A Coaching Power Tool By Jennifer Stanley, Professionals Coach, CANADA
The Difference Between Jealousy vs. Inspiration
Above and beyond the dangers of looking up to celebrities and superstars as role models, social media has become full of imagery of people living perfect lives. Looking around oneself in the present era of 2022, it is all too common to fall into operating from a mindset of jealousy. It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that what we see about others’ lives on social media platforms is the complete picture.
There is danger in operating from a mindset of jealousy. In my opinion, jealousy brings along with it, negative and unpleasant emotions and a perception of lack and scarcity. When we feel scarcity and lack, it often is because we have created, in our minds, the notion of a gap between what we have, and what we want to have. This may logically create a cognitive dissonance which may lead to feelings and perceptions of dissatisfaction with one’s present circumstances.
In clients I have worked with, and speaking from my own experience, it can be easy to compare ourselves to others and believe our journey is slower, our careers are not picking up as quickly, and we are not as successful as those around us. It is easy to find ourselves in this space of judgment and comparison. Unfortunately, it seems to often lead to such conclusions as: “This person is better than me”, or “I wish I was like them”.
As a result, I may enter a frame of mind where I am jealous of where I believe another person is in their life or career, or what they have. Unfortunately, this creates a power dynamic and mentality of lack and scarcity. It leads me to enter a space of disempowerment and perhaps enters the notion that I am not good enough as I am and where I am.
Why has jealousy, generally a negative and unpleasant emotion or feeling, remained prevalent and common in the human experience? I often like to think through the evolutionary adaptiveness perspective and ask myself, how might jealousy function to facilitate adaptive success for humans? When it comes to one person having food and another person not having food, jealousy could be an emotion that spurs motivation to seek out food. This is a very simple example. With something more complex like a beautiful partner, a fancy car, or a high-paying job, there may be additional complexity in the feelings and cognitions triggered by the emotion of jealousy. However, in the simplest terms, we might theorize that the automatic emotion of jealousy sparks an awareness of a perceived lack, which may serve to motivate us to fill a need. Whether the need is legitimate or tied to survival or not is irrelevant.
When thinking about motivations and fulfilling needs, one always thinks of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I am partial to Alderfer’s theory which builds upon Maslow’s ideas in a way that allows needs to be desired in no particular hierarchical order. Alderfer (1969) posits that humans have needs in three areas referred to as existence (food, safety, shelter), relatedness (social belonging, community), and growth (self-actualization, development). To connect this theory back to jealousy, I believe jealousy is a human emotion that sparks an awareness of an unfulfilled need, which could be any of pure existence, relatedness, or growth. In the case of someone being jealous of another person’s high-paying job, this may be indicating a need for more development and growth, and progression in their own career.
In the wise words of Virginia Woolf:
He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.
What if we are robbing ourselves of our dreams when we conjure up the feeling of jealousy over another? When we create a feeling of jealousy, it seems to suggest that if they have this thing, we cannot also have it. If they have made it that far in their career, it is now impossible that I can also make it there.
As this is not a universal truth, this idea can be challenged.
As with any perspective, this mentality can be shifted into a more empowering perspective. If I can learn to feel jealous about someone, I can also learn to feel something else. In this particular instance and with my proposed Power Tool, I believe we can shift into a mindset of inspiration.
Perspective Shift: From Jealousy vs. Inspiration
But how can we shift perspective from jealousy to inspiration? By finding a little distance, separating, and learning to walk along a similar path to this person I am jealous of.
If I can try on the perspective to believe that each person is on their own, individual journey, I can allow myself to decide that this person’s perceived “success” or being ahead of me, can actually be inspirational. I can now imagine my own journey and my current standpoint, their own journey with them at their own current standpoint. Independent paths where there is no objective ahead or behind, only subjective views of progress.
What else is possible here? There are many possibilities now. I can look to learn from their successes and also learn from some of their hardships. I can seek them out as a mentor or guide myself on my own journey. I no longer need to see them as better than me. Simply on a different timeline, and on a different path.
As Coco Chanel stated:
If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.
