The Benefits of Jealousy

by Brian on November 20, 2012 in Personal Development

You know that person in your industry or your social circle that you just can’t stand?

It might be one of your co-workers who somehow has the boss fooled into thinking that they are the cat’s meow, a rival business owner who always gets unearned praise in your industry, or even just your neighbor with the crappy lawn that everyone seems to think is so well landscaped.

Undoubtedly you currently have or have had someone like this in your life. You want to claw their eyes out and the mere mention of their name causes you to seethe with rage. Well, maybe it’s not that extreme, but dammit you do NOT like them.

For me, this person is the author Tim Ferriss. He has no idea who I am or even that I exist. He released a new book today called The 4-Hour Chef which I bought and is probably awesome, but there’s still a part of me that hates him for it (we will dig more into the psychology of this in a second).

It may not have occurred to you as such, but your deep-seated hatred of this person is because you are jealous of them.

“What? Hell no, I am not jealous of that no good hack,” you say?

Unclench your fists and bear with me for a second because there is a silver lining here. A very important, life affirming silver lining that you can’t afford to miss.

Affirmation of your values

The reason we are inflamed by and jealous of people in our lives is because they are receiving recognition for something that we want to be recognized for.

That rival co-worker, blogger, or neighborhood lawn is stealing your thunder. You want to be recognized as the rainmaker, the genius blogger, or the pride of the neighborhood and every time the praise goes to someone else it’s like a slap in the face.

Tim Ferriss is well known for being a “lifehacker” and finding shortcuts to achieving maximal results in minimal time. He often cites his experiences learning foreign languages like Japanese, learning to swim using the Total Immersion methodology, and getting into an elite college (Princeton).

Whenever I hear his praises sung I want to shout out “Yeah?! Well I’ve been swimming Total Immersion style since 1995, I swim circles around people learning Japanese and hold certification for the highest level of the proficiency test, and I went to Stanford, so hah!”

We think to ourselves, “I’m doing the same damn thing even better than this guy, why is this joker getting so much attention?”

And in our stymie we have missed something important.

People are praising this person because they value whatever attribute it is that they see in them. In other words, people like and want the things that you want to be recognized for. The things you care about and are good at matter to other people and if your hated rival can translate them into money, popularity, or well being then so can you.

Perhaps an allegory will help. I once knew a pizza man who said never open a pizza shop in a town that has no pizza shops. Why? Because if there are no pizza shops it means that the people in that town don’t like pizza. On the other hand, if there is a pizza shop, yes they are competition, but it’s still tremendous news because it means that there is a market for pizza in that town.

Whenever you see someone receiving “undeserved praise,” take heart that this means there is a good chance others will be able to appreciate you for the same values.

Your dis-owned ambition

The cause for our jealousy also contains more subtle layers.

The most intense anger happens when someone is praised not only for something that you want to be praised for, but is praised for something you’ve given up on or believed was not possible for you or someone like you to succeed at.

In my case, I’ve always considered myself a master of learning. Ever since I can remember I’ve reveled in not just learning how to do new things, but in perfecting the art of learning how to do new things. I take great pride in being able to sort out the books and methods that very quickly get you to a high degree of proficiency from the books and methods that put you on the “slow, if ever” path.

Also, I’ve always wanted to write a book on something I was good at but thought to myself, “No one wants to read a book on learning how to learn,” and, “No one wants to read a book by the guinea pig, they want to read a book by the master.”

Tim Ferriss proclaims that his role is not the master, but the guinea pig. His newest book is not just about cooking, but about learning how to learn. He hopes that it will join his first two books with all 3 of them on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

I want to strangle him.

He is succeeding at the very things I told myself were not possible and gave up on. Not only that but he isn’t some rich heir that has an obvious advantage over me. His background is very similar to mine, but he has achieved dramatic results in a field I told myself was not possible.

If you look at the people you are jealous of do you see an ambition that somewhere you gave up on, perhaps without even trying at it?

It probably makes you angry and want to throw a pity party.

But don’t take it so hard. You’ve just reconnected with one of your dreams. Not only that, but you have proof that it can be done. Not only done, but done by someone like you.

I’m actually grateful to Tim Ferriss for being the living proof that learning methods themselves can be enough to get people excited.

What they did that you didn’t

We have a form of selective blindness when we look at others we are jealous of.

We see the praise, either consciously or unconsciously we realize they are receiving the praise for something that we should be praised for, but since we are not receiving that praise we then conclude that they are receiving “unearned praise.”

However, we are so focused on this one area that we think we are so much better than that person that they shouldn’t even bother to compete with us, that we often fail to see things they have done that we haven’t.

When I look at Tim Ferriss I get really dialed-in to the Total Immersion style swimming, Japanese, “learning how to learn,” and life optimization topics. However, his first book The 4-Hour Workweek was largely about creating a lifestyle business via the internet. I didn’t know anything about drop shipping, fulfillment companies, and web stores when I first picked it up.

And while people might be interested in learning how to learn, people don’t book Tim Ferriss as a keynote speaker to hear about swimming and Japanese. He has also developed promotional skills far beyond where mine are currently at that allow him to launch bestselling books.

His fame, his real fame, comes from things that I haven’t done.

Is it possible that the rival co-worker did an exemplary job on a project that you, though just as capable, weren’t involved in? Or that the rival business owner has succeeded in some area where you haven’t? Or that the neighbor may have gone yet an extra mile in their lawn care?

Again, the point here is not self pity or frustration, but to see what the object of your jealousy might be doing that you aren’t and learn from it to improve your own results.

Rooting for success

Ultimately, what we want to do is learn to properly label the anger (or disgust) that we feel as jealousy and use it as a mirror to reflect back our own wants, aspirations, and interests. We react strongly to the targets of our jealousy because the attributes we see them as being recognized for are deep meaningful parts of ourselves that we have dis-owned or lost touch with.

One of the best ways to keep your hopes and dreams alive is to root for others’ success–especially for the success of rivals that you secretly wish would fail.

When the people doing the things that you want to do lose, you lose too because the things you care about have failed.

However, when the people doing the things that you want to do succeed, you win too because it proves to the world that it can be done.

In that vein, I sincerely hope that The 4-Hour Chef lands on the NYT bestseller list and Tim Ferriss makes the 3-peat.

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