Apparently, “envy” is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Since I am not religious, I thankfully don’t buy into the guilt of that concept. I do, however, understand why the Catholic Church would want to discourage people from feeling that way. One of my favourite sayings is “Comparison is the thief of joy” and I do truly believe that. But I also try to remind myself that I am human and that ALL feelings are ok. Even envy is a completely normal part of being human. The problem is that the feeling of envy has the potential to make us feel miserable. It can create a feeling of lack and of low self-worth, which I think are completely unproductive emotions. The good news is that I am here to show you a more positive and supportive way to use envy.
A few years ago I started following someone on Instagram (which is likely another deadly sin). At first, I loved seeing her pictures come up and looked forward to seeing the next place she was travelling to and what she was getting up to. I remember joking about the fact that I had a “girl crush”, brushing it off as something benign and innocent. But after a while I found myself scrolling through her feed, watching her YouTube videos and waiting for her to post her stories. I will admit, it was getting a little out of control. The worst part was that after seeing her content I started feeling pretty terrible. I would have this heavy feeling in my chest and feel critical about all aspects of my life. Including myself.
It was about this time when my husband suggested that I have a break from social media. “What? No way. Why would I need to do that?” Maybe I could stop logging in to Facebook, but I don’t need to stop using Instagram, right? My reaction really should have set off alarm bells for me, but at that time I wasn’t really so aware of how it was impacting me. In my defence, I was heavily pregnant at the time and probably overly emotional. Either way, it took me a few more months before I made the decision to have a month off all social media.
After a few weeks off social media, I was able to get more perspective on the situation. I recognised that what I was feeling was envy and that I wasn’t using it in a way that was serving me. But I also realised that envy, along with all of our emotions, is just there as information to help guide us in the right direction. Once I saw it from that perspective I could then get curious about my feelings. I asked myself what it was about this woman and her life that brought up the feeling of envy in me.
With a little introspection (and a particularly helpful coaching conversation with a close friend), I realised that much of what I envied about her was her lifestyle. She and her husband owned their own business. She had complete flexibility with how she spent her time and with whom. And she was able to travel and still continue to run a creative business that she loved. I would be lying if I didn’t also envy the fact that she was thin, young and beautiful. But more on that later.
Once I identified the various parts of her life and the person that I was envious of, I then questioned my desires. Why did I envy these things and did they align with my own value system? With regard to the lifestyle elements, it all made total sense. It gave more richness to my understanding of myself and what kind of life I was striving for. But, with regard to the physical attributes, I realised that my feelings were being driven by my ego (and a whole lot of societal conditioning) rather than aligning with my soul’s guidance.
Once I identified my true desires I could then decide whether those things were important enough to me to make them a reality. It was a matter of deciding whether I was willing to put in the hard work and make the sacrifices. The reality of creating the life of your dreams is that you have to be willing to risk failure, disappointment and possibly humiliation. I was definitely going to have to get outside my comfort zone to pursue the kind of life that I was desiring from afar.
Finally, after deciding on what I was and wasn’t prepared to do to pursue my dream life I got to work on setting goals for myself. This feeling of envy, which initially had created so much angst and unhappiness, had then turned into a road map for my dream life. As of a few years later, I am not quite at the point of achieving all the things I was envying. But I am well on my way towards it. And the best thing is that I no longer have a negative feeling when I look at my Insta-friend’s life. Instead, I can be grateful for the inspiration that she provides and recognise that I am on my own beautiful, unique path.
Remember, even if you use envy to guide you, it’s still important to understand that you are on your own path, creating your own unique dream life. You are not simply trying to replicate someone else’s life and comparison is still the thief of joy. Don’t forget to rejoice in the gifts and challenges that come with being uniquely you.