It takes a strong will to release the belief that if others have it, I cannot have it. This may often be traced back to operating from a victim mindset as well. And it can be challenging to release and let go of a victim mindset. However, it is imperative to do so to be able to shift one’s perspective from jealousy to inspiration. The other, who has achieved my dream is not my competition. It is not the simple binary of them being Victor and myself being victims. We can all find success on our individual paths, and I believe we should only compare ourselves to past and future versions of ourselves. But as Coco Chanel suggests with this quote, we must get out of our own way.
And what a shift this can create! With a new belief that everyone is on their own, unique path, we can now honor our own journey, be kinder to ourselves, and start to feel more gratitude for what we do have in our lives, and where we are at presently.
We can now realize another empowering notion – that if someone out there already has what we dream about, it means it is within the realm of possibility for all. It can certainly be a possibility for me. Someone has taken a path to my personal dream, and this may help me carve my path toward it as well.
When shifting the frame of mind from a place of jealousy, and lack, into a place of inspiration, also allows us to be kinder to ourselves and others. It removes the notion of competition from our lives. As I mentioned earlier, there are no longer the archetypes of the victim and the victor at play in the story of our life.
If we can start to see everyone outside ourselves as successful on their own personal journeys, we can start to think of them as possible allies, teammates, mentors, teachers, and guides for us to emulate from a place of curiosity. Not to copy their journey, but to seek inspiration, ideas, and learnings from them and their experiences.
In fact, can we not possibly save ourselves some hardships, failures, and pains, if we can learn by proxy through this successful traveler? I believe the answer is yes. And the most beautiful part of all is that we do not need to personally know this person to be able to learn from them. Simply by using our imagination to empathize with their path, to imagine walking a mile in their shoes, we can often shake loose some ideas that we could not have had previously. This aligns well with Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (1977), which posits that learning can occur passively through rational thought processes occurring after observation of behavior. So, we may very well be able to learn and incorporate new behaviors through direct observation of the behaviors of these allies and teachers.
With a new mindset, we have a different perspective. With a mindset of inspiration, we can learn to believe our dreams are possible, by witnessing them being achieved by others. With a new, empowered mindset, we will likely feel a strong desire to reach out, to try to connect and to seek to learn from this person.
In shifting the other from victor and ourselves from the victim, we have transformed an enemy into an ally. We have removed the low, dense energy of lack, scarcity, and “not enough” -ness, and replaced it with a chance of camaraderie and connection, ideas for paths forward, and some objective, measurable evidence that our dreams are within the realm of possibility.
Bonus! Worksheet Exercise to Alchemize Jealousy Into Inspiration:
Here is a take-home exercise that can help someone operating from a mindset of jealousy to transform into one of inspiration:
- Look around yourself this week and try to note where you have feelings of jealousy come up. Write them down.
- Beyond who this person is, dig deeper. What is it about them you are feeling jealous of?
- What is it they have, or where are they, that you deeply desire?
Write it all down as specifically as possible.
- Now look at your own life – this thing you are wanting to have, or this place you are wanting to be, how far is it from you now?
- Think of this as two dots on a page – you have yourself, where you want to be, and the space in between. You can draw any number of lines to connect the two dots. A straight line, a meandering line, a loop-de-loop. There are multiple paths to your desired outcome, this place where you want to be.
- Now let’s look back at this place you want to be, and who is already there. Here is measurable proof that someone is where you want to be! The universe has shown you this is possible. Get yourself walking in the shoes of this person.
- And now you can ask yourself: What path have they taken to get to where they are?
- What successes have they had?
- What failures and learnings have they had to move through?
- Write down all the ways you know, believe, or can imagine they have taken to close their own gap to get to where they are. You do not need to know this person! Sometimes the space to imagine this third perspective can get your creative juices flowing and shake loose some ideas.
- Now you have a list of ways you can try to close your own gap.
- How can you now chart your own course for a path to where you want to go, or for attaining what you want to have?
Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory (Vol. 1). Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs.
Alderfer, C. P. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organizational behavior and human performance, 4(2), 142-175.