Photo by Neville Nel

The Green-Eyed Monster

This was first published on my mailing list The Looking Glass. Every week, I answer a reader’s question.

Have you ever wished you were someone else because who you are isn’t good/smart/[adjective] enough? And if so, how did you overcome it?

There is a video of me from my childhood that my parents love to show anyone who is willing to watch — boyfriends, distant uncles, friends visiting from another country. In it, I’m four years old at my cousin’s house. My uncle from Japan (the one who always came bearing cool toys) was filming us with his new camcorder. My cousin is just a few months older than me, so we often played together. In this video, the two of us are drawing around a big round table. There’s a lot of family chatter in the background, but you can see us deeply focused on our work, our little hands gripping fat crayons as we scrawled suns and trees and stick people. When I am finished with my drawing, you can see me put my crayon down, satisfied. Then, I sneak a peek at my cousin’s drawing. The video catches me scowling. Her picture is clearly much better than mine — her stick people have lovely curly hair, her house has shades and a chimney. Before you know it, I snatch a crayon and scribble all over her sheet of paper as everyone else looks on in horror.

My parents think this video is hilarious. As you can imagine, I have a slightly different view. But I remember well the feeling. Growing up, my cousin was always the better artist. No matter what we were drawing, no matter the medium — paint, pencil, crayons — I’d look at what she did, and then at what I did, and I’d get that jagged feeling inside. The one that twisted sharper the more that others flocked to her and told her how great her pictures were.

I *really* wanted to be her. I wished I had her practiced hand, her magic, her seemingly endless stream of praise.

Yes, the grass has often seemed greener on the other side. There was the friend who oozed sophistication even though she never seemed to put in any effort, like she rolled out of bed and threw on whatever she found lying around and yet never failed to look like a million bucks. There was the friend who beat me in scholarship after scholarship, her first place in our class deeply cemented. There was the friend who seemed to have all the boys in our grade running after her every whim, even the boys I secretly liked. Each time, the green-eyed monster sat on my shoulder and hissed, Why aren’t you like them? Why, why, why?

These days, our social media accounts blast photos of laughing faces and people having the time of their lives, or crossing the finish line in triumph, or reaching that milestone we’ve also set for ourselves and yet looms so far for us in the distance. Especially when we’re at our worst — feeling stuck, unsettled, self-pitying — the green-eyed monster rears its head powerfully. How to deal with In those situations? I have found these three tactics to be the most helpful, and I hope they bring you some relief as well.

1. Recognize that you don’t know the full story

When it seems like everybody else has got it going on except you — they are getting hitched, landing the career of their dreams, looking fit and fabulous, going to great parties — take a moment to acknowledge that you don’t know the full story. What you see and hear is only a piece of their lives, and no one’s life is perfect. Let me repeat that: no one’s life is perfect. Everyone goes through their share of ups and downs, same as you. No matter how on top of the world you think someone is, or how good/smart/[adjective] they are, I guarantee that they have had their bathrom-stall-cry-it-out moment, wondering if they are actually good/smart/ or [adjective]. You may not hear about it, because it’s hard to admit fears and vulnerabilities, but it’s true, and acknowledging that all of us are just doing our damned best to weather the storms always makes me feel less alone.

2. Practice gratitude

The flip side of the coin is that no matter how badly things may be going for you, there are things in *your* unique life, and things about *you* specifically that shine bright and that are worth giving thanks for. What are they? Could it be the way you make people laugh? Your magical ability to listen? The way you smoke your friends in every board game? Or how much zany fun you have with your family? Or how solid your community’s support is? Practicing gratitude every day helps provide perspective. I find if I take the time every night to think about three things I’m grateful for that day, I sleep better and wake up in a better place.

3. Work on yourself

Whenever you get the notion that somebody else has it better, it tends to be because there’s something you want for yourself. When I scribbled all over my cousin’s paper, the thing I actually wanted was to be a great artist. And why not? Why can’t all of us be who we want? We humans are capable of enormous change. We can learn and grow and get better, no matter where we start. In middle and high school, I worked on my drawing skills. My free time during class was spent doodling in a notebook. My evenings after homework were spent learning new techniques in Photoshop and Painter. During spring break, I’d go on a marathon drawing spree and finish about ten pieces. Eventually, I got good enough to sell my work at fairs and get commissions. I wasn’t world-class, but I got to a place where I was proud of my skills. I choose to believe that effort matters more than the talent you were born with, and all of us have the power to shape ourselves into the kinds of people we want to be.

So with that said, I want to say one final thing. I know it sucks to be where you are, feeling the way you do. To think that you aren’t good/smart/[adjective] enough. But I hope you will take a moment to pause and consider. What does enough mean? There is always someone more [adjective] than you. This is a fact. And there is always someone less [adjective] than you. That, too, is a fact. These comparisons do not define you. You are who you are, and that is entirely enough.

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Julie Zhuo

Julie Zhuo


Building Sundial. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, nuance, and systems.