Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Overcoming Jealousy"

12 Ways to Overcome Jealousy and Envy

I have been told that envy is my least becoming quality. But what do you expect from a girl who grew up with three gorgeous sisters within three years of me? Cute junior-high boys used me to get to my popular twin sister, and the lady who cleaned my childhood house referred to my older sister as "the pretty one." That's fodder for an insecurity problem.

Now 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, or blog traffic numbers, or "Today Show" appearance. Then I have to pull out my set of directions--these 12 techniques--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. Give her a nickname.

This sounds petty and immature. I guess it is, but it works! The purpose of this technique is to find a little humor in your jealousy, because if you can laugh at it you will spend less time beating yourself up, and more time doing productive things that make you feel better, not worse, about yourself.

One night I was reading a book by a woman who gave me a great inferiority complex. I wanted to be her. I envied her in the worst way. She was smarter than me, younger than me, blah blah blah (you know the drill). Until I read aloud a sentence to Eric and he made fun of it and gave her a nickname.

Granted, this activity isn't found in the Bible. We are not supposed to mock. But attaching a simple nickname to a person as a reminder to not take this thing too seriously ... well, it works wonders.

3. Compliment her.

"WHAT?!? You can't be serious," you're thinking to yourself. Actually I am. And it works. I don't really understand why, but it does. I have tried it numerous times. 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, so I got to see what a negative royalty figure looked like.) Her Technorati score (blog traffic) was, well, much better than mine.

So.... I could have stewed over this. Actually I did, and tried to think of a nickname, but I couldn't come up with one. But then I did something very counterintuitive. 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.

4. Pray for her.

In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." The same goes for the person who you want to be (at least temporarily). This does NOT mean that you have to be happy for her. You can still have a grudge or resentment whatever. But the praying will help you with the grudge.

This woman I know who is much holier and kinder than I am says that she prays daily for the trophy wife who stole her husband. I asked her if she had considered a voodoo kit, but she said she'd rather stick to votive candles and prayers. God bless her.

5. Be yourself.

You will always have one thing over your friend-nemesis: yourself. There is only one you ... with all your quirks and sensibilities and talents and curiosities. There is only one. That is good news!

It goes down as some of the best news I've ever heard, as a twin. Yes, I shared the womb with another person and I love her dearly, but, man oh man, are we different! She's a gourmet chef. I can't boil water. She hated school. It was my sanctuary.

I love what Anna Quindlen writes in her giftbook "Being Perfect":

Perfection is static, even boring. Imitations are redundant. Your true unvarnished self is what is wanted.... Much of what we were at five or six is what we wind up wishing we could be at fifty or sixty.... Listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, "It is never too late to be what you might have been." It is never too early, either.

6. 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! If identifying one weak quality in the other person gets you to smile or laugh or pat yourself on the back more often, I don't think God would mind.

7. 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. For example, if I distress on learning that another mental-health blogger has better numbers (not saying that has happened or anything), I need to remember that such news is good!

Because I might be on her blog roll and she might link to me occasionally, so the more readers she gets, the more will come my way. Likewise, if I'm hanging with a certain writers' circle, and one of us becomes a bestseller, chances are that we are all doing something right and her success will trickle down eventually to us (or so the theory goes.)

One more way of saying the same thing: life is not a competitive sport. You're only racing against yourself. So if you can't afford the high tech running shoes, don't buy them. It won't make a difference.

8. Keep your thorn.

I'm referring to the pointy thing that St. Paul gripes about to God in his second letter to the Corinthians. Then God tells St. Paul to stop his whining and that His grace is sufficient for him, that His power is made perfect in weakness. In summary, Paul explains to other believers (like us):

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."

I used to hate this scripture passage. I wanted to tell Paul to go jam his thorn up one of his organs. Until I realized its powerful truth. The thorn in my flesh is an illness called manic depression.

It makes me do things that I'm embarrassed about: sobbing uncontrollably in a grocery store (when depressed), or telling a racy joke to a bunch of executives (when manic). Everyone has such a thorn. Even the person that you wish were less perfect. She has a thorn, or a cross, and I'm thinking that if you put hers next to yours on the table and compared the two, you'd maybe want your own back.

At any rate, with every year of wrestling this bipolar beast, I am convinced that God was right when he told Paul that the weakness, the thorn, is responsible for the best stuff. At least it has been for me: my most authentic voice and glimpses of hope and beauty in the mess.

9. 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.

10. 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. I call it my "exodus moment" because for about 15 minutes that day I crossed the Red Sea from Ego-land to Freedom.

"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. And if you pitch the writing and decide to stay home all day to watch 'Oprah,' I will still love you and be proud of you, my little girl."

The miracle that day was that 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 when Mike told me from the most sincere part of his heart that none of it mattered. And I believe him again.

11. Find yourself.

For those of you without an "exodus moment," you need to create one. You need to go on a kind of personal retreat, like those marriage encounters that are supposed to rekindle the passion in a marriage, except that you don't have to go off to a churchy place or anything.

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? One of my goals was to be as good to myself as I am to others, and to allow myself the sanity breaks that I need from my kids and work in order to nurture myself.

12. 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.

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