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Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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Envy. Let’s talk about it!

By Alice Bradley |

This is from Giotto's "The Seven Vices." Envy is hideous!

We all feel it at one point or another, right? You have to be some kind of saint or robot or saintly robot to not feel envious some of the time. Occasionally, at least. I’m not here to judge you, but if you’re going to sit there and claim that you’ve never felt envious, then maybe I’m judging you a little bit. How dare you.

All right, LISTEN. If you’re not the envious sort, I’m just going to–well, be envious of that. Share with me your secrets!

I have a long, storied history with envy. There are different kinds of envy: there’s the financial envy, in which I am purely wishing I had that income or means to have the fancy vacation/home/wife (not really wife) (maybe sometimes wife). There’s the superficial, I-wish-I-had-that-pretty envy; then there’s the creative envy, which is what I want to address here–wherein I hear of someone else’s fabulous success in their latest artistic endeavor, and I think, when will it be MY TURN?

These feelings can pop up when I’m feeling vulnerable, like when I glance at my bank account, say, or wonder what happened to my butt. (THINGS. Things happened. That’s all I’m going to say.) Then I read or hear about a peer who is doing fabulously and ALSO has an ass you could AND SHOULD bounce quarters off of, and there it is: that tightness in the chest, the sudden desire to curl up in a corner. Hello, envy.

The worst part about envy, for me, is that in addition to the gritchy miserly I-want-I-want feeling, I also feel guilty. Guilty because I shouldn’t want good things to NOT happen for other people. I shouldn’t hog all the goodness for myself. What kind of a jerk feels like that? Martha Beck calls this “dirty pain.” “Clean pain” is when you fall and scrape your knee; “dirty pain” is when you beat yourself up for wearing those dumb heels when everyone knows you’re totally uncoordinated. Dirty pain is the critical thoughts we heap on ourselves when we’re already hurting.

Not that envy is “clean,” per se, but it’s certainly a great deal cleaner. We can’t really help the feelings that well up. Feelings are kind of dumb. They come and go, sometimes with no logic whatsoever. It’s when you hold onto them and think you’re stupid for having them in the first place that problems crop up.

The guilt, for me, is the worst is when I’ve felt envious of my good friends. The last thing I want to think when celebrating my friend’s success is “why is this not me?” That sucks. And yet, every now and then, one of my friends has hit it big, and I’ve been genuinely, truly happy for them, and also a little miserable.

But here’s the important part. I’M GETTING TO IT!

I don’t ALWAYS just automatically feel sorry for myself whenever other people shine. That would be odd. Whenever I’ve felt that pang of envy, it’s because the other person accomplished something that I want for myself. I mean, if my friend Jeff becomes Executive Vice President of United Business Corp. (I’m really not clear on business and the kinds of names businesses have) I’m not going to eat myself alive wishing I had that too. Because eeccch. I can’t business. I’m a terrible businesser. Please don’t make me business!

Back when I suffered from crippling envy on a regular basis, I was also a frustrated writer who never wrote. I had given up.  Meanwhile the dreams I had buried for years–because I thought editing was a more realistic occupation and I just didn’t have the discipline to write–were being lived by other people. People around me were making it work, and I still hadn’t and was pretty sure I never would.

It took me forever, but once I stopped gnawing on my knuckles and glaring at the latest copy of the New York Times Book Review, I realized that envy was telling me something. It was telling me to fucking get my priorities straight and do the stuff that I wanted to do. It was showing me what direction I needed to head in.

And it still does. A few months ago I was practically cringing in the fiction aisle of my local bookstore; there were all these novels all around me and WHY WASN’T ONE OF THEM MINE. Not that I’ve even tried to get a novel published, mind you. Or actually, say, written one. I felt like an idiot for a while, but eventually I realized that again, that feeling was telling me what I wanted to do next. It wasn’t telling me that I could do it well, or at all, really. But I’ll tell you, just the effort has made that gnawing, awful feeling subside quite a bit.

Now comes the part where you tell me you deal with envy. Or that I’m all alone in this you and you’re pretty sure that I am a terrible person. Either way!

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About Alice Bradley

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Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley is the co-author (with Eden M. Kennedy) of Let’s Panic About Babies (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011) and writes the award-winning blog Finslippy.

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14 thoughts on “Envy. Let’s talk about it!

  1. Selfish Mom says:

    I know what you mean. I do this when I see people tweeting from events I wasn’t invited to. But when I really stop and think about it, I’m not jealous of what they’re doing, I’m envious of the attention they’re getting. So I’ve been trying hard to put my energy toward my own pursuits. Easier said than done, but figuring out what I’m really envious of has helped (and made me feel shallow, it that’s another story).

  2. Oh YES. Envy teaches you what you want, for sure, but I think it’s rare to actually figure that out and/or follow up on it until you’re at least 30.

    I also think, for me, there’s a bit of shame involved: why isn’t that me? Why haven’t I done that yet? (i.e., Why am I such a slacker, as if I were lying around for hours at a time…)

    But maybe also giving yourself permission is part of the next step? Saying: okay, self, I understand this is what you want now; let’s go for it! (Sometimes it takes me a painfully long time to get there.)

    May your envy launch you into your next adventure, and may the yucky feelings dissipate.

