I know that the fastest way to despair is by comparing one’s insides with another’s outsides, and that Max Ehrmann, the author of the classic poem “Desiderata,” was absolutely correct when he said that if you compare yourself with others you become either vain or bitter, or, as Helen Keller put it:
“Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”
But Helen and Max don’t keep me from going to the land of comparisons and envy. Before long, I’m salivating over someone else’s book contract, a Christmas gift, or a Today Show appearance. Then I have to pull out my set of directions — these 8 ideas — that will lead me out of the continent of jealousy and home, to self-acceptance.
1. Get more information.
Most of the time we envy one quality about a person, and we presume the rest of her qualities are as perfect as the one we want. That’s usually not the case. Think Rain Man. Boy did he know how to count those straws and play poker. But his social skills needed some fine-tuning, yes? Do some research on the person you want to temporarily destroy and you will find that she has her own set of problems and weaknesses. Moreover, if you consider her success in context, you’ll see that she hasn’t always been a superstar — that maybe, just maybe, back when you got a blue ribbon for the fastest freestyle swimmer in the 7 to 8 age group, she was afraid to dive in the pool or couldn’t figure out how to swim without getting water up her nose. My point: you don’t have the full story. Once you do, you’ll feel better. I think.
2. Compliment her.
“WHAT?!? You can’t be serious,” you’re thinking to yourself. Actually I am. I have tried it numerous times and it works. Last year I came across a blogger I envied. She had two degrees from Yale. (I scored 1,000 on my SATs). Her books were bestsellers. (I had just received a royalty statement that said more copies of my book were returned than sold.) Her Technorati score (blog traffic) was, well, much better than mine.
So… I did something very counter-intuitive. I e-mailed her to tell her how impressed I was with her, and I would very much like to interview her on Beyond Blue. When I started reading through her blogs, I found this great story about her feelings of insecurity regarding a fellow writer whom she felt somewhat threatened by because he was writing on the same topics as she was. What did she do about it? She contacted him and took him out to lunch.
I couldn’t believe that she had moments of insecurity too! I mean, she’s got two Yale degrees! Nowhere in her bio did it mention insecurity. But by complimenting her, and connecting with her, and dare I say befriending her, I learned that she is just like me–with some outstanding strengths but some fears and reservations and insecurities, as well.
3. Do one thing better than her.
This suggestion comes from Beyond Blue reader Plaidypus who wrote this as an assignment I gave everyone to list what they believe in:
I believe that if you don’t succeed at first … you keep trying… and that failure teaches us about success… I believe that laughter is the best medicine… I believe that the best revenge against your enemies is to dress better than them…
I absolutely loved the “dress better than your enemy” directive because it reminds us that we can always find one thing that we can do better than our friend-nemesis. If matching designer outfits gives you a boost of confidence, knock yourself out! If competing in a triathlon just to prove that you are in better shape than your mean cousin with a great figure, sign up! .
4. Put the ladle (and the running shoes) away.
Early on in my writing career, my mentor Mike Leach would say to me (when I panicked at spotting a more popular book on a certain topic than mine): “Her success doesn’t take away from yours. … Her numbers have nothing to do with yours.” I always remember that when I start thinking like a gerbil … that there is only one food bowl, and if you don’t get to it first and take as much as you need for an entire year, you and your whole gerbil family will die. Or, if you’re Italian, mom has made one pot of pasta, so you had better dig in and eat before your selfish brother ingests your portion.
I repeat: one person’s success doesn’t rob another of success. In fact, success can often breed success.
5. Learn from her.
Your enemy-friend is doing something right if she has your attention. There is a reason you are threatened. So, get out your scribbling pad and take some notes. If you want to network with her confidence and charm, then study her at a cocktail party. If you envy her fluid writing style, buy a few of her books, and dissect her sentences just like you did the pig guts in Biology 101. If you want her 36-24-36 Disney Princess figure, ask her what she does for a workout. If she responds “nothing but eat ice-cream,” you can ignore this and keep reading.
6. Go to the core.
Whenever I’m scheming to take down some chick who could (in my head anyway) destroy me with her success, or start in with the self-loathing because I don’t do something as well as my cousin’s best friend’s fiancé, I know that it’s time to go back mentally to my hospital room at Johns Hopkins psych ward, where I found myself.
“What has become of me?” I cried to my writing mentor Mike over the phone just after the doctors refused to release me and told me, despite my impressive argument, that I was, in fact, “one of them,” and that, as one of them, I needed to return to the community room and stay for a few nights.
“I used to be successful. Now I’m sleeping in a room next to a 65-year-old man banging his head on the wall who has been hospitalized for a year,” I said to Mike.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mike responded calmly. “None of it matters – the writing, the accolades, the success. None of it matters. Not in the end.”
Somehow I believed him. And when I get frenzied and tied in a knot about the most ridiculous things, I go back to that moment in time. And I believe him again.
7. Find yourself.
For those of you without a point in time like my psych-ward “special moment” you need to create one. All you need to do is to be quiet for a few hours in a peaceful setting (I suggest some woods or a nearby creek if you’re not afraid of ticks), and introduce yourself to yourself. “Self, meet Self. Nice to meet you, Self.” Then you guys have to become friends. How? Think about all the things you like about yourself. Get out your self-esteem file and read it. (If want more information on starting a self-esteem file click here for instructions.)
During this time, give yourself a pep talk. Pump yourself up. Maybe sketch out some goals for yourself. What do you need to do to be able to go forward with more confidence? What specific actions will allow you to believe in yourself a tad more?
8. Do your best.
The ultimate weapon against jealousy and envy is simply to do your best. Because that’s all you really can do. Your friend-nemesis still may run father than you, swim faster, and sell more books. But the only thing that matters is that you have done the best job that you can do. Then you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel some satisfaction.
The fourth (and final) agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, “The Four Agreements” is “Always Do Your Best.” He writes:
Just do your best–in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.