Envy or Empowerment? — You’ll Get Whichever One You Choose
The case for acknowledging what we like but can’t yet do
We’ve all felt a form of envy before.
The Cambridge dictionary defines envy as the feeling that you wish that you had a quality or possession that another person has.
I follow celebrities on Instagram and think to myself, damn… their lives look so easy. Friends post pictures of their travels or outings, and I think to myself, that looks like so much fun.
In the age of social media, is it possible not to feel envy? I mean, most social media profiles are highlight reels from the best parts of life, mine included.
But we don’t have to accept this envy trap as our only reality.
The facade of social media is one reason why I wrote the motivational memoir “Sharing Treasure.” In it, I share the difficult parts of my early life in an honest and raw way. I expose the difficult times, things which others might feel embarrassed to share. My hope is the reader is left with a feeling of unity through transparency.
The similarities between us are too many to count.
So, while we express our highlights through social media, we are more alike in our struggles than we recognize.
And while the feeling of envy might seem unavoidable, we can in fact choose not to feel envy.
Choosing Not to Feel Envy
This story begins at my girlfriend’s brother’s wedding, a joyous occasion that I was more than honored to be a part of. The wedding was beautiful, the food delicious, and the company warm. And then came the time to let loose after a few glasses of wine and dance our hearts away.
I remember my girlfriend telling me her brother was a great dancer, and I thought, Let’s see how he contends with my moves.
However, once I saw him on the dance floor, it was clear as day. I moved like an erratic child compared to his groovy footwork. I paused for a moment of disbelief. Was this even real? He looked like he could’ve been a contender in a hip-hop dance competition.
Thoughts of envy invaded my mind only for a moment. If only I could dance like that…
And as soon as they came, they were pushed out. I might not dance like that today, but one day I will.
What was it that replaced envy in my mind? It was more than thoughts — there was a heat brewing inside my chest and head. I acknowledged my want to dance as he danced. Upon seeing his dance moves, I acknowledged that I, too, could possibly dance with such grace, if I only put in the work.
I felt compelled to learn how to move like he was moving. I watched closely at how his legs and hips and upper body moved in unison. And then, I started to copy it to the best of my abilities.
I learned a few moves before the night was over by watching and replicating. I also had the mental image of practicing in my room by watching YouTube videos to expand on the new foundation of dance moves.
See, I didn’t simply move directly from envy to empowerment. There was a small pause between them, a bridge if you will. The bridge was acknowledgment.
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” –Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Moving From Envy to Empowerment
The Cambridge Dictionary defines empowerment as the process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you.
By acknowledging my want to be a better dancer, the feelings of envy dissipated, and empowerment bloomed.
Envy is a resentful feeling. Envy is a feeling of bitterness at having been treated unfairly.
Was I envious of my girlfriend’s brother’s dance moves? There was no unfair treatment between him and myself — he worked at being able to dance like that and I hadn’t. What’s unfair about that?
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” –Stephen King
I felt ambitious about achieving this new level of dance. Who was going to stop me from dancing and learning in my room? I was going to be the only roadblock to my dancing success.
And as I’ve been practicing, I found a couple of moves I didn’t even know existed! Physical movements of expression that were unknown until I decided to take the exploratory leap.
A leap onto the other side of the fence, because the grass is always greener over there, right?
Let’s Take a Moment to Beat the Dead Horse
- Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school.
- Jackie Chan was a failed stunt double in China for years.
- Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as an anchor for not having a good TV personality.
- Sir James Dyson tried to build a vacuum for more than 15 years.
- J.K. Rowling was a divorced mother on welfare when writing her first book.
- Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination and had no good ideas by a newspaper editor.
This list is not exhaustive.
There are numerous people who have taken their failures and didn’t fall into an envy trap, who didn’t become bitter because they were treated unfairly.
Instead, these people acknowledged — their skills needed to be honed a little more, they approached the wrong person or group, their creative expression had yet to materialize, and they were striving towards a goal and were going to reach it one day.
The point being, they didn’t give up.
Failure was another way of saying they had room to improve, to become and do better.
They didn’t give into a fear of failure.
They jumped at the opportunity to fail again… and again, and again, and again.
Choosing Growth Over Fear
Each time I practice a new dance move in my room, first I fail. I make mistakes. I acknowledge them and keep moving.
What is there to fear when we acknowledge we want to improve? What do I accomplish by getting upset with myself for failing, for trying something new, for pushing myself to learn and grow?
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” –Yoda
Yes, apparently the dark side has cookies, but there’s nothing else over there for a person seeking growth.
Why choose to suffer? Why choose to fear? Why choose to envy?
- We all feel envy.
- Acknowledging the feeling of envy helps spotlight the skill or quality we want.
- By acknowledging the thing we want, we can then choose to work towards the development of said skill or quality.
- Choosing to grow a skill or quality empowers you.
- And while you’re growing, you might find something new, something great.