Kill Your Envy
How jealousy isolates us, and how to release ourselves from its grip.
I don’t want to admit this to you. It’s something I’m genuinely ashamed of. But, I think that’s why I need to admit it.
I have a big problem with jealousy.
My natural tendency is to see the rest of the world as my competition, so whenever someone shows up who threatens my self-determined competitive edges, my defense mechanism kicks in. Unfortunately, my involuntary first line of defense is envy. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in the same boat. The good news is, we can work on it. The bad news is, we have to admit it’s a problem.
A few weeks ago while traveling, I found a gym near my hotel where I could stay on track with my lifting program. As I walked to the squat racks in the back corner of Edge Fitness, I started to feel a sense of intimidation. There was a line of people waiting for a rack to open up, and all of these people looked stronger than the average gym-goer. As I finally got my chance at an open rack, I felt I needed to prove I deserved the spot there. And, frankly, for a girl in a commercial gym, I’m usually relatively strong. Admittedly, I usually use that knowledge to convince myself I belong there.
That’s my first mistake. Comparison to others is not a sustainable way to measure our worth. By evaluating whether or not I belong in a new gym by how I stack up to other female lifters, I’m surrendering control--and not in a good way. It’s tempting to think becoming the best at something will guard us from jealousy, but that will inevitably end up one of two ways: we become the best and our pride overtakes us, or we aren’t the best and we’ll be crushed every time we meet someone who is.
Back to Edge Fitness. As I started my warm-up, this other girl showed up just a few racks away from me. I happened to notice we had a similar routine for our warm-up sets, but the problem arose when I stopped loading more weight on the bar and she kept going. By the end of her squat session, she was repping my max. For several sets. And, how did that make me feel? Defensive, that’s how.
This leads us to my second mistake. When we doubt our worth, we get defensive. Since I was comparing myself to others, I was susceptible to my inherent defensiveness. I started to make justifications in my head, like “well, she might be stronger than me but her form isn’t as good,” or “okay, so her squat is really strong, but I bet her bench isn’t as strong as mine,” or whatever other totally irrelevant and unnecessary defensive thought I pretended would make me feel better. Yet, as much as I tried to defend myself in my head, I still didn’t feel better. Quickly, my second mistake led to my third mistake. When we get defensive, we get jealous. After trying to justify why I was still better, I moved into full-on envy. “I wish I was that strong,” “I’d be happier if I could lift that much,” and other such thoughts floated through my mind. Again, irrelevant and unnecessary thoughts, but I thought them all the same.
As I finished up my sets at the squat rack and moved on to my accessory lifts for the day, the jealousy lingered in my mind. Yet, there was this other little voice that kept popping up. And you know what that little voice had the audacity to say? “Hey, maybe you should tell that girl that you noticed she’s really strong and give her some encouragement.” WHAT? Someone should really tell that voice to shut up. Why would I want to talk to someone who has triggered my jealousy?
Here was my fourth and final mistake of the afternoon. When we get jealous, we miss the chance for connection. I’ve noticed my fiance has a habit of making new friends at the gym. Often it’s because he sees someone who in some way is more advanced in the gym than he is, and he asks them for advice and encourages them. I’ve also noticed my fiance rarely gets jealous of others in the gym. On that day at Edge Fitness, I realized there’s a direct connection between the fact that he talks to others and that he isn’t jealous of them.
For the rest of my lift at Edge Fitness, I kept crossing paths with that other girl, and finally I got tired of the jealousy eating away at me. I took out my headphones and stopped her. “Are you a powerlifter?” I asked. “Your squat is really strong.” She hesitated, and her response disarmed my jealousy almost in an instant. “Well, no, not really,” she said.
That’s what I used to (and sometimes still do) say when people ask me that question. I feel new enough to it that I don’t get to claim the title, even if I really want to, and so I bumble around saying that I’m not really a powerlifter but I want to be and I train like I am one and have started competing like I am one and… I could see in this girl’s response that she felt the same way. I took a page out of my fiance’s book and encouraged her to keep training and to sign up for a meet sometime.
Here’s what I’ve learned to be true: When we encourage someone, it’s nearly impossible to be jealous of them. I think that’s why my fiance doesn’t struggle with it nearly as much as I do; he’s learned the secret, and he consistently talks to people instead of letting his potential for defensiveness gain the upper hand. When we interrupt our feeling of jealousy with a chance to build a real connection with someone, our jealousy is forced to stop living in the shroud of assumptions. It’s a win-win: we save ourselves from envy and we make life better for others.
Comparison leads to defensiveness, which leads to jealousy, which leads to isolation. Where do you find yourself struggling with comparison? Who do you find yourself envious of? Try talking to them this week. Tell them what they’re doing well, that you see it, and that you want to learn from it. By doing so, your kindness will not only brighten their day, but will shine a light on the jealousy in your own heart. Envy thrives in the dark, so don’t give the darkness a place.
Journal Prompt of the Week
When have you allowed jealousy to take hold in your life? How did it result in isolation?
Share with the Community
How will you seek connection this week to counteract the tendency towards envy?