How do you feel when you see or hear about the success of others? While it may depend on who it is, what they've accomplished, and how you're feeling about your own life at the time, if you're anything like me, you may have some mixed emotions. I often find myself excited and inspired by the success of others, especially the people closest to me. However, at the same time, I sometimes notice it can bring up feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and inferiority as well -- especially when someone accomplishes or experiences something I personally want and/or worry that I can't or won't.
While this isn't a new phenomenon or awareness for me and it's not something I'm all that proud of, I've recently been taking a deeper and more honest look at it, seeing how it negatively impacts my life, my work, and my relationships. It's definitely something I'm ready to change, although I find it difficult to work through at the same time.
Growing up as a competitive athlete, I got lots of early experience and training about how to compete against others and try to beat them. This wasn't just about the other team, often the biggest and most intense competition was internal -- with my friends and fellow teammates. Whether it was in baseball, in school, or other areas of life, I often found myself directly or indirectly competing in a pretty intense way with those around me.
Although I've outgrown certain aspects of my childhood and adolescent comparison tendencies and it's been over 15 years since I played baseball competitively, I still find myself threatened by the success of others at times -- as if we're competing against one another or that their success takes something away from me, which in just about every case, it doesn't.
Increased Cultural Obsession With Comparison
While our cultural obsession with comparison and competition isn't something new, it seems to have intensified in the past few years with the explosion of social media and how we share photos, highlights, achievements, adventures, milestones, and more with one another in such a public and prominent way. I personally enjoy being able to celebrate in the exciting stuff happening in other people's lives online and being able to share some of my own "good stuff" with others as well. At the same time, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword, as depending on how I'm feeling about myself, my work, my body, my appearance, my relationships, my family, my future, my health, or anything else important at any given time, I can get easily "triggered" by the success of other people and end up feeling bad about myself and my life in relation to them.
On the flip side, I've also noticed at times when something goes really well in my life, while it may seem as though I'm simply excited about and grateful for the success -- which I usually am -- I also have a tendency, especially with certain people, to brag about it or to feel a sense of superiority, as if I'm somehow "better than" them. This one is even harder to admit and confront. And while it may seem like the opposite of insecurity, it's actually just the opposite side of the same coin. Heads we feel superior (better than) tails we feel inferior (less than). Both sides of this coin are detrimental to our growth, our success, and ultimately our sense of peace, fulfillment, and joy in life. This is a negative ego trap -- and there are no true "winners" in this game.
Stopping the Comparison Game
What if we stopped the comparison game altogether? What if the success of others had nothing to do with us, and our own success had nothing to do with anyone else? What if we didn't spend and waste so much of our precious time competing with the people around us (overtly or covertly) and focusing on how we "measure up" to them?
I've had glimpses of this in my own life at various times -- although not as often as I'd like. My own default position and a lot of the cultural training and reinforcement we get falls into the paradigm of competition/comparison.
Here are a few things to think about and practice, to step off this negative game board, and step more into your own authentic power:
1) Remember that it's okay to feel jealous: Jealousy is one of a number of emotions we consider to be "bad." It's not usually all that fun to feel or admit -- it's not sexy, cool, or exciting in the way that some other emotions are, like joy, gratitude, and love. However, feeling jealous is part of the human experience. There's nothing wrong with us for feeling jealous at times, which we all do. The biggest issue with jealousy, like with most "negative" emotions, is our denial of it. When we pretend we don't feel jealous (even though we actually do) it can have a negative impact on us in many ways. As Carl Jung famously said, "What you resist, persists." So the more we deny our feelings of jealousy, the more they end up running us. When you notice yourself feeling jealous, admit it, feel it, and express it in some healthy and authentic way -- in your journal, with a close friend, in a mediation or prayer, or just simply to yourself. Your ability to honestly notice, feel, and express your own jealousy (or any emotion) is what gives you the power to move through it and transform its potentially negative impact into a positive experience.
2) Look for the deeper message: When we get threatened by the success of others, there is usually a deeper message (or a number of messages) coming through that experience. We tend to get focused on the person or accomplishment, and/or ourselves in relationship to them or it. We tell stories in our heads, like, "Look at her, she always gets what she wants and it seems so easy for her -- I'll never be like that," or, "Well, I know he makes a lot more money than I do, but he works so hard he's never around for his kids." These types of "stories" (which are usually just damaging judgments of others or of ourselves) don't serve us in any positive way and in fact keep us away from the deeper truth of what's happening. What if we looked beyond our reaction and beneath our judgment, and asked ourselves some deeper questions like, "What is it about this person's success that has me feeling threatened?" or, "How can I learn from what I see in them or in what they've accomplished?" or, "What can I do to let go of my inferior (or superior) reaction to this, and more deeply trust and believe in myself and my own process?" Asking deeper questions like this and looking for the deeper messages in our reactions to the success of others can lead us down a more real path of growth, discovery, and fulfillment.
3) Celebrate their success: A coach of mine recently said to me, "Mike, be careful about how harshly you judge other people and their paths to success. The more judgmental you are about them and how they create their success, the more difficult you'll make it for you to create the success you want, out of your own fear of being judged." Man, she hit the nail on the head with this feedback for me. We tend to judge the success of others (and/or their process of creating success) as a smokescreen for not dealing with our own feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and/or inferiority. What if instead of doing that (or anything else in a similarly negative, critical, or arrogant vein), we simply celebrated their success and rejoiced in it. We often take personal offense to stuff that has nothing to do with us. If we want something in life and someone close to us gets it, we could celebrate for them (knowing how exciting it can be when something good happens). We could also rejoice in the fact that by being so close to people who are creating success in their lives (maybe even the same success we want) might actually be a positive sign and influence for us. I know with certain things and certain people, this can be more challenging than others. However, at the deepest level, when we live from a place of abundance (with the faith that there is more than enough to go around), we free ourselves from the constant stress, worry, fear, and pressure associated with living from that place of scarcity (as if their success somehow diminishes us).
Like most things in life, this is a choice. How do you want to live?
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