“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” ~Marquis de Condorc
I struggled to offer a tight smile to a friend who had achieved a life-changing career break.
Although I was thrilled and excited for my friend, I was sad and disappointed in myself. I, too, had worked hard and waited patiently, but unlike my friend, my work and my wait continued, unacknowledged and unrewarded.
At first I didn’t notice I had been bitten by envy. But its invisible poison infected my bloodstream, polluting my future interactions with my friend. I was guarded, afraid of being hurt yet again by yet another one of my friend’s successes.
Each conversation rubbed between us, creating a visible strain in our relationship. Over time, I started to avoid her. She couldn’t understand why I was pulling away. Envy was killing our friendship.
For years, I sat on the other side of envy. I was the one who friends showered with praise while hiding the sorrow in their hearts.
One particular girlfriend who was equally talented and creative felt stuck in a dead-end teaching career that seemed to restart each two years at a different school, preventing her from the security of tenure. She devoted all her free time to her students, sacrificing her dreams of writing and art. Finally, after yet another lay off, she crumbled into depression.
She glanced over at me and felt the sting of envy. Here I was, married with children, both with publication credits and art exhibits, and a teaching gig to boot. Why couldn’t she have a little bit of what I had?
At the time, I didn’t know how to comfort or encourage her. Envy festered until it overpowered the love we once shared. The friendship dissolved in bitterness and misunderstanding.
Now, years later, as more and more of my friends enjoy greater and greater success, I understand what my estranged friend must have endured all those years. If I didn’t do something, envy would kill off my friendships just like it had done years ago.
But how do you treat poison envy?
It’s taken a lot longer to learn how to turn away from envy, but here are the steps I used to free myself from its bondage and transform my life.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others.
The first step to overcoming envy is to stop focusing on what others have and face the truth about yourself.
As long as I was staring at my friends’ successes, I could not see that the dissatisfaction I felt had nothing to do with their victories and everything to do with my own perceived losses.
Once I turned the mirror away from others, I discovered I was not where I wanted to be in life. The envy I felt toward the success of others only masked the disappointment I felt in myself.
2. Stop judging.
Judgment, even self-imposed judgment, divides and conquers the soul into tiny squares designed to punish. I was stuck, unable to leapfrog to the next level of success, which was bad. My friends, on the other hand, were standing at the top of the mountain, which was good.
I didn’t understand that good and bad are relative terms. Without them, things just are.
Once I stopped judging myself, I was able to accept where I was. It may not have been where I wanted to be, but I was no longer angry about it.
3. Start seeing things clearly.
With no one to blame, I was forced to accept responsibility for where I was and how I got there.
Without the veil of envy, without the mirrors of comparison, without the torture of judgment, I saw the truth clearly: I was not where I wanted to be because I was not who I needed to become.
I had the education, the work experience, and the job skills needed to get promoted, but my attitude of entitlement kept me sidelined. It was only in realizing I was no one special that my humility allowed for my true light to shine. Others took notice of the internal change, and I was promptly promoted to the job I had been craving.
Once I stopped comparing myself to others and acknowledged the truth about myself, the damaging effects of envy melted away. I was no longer pitted against my friends.
Now I enjoy the blessings others have been given without the shadow of self-pity. And I am able to champion their success even if our blessings our different.
I start each day anew, focused on my journey, no longer derailed by the journeys of others. I keep my friendships intact, even flourishing, without the bitterness of jealousy or the darkness of sorrow or the strangling voice of defeat.
You, too, can treat the poison envy in your life. Start by turning the mirror away from others and toward yourself. Stop judging your life by impossible standards. See yourself clearly for the first time: a wonderfully flawed human being with passionate goals.