  3. ali from spinner's end says:

    i used to be a lot more envious in college, while i was studying acting (i use the term studying pretty loosely here). the nature of being an acting major is this: plays for each season are cast out of a very small group of your friends and peers. everything happens in sort of a vacuum, and when the season’s plays are announced speculation begins right away about who will be called for what roll and why so-and-so is better for this part than whats-her-face. and when the cast lists go up somebody (mostly everybody) is disappointed and envious. when the girl who stole your part sits next to you in class every day, it can be really difficult to separate your personal relationships f

  4. ali from spinner's end says:

    i used to be a lot more envious in college, while i was studying acting (i use the term studying pretty loosely here). the nature of being an acting major is this: plays for each season are cast out of a very small group of your friends and peers. everything happens in sort of a vacuum, and when the season’s plays are announced speculation begins right away about who will be called for what roll and why so-and-so is better for this part than whats-her-face. and when the cast lists go up somebody (mostly everybody) is disappointed and envious. when the girl who stole your part sits next to you in class every day, it can be really difficult to separate your personal relationships from your envious feelings. now that i’m pursuing music its much easier, as the competition is not as direct. there is plenty of room out there for more music. it’s not like if a new band gets popular it’s going to be the only one. if i listened to the same band’s music exclusively for the rest of my life i’d probably bash in my head. same goes for novels. there’s no need to be competitive because if you only had one modern fiction novel to read for the rest of your life, you would get so sick of it. just try to remind yourself that there is an audience somewhere for your book, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. and as for the actors out there? good luck, suckers. (just kidding, there’s a part somewhere for you too, it’s just not that one.)

  5. ali from spinner's end says:

    sorry for the double comment, my cat stepped on my keyboard. obviously she has some typing envy.

  6. You are SO not alone. I know that when I feel that pang on envy what it really means is I’m dragging my feet on something I really want to do myself. So often the practical side takes over — Oh, THAT will never make money or no one will ever read THAT or just who do you think YOU are for thinking you have enough talent. Yup. I struggle with that often. :( On the up side, I felt pretty good that I knew who Giotto was!

  7. Kerry says:

    Okay, what is it with the damn bookstore? That’s where envy lives, I’m pretty sure. They should re-label all of the aisles, “Travel (and envy), Self-Help (and evny), LITERATURE AND SO MUCH ENVY TURN AWAY NOW.”

    I feel the envy there, but also a little motivation. At the same time that I think “look at all these other people who have done this, and I have not done this, I suck” I also have to realistically think “all these people have done this, so I can do it too, because before they had done it, they had NOT YET done it.”

    My thoughts have never taken a creative writing class, if you couldn’t tell. (And neither has the brain keeping the thoughts).

    So, yeah. Good point with the whole “listen to your feelings, they mean something” lesson. I always forget that one, and it’s really refreshing to remember those mean feelings are just hanging around to make my life miserable.

    Also, great placement of the F word in this post. It really got me going…

  8. Vanessa says:

    I’ve always had a lurking feeling that there’s a finite amount of talent and success in the world, so if someone else is good and succeeds, then that means I suck and must fail, or else the cosmic scale will be out of balance. Of course this is completely nonsensical, but when have logic and feelings ever gone hand in hand?

  9. ann says:

    Envy is almost always my cue that I’m burned out. Sometimes I indulge in it for a little bit–teeth gnash/citric acid sugar binge–but when I’m done, I know to just go read a book, or go to sleep (for God’s sake already which you should’ve done hours ago)

  10. Kathleen says:

    I used to get eaten alive by envy. I’ll never look like that or be that successful or achieve that dream, you know, the usual. I realized as I got older that I was good at a whole bunch of things, things others might not be that stellar at. So now when the envy grabs on I just, mentally, name things I’m good at and it makes me feel better about the fact that I too am not great at ________ .

  11. Jenn Lee says:

    Here’s how I deal with envy:
    1) I tell myself that I must not feel anything but happiness for others or I will be punished by the universe. Then I…
    2) Have a few glasses of wine, and then…
    3) Convince myself I’m nothing but a phony and the other person’s success is proof of that. Then…
    4) I convince myself that it’s not because the person I’m envious of is more talented, it’s because I’m a woman. Then I…
    5) Watch Glee.
    6) Blame everyone I went to high school with and their parents and my parents.
    7) I pass out.
    8) I dream about my Oscar Dress and kissing movie stars young enough to be my son.
    8) I wake up and go to work and pretend the envy never happened.
    9) rinse and repeat.

  12. Jenn Lee says:

    Here’s how I deal with envy:
    1) I tell myself that I must not feel anything but happiness for others or I will be punished by the universe. Then I…
    2) Have a few glasses of wine, and then…
    3) Convince myself I’m nothing but a phony and the other person’s success is proof of that. Then…
    4) I convince myself that it’s not because the person I’m envious of is more talented, it’s because I’m a woman. Then I…
    5) Watch Glee.
    6) Blame everyone I went to high school with and their parents and my parents.
    7) I pass out.
    8) I dream about my Oscar Dress and kissing movie stars young enough to be my son.
    9) I wake up and go to work and pretend the envy never happened.
    10) rinse and repeat.

  13. bridgetstraub.com says:

    This is funny that I would find this post tonight because I am dealing with this right now. I just launched a project on Kickstarter last week and tonight I saw that a Twitter follower also had a project up. They were asking for $20,000 but somehow got well over $100,000! I’m in a panic that we won’t reach our goal of $7,500! I’m thrilled for him that he managed to fund his project, I really am but wow! Share the wealth has passed through my mind. Like you, I feel guilty to even think it, but there it is.

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