Jealousy is a wasted emotion. I know this, because over the years I have given it time and energy and attention in spades, and not once has it given anything back. It doesn’t inform me, or enlighten me, or teach me truths about myself. It doesn’t even make me appreciate the many blessings I do have. No, all it does is weigh me down, sap my energy, and surgically remove peace from my life.
Comparison and jealousy can take many forms, but the common denominator is a shift of the heart away from contentment, and toward a “she has, I don’t” contrast that leaves me feeling like I lack. Comparison is a dangerous game; even when you “win” you lose because you’ve tied your happiness to something that is necessarily unstable. Comparison and jealousy can erode your peace of mind and your relationships, because when you spend all your time and energy trying to build your kingdom and defend it, you actually wind up cutting yourself off. You begin to fear giving up control. You stop trusting people. It makes your world smaller. If, however, we can stop worrying so much about “coming out ahead,” it will free us up to enjoy our lives here and now.
“Who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart?… Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?” (1 Corinthians 4:7-8 MSG).
It can be easy to mistake comparison with inspiration. You see someone who has something you want, and your goal becomes to obtain it for yourself. I struggle with the idea of “inspiration boards” that supposedly encourage us to work toward our goals because they are often staged, touched up. They are at best a brief moment in time, before the baby started crying or the homeowner made dinner or the model washed her hair. I have several friends who keep beautiful homes, and they’ve assured me that it does not look like that every day. Sometimes they even joke, “you should have seen it 10 minutes ago.” We have to find the proper role for inspiration in our lives. I prefer inspiration that stirs a feeling, that conveys a dynamic beauty which doesn’t require everything to be “just so.”
What are the moments that feel magical to you? What is about them that feeds your soul?
Let’s choose what we chase wisely, based on criteria specific to our own lives, not out of some desire to keep up with the Joneses or to make our lives more Facebook-Instagram-Pinterest-perfect.
Earlier this year, I took the course “The Living Brave Semester,” (taught by Brene Brown and delivered through her organization, Courageworks) and one of the very first exercises was what she called a “values clarification.” I looked at that list of values and I was scared to measure myself against them because it became very clear, very quickly, that I was not living in line with my most fundamental values. It’s not a matter of being a “good person” or a “bad person,” I was exhibiting plenty of traits on that list, but not the ones that mean the most to me. The traits I had in spades weren’t ones that grew organically out of who I am, they were reactionary. I’d let circumstances influence the type of person I was becoming. I think we all crave feedback, and there are certain values or character traits that are much more understood, recognized and rewarded in general within our culture and if we’re not careful, this can lead us to weigh our priorities in a way that is not true to ourselves. We have to carefully curate who and what we let influence us, or influence our thoughts about ourselves, our circumstances, or the way we live our lives.
Remember too that whatever you are chasing won’t come in isolation, and so what works for someone else’s life may not be the right fit for your own.
Our culture has a way of painting the picture of “success” at any given life stage, and it took me a long time to realized how little those versions of success mean to me. My list of priorities is heavily weighted toward relationships. I would rather have healthy and vibrant relationships that I nurture with a light and free heart than a list of accomplishments to put on my resume. I’m happy to work, I like to feel productive, but I want a sense of purpose in the morning, a sense of accomplishment at night, and work that engages both my heart and my intellect. Your list could very well be different, the only important thing is that you are clear on what your priorities are, and you are actively working toward living in line with them, with a willingness to give up that which is less important.
Focus on the big picture. Take into consideration who you are, and what’s important to you, and take a good long look down the path and make sure you love where you’re going.