as planned. My world flipped upside down the moment I realized that I was being bitter and that whatever I was doing, whether it be studying or taking tests, I was only following everyone else around me. I was chasing something that I couldn’t even see. I missed out on all the things that made me happy or that could be making me successful because I was counting the blessings of others.

  • Jay F. V. C.

    I struggle with envy. Recently a friend of mine came by and talked to me about his many accomplishments. Accomplishments I’d have liked to have. I felt old, useless and irrelevant. Washed out. That I can handle, but at a certain point, I got the feeling he was subtly establishing his own superiority towards myself and other people in our group. This really irked me, and I had no choice but to suck it up and stay quiet. It really sucks but that event coupled with some other things in my life have really pushed me over the envy-zone and into a different place. So far I’m just controlling my envy; I hope I’ll be able to make it disappear or turn it into a friend (envy = you telling yourself that something needs to be done about oyour life)

  • Jay F. V. C.

    I spent so much time in college bummed out about not being as good as everyone else (I was quite good, but not as good as the “champions”), that I do sometimes wonder how it could have been like if I had taken it easy with myself (not by failing classes, but by caring less about how I compared to everyone else)

  • Jay F. V. C.

    Whenever I see people posting too many things that make me angry with envy, I just block their feed. That’s right; I get no more of their news. As a matter of fact I closed Facebook for 2 years following a break up + the realization that it was making me go crazy with comparison-obsession. I re-opened it to stay in touch with close friends who don’t often respond to e-mails, but decided that I was not gonna have any of that Facebook envy. So I click on ‘I don’t want to see this’, and I do it often. As a result my feed is mostly filled with cool articles and links I can check between catching up with my e-mail-avoiding friends 😉

  • Jay F. V. C.

    I might even have completed my second major in Mathematics, of which I dropped out of because it was so hard (for me) and I was in the company of A kid (one!) who was REALLY good + a few others for whom it came naturally (a lot more naturally than it came to me anyways!) They were so good compared to me, that I got down on myself and quit!

  • IcEy

    Wow! Great stuff. I get days when I feel like a complete waste of space. When you compare your life to others and they’ve got the car, the job and the money. And you feel stuck. You feel like ”how will I ever achieve those great things?” But the truth is, just be you. Your life is just as spectacular according to what you specialize in. Know that great achievements take time and require patience and a little bit of leg work, and know that once you set upon a path, what ever that may be, you can only reach the end of that road. Bare that in mind.

    Remember, you are special, your achievements, how ever YOU personally mete them are great and as long as you have dreams, goals and ambitions you can only ever achieve.

    Also another thing to bare in mind is what I call the ”5 year bench mark check”. What ever it is that you do, compare your place or position from 5 years ago with where you are now. Done that? How much have you learned? what have you gained? how much have you improved? noticed any patterns? Notice that things can only improve and get better? Whether you knew how you where going to get to that improved place or not, the point is you got there, and that same formula is true for the next five years and all the great things that are in store for you.

    Just be you, just enjoy the ride and all the great things that are to be experienced and learned on your journey. Take each day as it comes and you never know, those things to be desired may come sooner than you anticipated and in greater measure than you imagined. 😀

  • Guest

    “She answered proudly, full of giddiness and excitement. As I looked around, I could see some expressions beginning to sour.”

    Oh man, that poor lady with so many horrible ‘friends’. Hope it didn’t beat down her own happiness at all.

    Glad the author got to this great place of ditching ‘compare and despair’ though – it really does free up so much of your own creative/career time to just get on with it and focus on your own marathon.

  • Guest

    And no, I didn’t mean to sound like I really thought some of her friends were horrible *people*, but that’s a shitty *reaction* to someone living their dream however you look at it.

  • Peace Within

    We’re all on our own paths in life. There is no sense in comparing our life to other people’s lives. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. I am happy for those around me because I want to see everyone succeed, it has nothing to do with me. I feel if I can’t be happy for others… how can I be happy for myself? Just worry about yourself and be the best person that you can be. Change things you want to change. Try your best. This is your journey, no one else’s.

  • Hi Melissa

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and you gave some really awesome tips. Very few people are immune from envy and jealousy. Like you said, there is always that tendency to compare your whole life and all its unwanted bits to someone’s highlight reel. And of course that is going to make us feel pretty crappy.

