“Few people have the natural strength to honor a friend’s success without envy.” — Aeschylus
I wish I could be a lot of things I’m not.
One of those is a person who doesn’t envy.
After all, envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, not to mention it can make you a truly incorrigible person.
But I have my moments. I do. It’s nothing I boast about, and rarely do I share my thoughts with anyone other than Lucy, my six-pound Yorkie-Shih Tzu who’s one of the best listeners I know and yet somehow manages to put up with me anyway.
Just listen to what Marcy C. Lamia Ph.D. has to say:
“Envy is a secretly held emotion. If you are envious of someone, it’s unlikely that you will admit it to anyone, except perhaps to someone who might also be envious of that other person and will participate with you in denigrating them.”
That word denigrate… Ouch. After reading her statement, I replayed my recent bouts of envy, trying to see if she might be right. Was I just a tad jealous like I thought, or was I also a disparaging bastard? I realize we each have selective memories, that we like to think the best of ourselves whenever possible, but it this case I really don’t think I besmirched anyone’s character. I was happy for them—for their success, their fandom, their (fill in the blank)—I just wished I could have a modicum of what they had. But maybe I’m a Socialist and don’t know it. Or maybe I’m a greedy pig and don’t know that.
I suppose most people are immune to envy. It’s not a good look on anyone, of course. It never changes reality. The only thing it really does is to make the envious person feel like shit. Less than.
So why do it?
Me, I like to use my favorite band as a scapegoat whenever possible:
“I can’t help how I feel, I don’t think anyone can.” — Dawes
But maybe Dawes are wrong. Maybe you can help how you feel. Maybe there are classes, or an envy app. Or maybe I just need to be a better person.
I swim in a lake (It’s a big lake, almost ocean-sized) with millions of writers. For the most part, we all do the same thing. For the most part, we strive for similar things. Some of us work harder at it than others. Some of us are more naturally gifted. Some of us stick our landings in the right places.
I don’t ever begrudge any writer success. In fact, their triumphs make me happy for them. Truly. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel a tinge of envy from time to time. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish that was me in there with them on the Best of This and That List. When I see someone’s book reviewed in the NY Times, or better yet, making the NY Times Bestseller List, I’m genuinely happy for them. If it’s a writer I know, I’m overjoyed for them. Still, it doesn’t mean I don’t wish I was there, too.
I don’t know what your passion is or what circles you swim in, but I do know that writing is a lonely endeavor. Personally, I know well over a thousand writers and I’ve never met one that wasn’t insecure to a degree. Some of us even spit up in our mouth when we’re asked what we do. Some of still won’t voice that we’re writers because it feels like bragging. It feels too big a title for us. Even if we write all the time and have had a measure of success, it feels like a lie or in the least, make-believe.
Because I recognize my own insecurities, I try to go out of my way to reassure others. I try to reach out to other writers when I see them “winning,” successfully splashing about in our frothy ocean. I want them to know how good they are, how much their words mean to me. I want them to keep writing, keep winning. Do I sometimes wish I would have written something as sharp or clever as they had? Got published in the same A-list place as them? Sure. But it doesn’t make me appreciate them any less.
Still, the truth is, we live in a time of envy, and it’s not all our fault.
Even if we do our best to stay inwardly focused, pat ourselves on the back, count our own blessings and all that jazz, an impetus for envy is often lurking beneath our fingertips, right there on our phones or tablets. Sometimes it doesn’t merely lurk but it takes us down at the knees, slaps us around, gives us a wedgie just when we’re feeling comfortable and on the cusp of smug.
Even when life has a happy sheen, it seems there’s still plenty of evidence to prove that our lives could, in fact, be better.
We could be achieving more. We could be thinner. Taller. Buff. Better looking. Our children could love us more. Our friends could adore us more, or at least “Like” our statuses.
If we’re not careful, we can all feel less than.
My mentor from afar, Anne Lamott often says this: “Thee three things I can’t change are the past, the truth, and you.”
I just need to remind myself of that from time to time.
When I was in the corporate world I got sent to run a fleet of stores in the Northeast, a role I definitely coveted. Once in New Jersey, I realized what a mess I’d inherited. We were massively overbought, massively understaffed, we’d built too many stores too quickly and we’d placed them too close together so that each one cannibalized the other. It was akin to retail Armageddon. After a month of being there, I phoned my mentor in Seattle, who was then President of the company. I think I whined for forty minutes straight. All the while he (John) just listened. When I finished blathering, John, without saying anything else, went straight into this: “Lou Piniella is the current coach of the Seattle Mariners. As a prior coach for another team, and as a player, Lou was known for having a terrible temper. He’d throw bases, swear, kick dirt on the umps. The Mariners have been having a tough season this year, but yesterday they were ahead of the Yankees 8-1 going into the ninth inning when the wheels came off and the Mariner’s ended up losing 9-8. At the press conference afterward, reporters wanted to know what Lou said to the team. Did he scream? Throw a chair? Hit a player. Lou’s reply was, ‘When you play as bad as we did, you don’t get mad, you get busy.’ Get busy, Len!”
That was it. That was how he left it. Get busy, Len!
So that’s what I try to do know when envy pops up. I hunker down. I hit the keyboard. I keep my ass on the chair, and I get busy.