Your Jealousy Makes Total Sense
What you do with your dark side makes the biggest difference.
Congratulations, you’re invited to the adult table. There’s just one catch. You still have to eat the kid’s meal. They hand you plastic silverware, and tie a ridiculous bib around your neck —one with a cartoon hamburger on the front. The adults ask condescending questions like, “How does it feel to be sitting with us for a change?”
We’ve all felt this way, at least once or twice. We’re torn between appreciating what we’ve got, and wanting so much more.
Specifically, we want what we think everyone else has — a seat at the adult table. We want to feel equal to everyone else.
Or we do appreciate what we have, just a little too much. We become overly protective of people and things, and stop enjoying them. Instead, we focus exclusively on the potential to lose it all. Ironically, that fear pulls us into actions and behaviors that drive everyone away. We start accusing our partners of cheating, talking about coworkers behind their backs, or just trolling friends and strangers alike on our social media.
I’ve seen what jealousy can do to me, and everyone else. One of my friends from college recently killed himself out of jealousy. His best friend found stacks of journals detailing what he envied in other people. The surprising thing? This guy was a beloved musician.
He had a great career, a hot girlfriend (if you care about that), and a huge following. He was the kind of person other people wanted to be.
His life wasn’t enough, because he nurtured his jealousy.
It’s natural to feel jealous. But we tend to completely misunderstand what jealousy even means. It goes beyond simply coveting someone else’s accomplishments or stuff.
Jealousy originates from a primal sense of insecurity. Our cave brain is telling us, “Uh-oh, there’s more stuff out there than I thought, and I didn’t get it. Someone else did. I’m in danger. This other awesome person poses a threat to me. They might take my stuff. I’d better stop them.”
Even worse, that awesome person never actually shows up to take your stuff. This makes you wonder. Maybe they don’t even want what you have. You start thinking there must be something wrong with your stuff. Soon enough, you want their stuff more than your own.
There’s no point in trying to banish jealousy from your life. You can only manage the individual moments.
A few thousand years ago, jealousy probably helped us survive. Now it gets in the way a lot. Acting like other people pose a threat to you isn’t a great way to build and maintain healthy relationships.
Imagine the emotional intelligence required to overcome an especially powerful primal urge like jealousy.
Don’t punish yourself for feeling jealous. What we do with those feelings matters more. We’re obviously not going to settle for eating a kid’s meal at the adult table. We want the full experience, even if it means giving up the pleasure of small toys made in China.
How we go about that makes a difference. The worst thing we can do is rip off our bibs and storm out of the dining room. Doing that just proves to everyone we never belonged at the adult table.
Complaining also doesn’t help.
It’s also dangerous to simply assume someone used an unfair advantage. All too often, we comfort ourselves with the idea that someone slept or schmoozed their way to the top. Real unfairness happens in the world. Systemic privilege does shut out a lot of people. The way to win against that doesn’t involve acting from a place of jealousy, though.
Asking why you didn’t get what you wanted might work, if you can do it without pissing anyone off.
More likely, you’re going to have to observe the big shots. Learn what they do well. Make what they do part of what you do. Also recognize that what worked for them may not work for you at all. We waste so much time and energy wondering about someone else’s secret, when it’s lying right in front of us. We just have to pay attention to the details.
Jealousy makes total sense, but it also makes us feel and act like little kids sometimes. Some of us pretend it doesn’t bother us. That can work in the short run, but you can’t just vacuum up your jealousy and dump it in the trash. You have to deal with it.
We have to accept and make peace with our jealousy. It’s only ugly if we turn it into a spectacle at someone’s wedding.
A lot of times, we do work just as hard as the people who do better than us. Others enjoy unfair privileges and advantages, even if it’s just a connection at the company where we can’t score an interview.
Maybe our partner is cheating on us. What matters more is that we feel like they are. We don’t trust them. Focus on that.
Jealousy isn’t a useless emotion. It tells us that something’s wrong. It’s a sign to think about what’s going on with us.
We’ll never know for sure what we really deserve. You might even say we deserve nothing. Life doesn’t come with a score board, so nobody’s going to put things right. You just have to work your ass off and try to enjoy life. At dinner, just sit there and pretend to enjoy sitting at the adult table, even with your plastic silverware and tacky bib.