On Jealousy vs. Envy: A Primer On Wanting What You Don’t Have
We’ve known each other for over a year, WANTers. We’ve learned what it means to love fully, we’ve redefined what it takes to move forward fearlessly, I’ve even let you in on the lessons I’ve learned from a little “too much” sideboob. We’ve become like family – the kind of friend family you choose, the one you can swap tips and tricks with and ask even the most personal of questions without batting an eye.
So I’m going to let you in on something I’ve told only a handful of people, something I am still mildly ashamed to admit yet fully accept as my own: I am a naturally jealous person.
Ok, so maybe I am not really the *jealous* type anymore, and maybe I was never the overly jealous type even when I WAS jealous. But my childhood was sprinkled with moment of envy, and my adolescence and young adulthood speckled with pangs of that type of yearning that almost resembles resentment if you let it.
I am a naturally “jealous” person. And I know you get it – because I know you are too.
Let’s break it down: we throw one word, “J E A L O U S,” around in multiple scenarios. However, there are actually TWO instances we stick under the ambiguous “jealousy” blanket:
True jealousy, by definition, is a reaction to the threat of LOSING something you have.
Envy, however, arises when you find yourself LACKING something someone else has.
For most of my life, I would beat myself up for feeling these “jealous” feelings. I would not experience them often, but I was (and am) such a highly sensitive being that when those feelings would kick in, my heart and mind would go into major SHAME mode. I would scold myself for being such a “bad” human being, for thinking negatively and harboring ill feelings. I was told jealousy was bad, and so I was ashamed of these instinctual reactions I was having.
Not to mention the fact that they just didn’t. make. sense. considering who I was. I was taught humility and kindness. Lifting others up (figuratively) was my favorite pastime. I delighted in celebrating the successes of others, most of the time way moreso than celebrating my own. So why were these “bad” feelings showing up and crashing the party?
In reality, very few of those instances were actual jealousy. Sure, I was jealous when I went to Disneyland in 1993 and was worried Minnie Mouse might like the other kids more than she liked me. I was jealous in elementary school when my best friend was paired on a team with another girl, fearful that they’d become new best buddies (note the through line of uncertainty – we’ll get to that later). But most of the time, what I thought were feelings of “jealousy” were actually envy: a strong, strong desire to be in the position of someone else. To have something. To do something. To BE something.
Jealousy and envy are natural and healthy, yet in this culture of constant competition, we’ve come to associate them with negativity. And if jealousy or envy ever bubble up to surface level (you know, where other people could ::gasp:: potentially see them), we’ve learned to mask them in words of judgment, malice, or pretending like we know better or even that we don’t care.
That’s how the relationships are hurt. That’s what happens when it goes bad.
But what if both jealousy and envy were ways to lead us to our true calling, help us reach our fullest potential, and access our deepest desires?
There is a saying that goes “Jealousy works the opposite way you want it to.” And it’s true: without a sense of control over your own jealousy, it pushes people away, squelches opportunity, and is one of the most effective forms of self-sabotage.
Yet learning to harness your jealousy can actually inform you of an important missing link, the most important element in any relationship (including the one with yourself): trust. When there’s trust, jealousy cannot be present, at least for very long. They’re like night and day; neither can exist while the other is around.
Of course, we’ll sometimes get jealous-seeming pangs even though full trust is present, but that’s us confusing jealousy with a type of yearning to be in on the action: ENVY.
Envious moments are little gifts from the universe, informing us of our most sacred desires and all the potential we have within ourselves. Maybe a friend got an amazing new job, or left her old job to go solo, or has finally launched the business she’s been talking about for years, or decided to take time off for herself and see where life takes her. Maybe your brother decided to rent that cool minimalist loft, or your sister bought her very first house (with a full-on backyard). Maybe you see a couple walking together on a warm summer night hand in hand, randomly breaking out into skips or dance parties for a few steps. Your heart grabs in your chest a little and you think, that is what I want.
Does it mean you’re a bad person and wish failure upon the others? Far from it.
But something resonates with you: a glimpse of what your life could be like if you were to be fully, wholly expressed in the way you were uniquely meant to be.
