Jealousy, you, and me

Do you ever feel jealous?

I know that I sure do. Sometimes my jealousy is this bubbling, sizzling, boiling thing inside of me.

And, for a long time, that made me feel terrible. Feeling jealous made me feel petty, unkind, and small-hearted. Especially when the people that I was jealous of were close to me – friends or family members. Why can’t I just be happy for them?   

But then I read something by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way that totally changed my perspective.

Cameron argues that our jealousy is a “map” to what we most want in the world.

Even more importantly:

“Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it.”

Jealousy is just a sign that we want for ourselves what other people have. But the truth is, we can have it, too — we just have to get over our fear and reach for it.

Cameron was never jealous of female novelists, because she had written several novels. But she always felt extremely jealous of women playwrights (or, as she writes, she had an “unhealthy interest in [their] fortunes and misfortunes.”)

It wasn’t until she wrote a play herself that she stopped being jealous, and instead felt only camaraderie. “My jealousy had actually been a mask for my fear of doing something I really wanted to do but was not yet brave enough to take action toward.”

I have found this to be true time and again in my life.

I was jealous of some business school students I knew because it seemed like they were completely confident about their path, while I was floundering and flopping.

I was jealous of a speech therapist I knew for the sensual, grounded, confident way she seemed to inhabit the world.

And I found myself jealous of baristas at my local coffee shop because they just seemed so chill, while I am prone to over-thinking and over-worrying.

After a lot of introspection, I came to understand that I wanted my own certainty about my career path (like the business school students), ease in my body (like the speech therapist), and softer, more open way of being in the world (like the baristas).

And I started to think about what I needed to do to make that happen.

Two things are important to notice about this.

  1. To accurately decode your jealousy, you need to be specific.

    I wasn’t jealous of business school students because I want to go to business school myself.  I was jealous because they seemed so certain and confident in the path they’d taken.

    Jealousy itself is an amorphous, boiling-over emotion and sensation. It doesn’t tell you much, except that you are jealous. You have to take some time to untangle your feelings and figure out what they are telling you.

  2. Jealousy tells you a lot about yourself, but not that much about other people.

    Those baristas might have been brimming with internal anxiety despite a chill exterior, and those business school students might have been 100% lost about their life path.

    I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know any of those people that well. What people project on the outside is often not the same as what they feel on the inside. Jealousy is only a reflection of what I perceive about them, not their own internal truth.

If you use it right, jealousy can go from feeling like an ugly, small-hearted emotion, to a really valuable guide.

So let’s put that into practice.

Your challenge this week is to explore your jealousy. And here’s how (this exercise is also inspired by The Artist’s Way):

1.     Make a list of at least 5 people of whom you are jealous.

2.     For each person, first let yourself really feel your jealousy. Let it flare up, and look at it.

3.     Then, ask yourself what am I jealous of about this person? Get really specific. “They have a creative job,” or “they have fantastic clothes” or “they always seem really at peace with themselves.” Write it down!

4.     Once you’ve made the list, look it over. What trends do you notice? Are you jealous of other people’s closets? Jobs? Confidence? Boyfriends? What could you start changing in your own life, based on what you’ve found?

In the comments below, let me know: What are you jealous of about other people? What’s one change you could make in your life based on what you found?