    If we are willing to sit with a bit and do a bit of digging, those emotions can actually be quite helpful in gaining clarity in our own life, and what it is we want for ourselves. Then we are in a position to actually start creating the life we want.

    In my studies of law of attraction, I have also learned that we have no idea what other people’s manifestations mean to them, or how it is serving their particular journey.

    For example, things that happen to people that we deem ‘good’ or desirable for ourselves based on how we feel about the particular situation, may actually have manifested for that person to mirror back something we would deem ‘negative.’ Again, we have no clue so we would be well-served to just focus on ourselves, and not worry about what other people or doing.

    Great post!

  • Talya Price

    I know the feeling of envy all too well. I know it is wrong but I feel envious of people who have a great career, especially those in my profession who are getting more auditions, more acting work and more money than I am. I am envious of those who are in relationships and have someone to go out with and have some one to satisfy them sexually (not to sound perverted), I envy those to get to travel and get paid to travel and have this exciting lifestyle.

    I hate being envious of people. I know it is not the right feeling to have. It makes me feel stuck, because I feel that I am missing out on so much. I know many people who like to gloat about their achievements, I am not one of them. I let my achievements speak for themselves. This article really spoke to me. Why am I a so envious of people?

  • Talya Price

    @EquinoxSolstice92 I understand you. This is one of the main reasons why I deleted my Facebook account. I am thinking of doing the same with Instagram. I feel that all of this social media was created to make people feel bad about themselves, so they can do things “to keep up with the Jones”. It’s the same with advertising, feel bad about yourself and your life so that you can buy this product so you can feel like someone special.

  • Thinker

    This is so true, I feel left behind when I organise get-togethers and try to invite all my new and old friends, and then those friends become better acquaintances and start mingling, going out without ever telling me…I have moved on many times and always think its for the better. I dont feel envious but do feel disappointed at being left out at times and dont understand what am I doing wrong?

  • Smoothie Spoonie

    Great post, thanks for sharing. I suffer from a chronic illness and I too often feel left behind or become envious of others. But I have learnt not to for my healths sake. There is no point in using what energy I have on feelings of jealousy, worry, self-pity etc. I have control over my feelings and will continue to focus on myself. It’s not a race and everybody is different.

    Lennae xxx

  • NTB

    I did the same thing. I get updates from close friends and family, but have blocked out a lot of the noise that was driving me nuts with envious obsession. Now all I can see are inspiring articles, updates from businesses that I care about/use, and coupons and offers from Whole Foods. 😉

  • Melissa

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Ideally I think we would all like to be happy for each other’s achievements, although in reality it can be easy to feel frustrating or unfair when someone has something that others don’t.

    Have you ever had someone you know obtain something that you wanted, despite your efforts? How did you feel about it at the time?

  • Melissa

    Hey Kelli,

    You sound very knowledgeable about this from your insightful comment. 🙂

    So true that our thoughts towards others is often a reflection of ourselves. I think this applies not just for envy, but for the way we choose to communicate and interact with people.

    For example, I find when people go out of their way to be rude or throw insults, it’s often because there’s a lot of negative things happening in their personal lives, rather than a real dislike for the other person.

    But yes, eventually we need to get to the point where we stop and evaluate what’s going on in our own lives.

    Thanks for reading!


  • Shanker

    Very sensitive and pervasive issue. I get envious every now and then too! I failed and got humiliated a lot. Life denies certain things to me. Yet, I admit having received certain very special experiences/things too that more than many didn’t get even half of every one of them. Reading article like these is one of them. I’m no way responsible for them, and felt unduly favoured during those times. So, what to say?

    Thank You Melissa!

  • IBikeNYC

    Sorry you go / are goING through this, but maybe you’ll get some comfort as I just did from knowing that you’re not alone.

    I don’t do well socially in crowds IRL, either, and I had a Big Duh moment and decided I could just walk out on The FB Party instead of continuing to be a wallflower there.

    I deleted my entire FB account in September and, as far as I know, nobody has missed me yet.

  • IBikeNYC

    Love that “5 year bench mark check!”

    I do it at closer intervals, too.