Envy is a gift from the universe, informing us of all the potential we have within ourselves. Click To Tweet
Find yourself prey to your own jealous mind? Here’s what to do…
1.) Determine if you’re actually jealous, or if you’re envious. To reiterate, true jealousy is a reaction to the threat of LOSING something you have. Envy, however, arises when you find yourself LACKING something someone else has. Are you afraid of losing or wanting something you’re lacking? Or maybe a little of both?
2.) If it’s jealousy, ask yourself: What about my situation is leading me to feel a sense of distrust? If you’re jealous, it might be time to sit down and have a heart to heart – with others or with yourself. What about your situation is leading you to feel a sense of distrust? Is it a missing link in your connection? Or…is it a story you’ve been telling yourself, one that’s keeping you in a place of possessive hostage-holding? Maybe it’s just that you are scared of loneliness. Recognize the areas of wariness in your life, whether externally or internally – then either take immediate action to establish dependable trust, or (if you’re weaving stories for yourself or afraid of being alone) be brave enough to internalize all the signs around you that let you know there is nothing to worry about.
3.) If it’s envy, ask yourself: What about what this person is doing – or who this person is being – is attractive and enticing to me? When you find yourself envious of a friend, coworker, family member, or even stranger, ask yourself – what about what this person is doing or who this person is being is sparking my envy? It could be what it looks like from the outside (the actions they’re taking or the connections they’re forming, or it could be emotionally based), or how happy or complete they seem to be. These are all clues to accessing what YOU truly want out this life: they type of work you do, the type of relationships you have, the type of impact you make and existence you long to lead. We only feel envy when we feel we are capable of the same. These strategically placed clues are signs that you have it within yourself to have everything you desire.
It might seem like envy is the more… productive of the two. But don’t be fooled. The thing with envy is that you can’t let it fester. It’s like a carton of milk with an expiration date – your envy needs to be used or be chucked, or else it’s gonna stink up your whole damn fridge. When envy is left unchecked, it runs the risk of turning rancid. Envy can pave the way for resentment if we’re not careful. It’s way less emotionally risky to to react to a threat than respond to an opportunity. So if we get too used to living a “stuck” life filled with wanting what other people have, our easiest self-defense becomes viewing the success of others as a threat to our own worth. Which is very rarely the truth. There’s space for everyone in this world, whether you believe it or not.
I am blessed to have some pretty talented, driven friends in my life, ones who are constantly accomplishing something new (in real life, not just on Facebook). I am president of their fan clubs and celebrate their amazingness to the fullest.
I also find myself envious from time to time. These feelings aren’t mutually exclusive, nor do they need to be. I’m not jealous of their circumstance because I feel no threat. Yet I am envious of the aspects I know I long to set free within myself. And so I am so glad they light a fire inside me and set the example. My friend Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge, taught me the phrase “If you can see it, you can be it.” I’m so glad there are people out there who have either shown me what can be done, or inspired me to grow the ladyballs to be able to do the same for someone else.
When I left my full-time job last year (exactly one year ago!) and shared it with you all on here, I mentioned how my drive and enthusiasm had played a big part in letting me know it was time to go. What I failed to include is that, in the hidden crevices of my heart, I’d also gotten so envious I could no longer ignore it. I saw people in my field accomplishing things, personal and professional, that I wanted for MYSELF too. But instead of letting the envy fester and turn sour, I let the reality of my longing sink in. It wasn’t about anyone else. It was about ME. Watching others step up their game and own their full selves – and watching myself react to those displays of courageousness – was like a call to action. No one else was waiting for the “right” time, so why was I? Because I was able to identify my envy as productive, not destructive (and not jealousy), I could use it to guide me in the right direction.
We all deserve a life that’s lived to the max, a life filled with love, success, abundance. What this looks like differs for each person, and is sometimes hidden in a murky haze of dreams and ambition. When you see someone else moving forward fearlessly through the blur, it means you can too. Clear the smog and debris of distrust – then allow those beautiful moments of yearning to help you see an endless horizon all your own.
Now that you know the difference between jealousy and envy – do you ever feel them? Maybe one more than the other? How have they helped you in your life – or how have you kept them in check? Let’s take the shame out of the game and start being proactive together in the comments section below…
Never miss a post. Ever. Sign up + join the WANT movement: