Jealousy is a wasted emotion. I know this because over the years, I have given it time and energy and attention in spades, and rarely has it given anything back. No, all it did was weigh me down, sap my energy, and surgically remove peace from my life.
I wish I had all that time back.
Sometimes we call it comparison, since jealousy sounds so icky, but the common denominator is a shift of the heart away from contentment, toward a “they have, I don’t” contrast that leaves me feeling like I’m lacking something.
Comparison is a dangerous game. Even when you “win,” you lose, because you’ve tied your happiness to something that is, by its very nature, unstable. You have absolutely no control over what the other will do next, or how it will go for them. And worse, if all your attention is on them, you may miss your own best opportunities.
When you spend all your time and energy trying to get ahead, you actually cut yourself off. You begin to fear giving up control. You stop trusting people, and that, in turn, makes your world smaller.
If, however, you can stop worrying so much about “coming out ahead,” it frees you up to enjoy the moment, and to make decisions based on your own path, your own gifts, and what is most important to you.
It allows you to collaborate, connect, and build something unique, all of which are more likely to help you move forward in meaningful ways than “keeping up” ever will.
Nonetheless, sometimes this is easier said than done.
There’s no magic solution, but if we want to demolish the comparison trap, we need to get clear on what we want, what we value, and what we’re willing to give up.
1.) What do you really want?
Many times, we find ourselves caught up in tangibles and externals that don’t even mean that much to us. We find ourselves chasing things like promotions or opportunities because someone else said we should, or because we think they will give us the intangible things we crave.
I used to be a very driven person, and for years I chased promotions because that’s what was handed to me as the definition of success. I was well into my 30’s by the time I realized how little that version of success meant 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 want trust, mutual respect, communication and connection, and those aren’t necessarily tied to any position or title.
I love my work. But it’s not my sole focus or my soul focus.
Success by someone else’s standards doesn’t satisfy.
2.) What do you value?
Your values are the things that are most important to you. Often, we use “values” and “morals” interchangeably, but values do not need to be tied to any moral judgment of right or wrong.
This might be your family, your friendships, respect, recognition, community, adventure, freedom, fairness, or inner peace. Brene Brown offers a comprehensive list here .
Here’s the important piece: Our goals must be fueled by our values if we’re going to be fulfilled by the outcomes.
I spent years chasing the goals I thought I was supposed to, and created so much stress over outcomes that don’t even matter to me. I would achieve the goals I’d set, but still felt like garbage, and thought I must be broken. It’s not a fun way to live.
If, on the other hand, our goals are aligned with the things that are most important to us, we find fulfillment in the journey, even if it takes longer than we originally hoped to reach those goals.
3.) What are you willing to give up?
This requires us to take a few steps back and look at the big picture because everything comes with trade-offs. Most blessings come with a lot of hard work, or a lot of responsibility, or a high price tag.
For example, there is a big difference between stability and opportunity, to the point that they are almost mutually exclusive. Whether the instability is drastic (changing locations, changing careers), or more subtle (changing schedules, changing priorities), most opportunities require us to give up something we’ve grown accustomed to, and embrace a “new normal.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with either choice.
And, we may want different things in different seasons. I have these competing sides of my personality. There’s the side of me that’s content with where I am, that wants simplicity. Then there’s the other side, that wants to do interesting things, and have adventures, and wild stories, and good answers to the question: “what have you been up to?”
Only you can decide which is most important to you in any given season.
So, what do you do if you feel that prick of jealousy? Ask yourself what it is there to teach you. Consider it a gut check. Are you chasing the right things? Are you working toward your goals in a way that is aligned with what is most important to you? Are you willing to make the associated trade-offs? If so, stay the course.
Most of the time, jealousy is simply a distraction we need to let go of.
But every once in a while, it can open our eyes to something that is important to us. Something we truly want to work for.
So, if your jealousy is showing you your next step, set a new course, and trust something beautiful will come of it.