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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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