After a year-and-a-half on Medium and 3,000 followers later, I’d like to say that I don’t experience envy toward other writers. Sadly, Elon Musk is still working on my robotic control system, and I stand before you as a flawed human being.
No matter what you have, you’ll always find someone who has more. Sometimes you won’t think twice about it, but other times, you’ll become envious and want that bigger, better, and shinier object. Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone wrote in Psychology Today:
“Envy tends to be directed towards those with whom we compare ourselves, those with whom we feel we are in competition. As Bertrand Russell wrote, ‘Beggars do not envy millionaires, though of course they will envy other beggars who are more successful.’”
Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, also said:
“Envy consists in seeing things never in themselves, but only in their relations. If you desire glory, you may envy Napoleon, but Napoleon envied Caesar, Caesar envied Alexander, and Alexander, I daresay, envied Hercules, who never existed.”
Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that: When you want what someone else has, you start to resent them. You feel angry, roll your eyes at their success, and start thinking of them as egotistical.
But what if it’s you who’s being egotistical? Do you think the universe owes you whatever this person has (followers, money, etc.)? Do you think you deserve success handed to you rather than earning it? Do you think this person is in direct competition with you? Not to insult you, but perhaps you are being egotistical. This doesn’t make you a bad person because this trait is actually stemming from a deeper problem.
How and Why You Might Be Envious of Other Writers
I go through phases. Some months I can genuinely celebrate someone’s success. Other weeks, I read their tweets and Facebook posts, and while envy starts growing inside me like a poisoned mushroom, I think to the Universe, “Why do they get to succeed? Why not me?”
Psychiatrist Neel Burton shared that we need to meet three conditions to feel envy.
- We have to be confronted with someone who has a possession, quality, or achievement that we’ve failed to acquire.
- We must want that possession, quality, or achievement.
- “We must be personally pained by the associated emotion or emotions.”
Envy is just a series of events. It’s like a house of legos—it’s built one by one and can be destroyed piece by piece. At its core, envy unconsciously stems from insecurity.
You’re not actually mad at this person(s) for having something — you’re angry at yourself for lacking it. For not being better.
Being Jealous of Someone Doesn’t Make You a Bad Person
But it’s important to remember that the other person isn’t a bad guy either.
Don’t ignore your jealousy. If you do that, it’ll persist. It’s like when you get the sniffles and you say you’re fine, and the next day you wake up and have to spend the whole day in bed. Disregard your jealousy and soon its poison will start ruining your well-being.
Instead of denying it, accept it. Acknowledge your feelings with compassion, and don’t beat yourself up. Then, figure out why you feel that way. Why do you feel insecure? That’s the big question.
I just went through a bout of envy myself, so I’ll tell you exactly who I was jealous of and why — despite being a little embarrassed, but I want to be completely honest.
Lately, I was feeling envious of Anangsha Alammyan. Ana and I are in a mastermind group together. We edit each other’s work, cheer each other on — we’re friends. She’s kind and super supportive and really talented, but it was that talent that made me envy her. (I’m sorry, Ana. I’m past it and I admire you.)
Ana and I started that mastermind with 2.1K followers (I remember because I thought, “How funny. We’re at the same number.”) And now, I have 3,000 followers, but Ana has 4,000. And her work has gotten so good. (Seriously, if you don’t read her articles, you can read them here.)
Meanwhile, I felt like my work was… okay. If we’re being totally honest, I felt like my articles were getting worse. Since I was feeling insecure and like I was failing, seeing Anangsha rise felt like a personal attack.
4 Reminders For When You’re Feeling Green
Of course, Ana was not competing directly against me. We’re not competing against anyone, really. These are four reminders I continue to tell myself to overcome the envy I feel.
- One writer’s win is not your loss. Our writerly lives are not tied like that. If we were writing for the Olympics, it’d be different, but there’s no first, second, and third place. If you see someone getting more followers or money than you, they are not stealing directly from you. You too can make what they’re making.
- If you want what they want, work as much as they do. Don’t lie to yourself. Are you really working that hard? Are you really trying to improve? Personally, I’ve been working on my other goals, which is why I’ve not been as active on Medium. That’s on me.
- It might not be your time. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. We all have different storylines. Ana is five years older than me, and that alone means she has more experience and more responsibilities. In her life, this is what she needed. My goal is to make $5,000 a month in five years, but it’s only been 1.5 years. Plus, I don’t need that much yet.
- Envy stems from insecurity. You may not feel like your work is good enough or maybe you still haven’t reached milestones that other writers have achieved, and it makes you feel less-than. Work on yourself before it leads to envy toward others.
Envy isn’t a feeling you can stop experiencing altogether. You’re going to feel it whether you want to or not, but you can prevent it from taking over your life.
What to Do Instead of Steaming With Envy
A friend of mine suggested I provide “healthy alternatives,” to burning with envy, and I immediately thought, “Bury yourself under your blankets,” but that’s not healthy, is it? Here’s what to do instead.
Only compare yourself to your past self.
There’s only one person you should be comparing yourself to: the person who were you yesterday, six months ago, three years ago. When you compare yourself to someone else you can only think, “I’ve got a long way to go.” When you compare yourself to your past self, there’s only space for one thought, “Wow, I’ve come a long way.”
However, just as you can learn from others, you can also learn from yourself. What were your past mistakes and how can you avoid repeating them? What were your past successes and how can you replicate them?
Remember that there is more than enough for everyone.
In the musical Hamilton (and well, real life, too) Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton because their whole lives they were aiming toward the same goals, but Alexander always had Burr beat. After Burr shoots Hamilton, in the musical, Burr sings a song about how the world was wide enough for both of them.
There’s enough room for you and all the other writers on Medium. You too can reach the levels of success that others already have in their hands.
Learn from these writers.
If you’re envious of someone, it’s because they’re succeeding in an area that you’re not. So, instead of glaring at them from across the Interwebs, go read their articles. Study their work. Or you can do what I did, and start a mastermind group with all of these people. As one member, Li Charmaine Anne said, “It’s almost like, when you help, even if you don’t receive anything in return, you can share a tiny bit of that success too!”
These writers know ideas and lessons that you don’t, so take advantage. I saw a quote the other day by a man named Julien Smith that said:
“There will always be someone smarter than you. There will always be someone faster than you. There will always be someone stronger than you. That means that your only real job is to be the best at connecting with other people.”
As a writer on a platform filled with writers who share their stats and earnings, who’s follower and clap count you can easily see, you have to be a strong and determined writer.
Whatever envy you feel now, figure out why you feel it. And then: be better. Do you want those earnings? Those numbers? Work for them. It’s the only option you have available to you.
If I hadn’t been so blinded by my envy (read: my insecurity), I could’ve spent that time learning from Ana’s work. It could’ve been a productive time.
But you live and you learn, right? Feel the envy, don’t beat yourself up for it, get to the core of why you feel it, and then do something about it.