Thursday, December 15, 2011

Envy and dreaming

envy pear
envy pear, by take_me_breathless on Flickr
I love searching for abstract concepts on Flickr and seeing the genius that comes out of it.  Today's post is brought to you by the deadly sin of Envy.

During Mondo Beyondo, we were invited to share our dream lists.  When I looked at some of the other folks' lists, I realized two things:

1.  I've already done (or have) many of those things.
2.  Wow, I *so* have no desire to do (or have) THAT.

I thought people would have similar lists, because I expected a sort of selection bias for people with a certain level of income, education and age given the cost, medium and content.

But, as it turns out, we're all different.  I know, so obvious, right? 

The exercise reminded me of one of my (many) previous efforts to lose weight.  Weight Watchers has a pretty active online community, and since it's focused on weight loss, they have an (optional) piece of your profile where you list your starting weight, current weight, and goal weight, ostensibly to keep people motivated. 

At first I was horrified by that, because I hate revealing "the number", but then I realized that everyone around me in that community was in the same boat.  Furthermore, my "starting weight" was actually some folks' goal weight.

It's kind of an interesting way to look at gratitude and progress, right?  I might not be happy with my weight, my financial situation, or my travel log.  But chances are, there's someone else who thinks where I am is exactly where they want to be.  And I'm not talking about being grateful about the crappy Hot Pockets I ate for dinner because of the starving children in {insert faraway place where starving children are purported to live}.  Though of course it's good to be grateful for things like food and shelter.

I'm talking more about managing the envy.  This post idea popped into my head last night when I was reaching for Cards magazine.  I had a flash of jealousy, thinking about all those paper crafters who got published in my dream magazine while I have not yet.  (Never mind that I haven't entered any of their challenges or sent anything in to them!)

Because I was in a contemplative mood, and because Mondo Beyondo is like the gift that keeps on giving (in a good way!), I processed that feeling for a moment.

Why was I envious? 
Because *I* want to see my name and my craft in that gorgeous magazine.

What can I do about it? 
Look up their submission deadlines and themes, and put the dates in my calendar. 
Make more cards, to figure out my personal "style" and get more practice.

What am I afraid of?
That I'd try to get in, several times, and fail every time. That people think my work is ugly. That I'd waste time on all those submissions and still not get in. That I suck?

This led to me thinking about envy in general, which is a feeling I'm unfortunately well-acquainted with.  As I thought about it some more, I realized something that made me feel a little bit better.

I'm envious of skills and accomplishments, not "stuff".

I'm so happy that I'm not jealous of my friends who have more expensive houses and cars than we do.  Or my friends who really, truly don't have to work (for whatever reason, be it high earning spouse, tech company payoff, etc.).

But oh the envy when I see people taking beautiful photos of their families.  Or have blogs that actually earn enough to buy more than the occasional Starbucks chai.  Or get published month after month in gorgeous crafty magazines.

And of course, those are *my* current dreams. 

I thought back a little more and remembered the envy pre-BabyT when I'd read other people's Facebook updates announcing their pregnancy, or reading mommyblogs where every pudgy baby detail was celebrated.  It took us a while to get to that particular "accomplishment", and of course I was impatient.  But once we took it seriously, and created a plan, everything came together.  Of course, there was some science and a lot of luck involved too.

And before that, when I first started my Etsy shop back in 2007, I averaged less than one sale a month for that first year.  I moped around, being envious of those who had better photos, made the Etsy front page, had 1000 sales. 

I took action by learning how to stage and photograph my work, the "tricks" of listing on Etsy, and kept improving my craft by taking classes and practicing.  Then I started making the stamped tags, and my shop TOOK OFF.  Like a freakin' rocket.  So much, that this holiday season, and most of this year, I decided not to take custom orders, because it's too stressful.  I never imagined I'd get to this point back in 2007 when I was fervently wishing someone not related to me would buy something.

So where am I going with this?  I'm trying not to be envious of other people.  It's hard.  But with a little more introspection, I can see that envy for what it really is:  a reflection of something I really want, right now.

So, your turn.  Are you envious, or do you just find others' success motivating?  Or discouraging?


  1. I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said that you're envious of people's skills and accomplishments, not their stuff. I feel the same pangs all the time, and it's awfully annoying that no matter how far ahead you get, there will always be someone who writes better, or gets more hits, or takes a better photo.

    It's a tough life lesson to learn to be happy with yourself and what you can do - and focus and work towards your own definition of success - without comparing to others. Maybe it's even impossible. But I'm working on it anyway!

  2. Thanks Lynn, for dropping by! And 'pang' is exactly the right word, it's like getting pinched or something each time I have that unpleasant feeling bubble up.

    But for me, out of that discomfort often comes action, so maybe it's a good thing in disguise...

    Yeah, comparisons are hard - you don't ever know someone else's full story. But it's so freakin' hard, isn't it?

    Keep fighting the good fight

  3. You are absolutely right. I try not to feel jealous because with two kids, full time job, and traveling husband, my time is limited. I've learned I can only focus on a couple of other priorities at a time. It's usually:

    third - now photography

    Frankly to get to the point where I am now in photography has taken a LOT of work, a lot of hidden work that people don't see. This fall has been spectacularly unglamorous in that my average day looks like

    Sat-Sun: family time and photo shoots
    Mon-Fri: kids, work, kids, up until midnight editing photos and dealing with clients

    It's super duper lopsided but I have a goal. I think changing that envy into an action plan helps either:

    resolve the envy by realizing you don't want something that bad

    resolve the envy by getting you on the path to getting there

  4. I love this post. I'm so envious of some people, but honestly, everything I want is in my capacity--whether it's getting published in X magazine or having a better body, or what-have-you, I could do it. It's more the time, the effort and the forethought, so I try to tell the envy to turn into happiness for others and ambition for me.

  5. @Laura - so true about the hidden work. And also being clear about what your own priorities are and realizing that they are different from someone else's.

    @Shalini - I know, right?? I find the envy is a good barometer of how bad I really want something, too. Am I just being lazily envious, or do I actually want to put in the work to pursue it?

  6. I just wanted to say I appreciate this post and discussion. I'm not sure I have much to add that hasn't been said already - I think you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to what envy is signalling, and it's important to recognize that the things we want can be ours with substantial effort.

  7. @Shalini - so true. Like everybody I get envious of other people, but I try to turn it into a motivator. I look at their (body/blog/relationship/clothes/etc) and think "how can i improve myself to be more like that"

    Envy isn't always a bad thing :)


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