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After the Jump: Turning Jealousy Into Motivation

by Grace Bonney

For this week’s radio show, I tried something a little different: a mini show. Instead of a full 30-minute interview, I spent 15 minutes focusing on one topic: jealousy. I chose that topic because, after careful thought and research, I’ve come to the conclusion that jealousy gets a bad rap. All over the internet there seems to be a universal desire to do away with it completely in exchange for forever avoiding what some are calling “the comparison trap”. And in theory, I understand that. Jealousy without further inspection can be a difficult feeling to process. But, when examined further, it can be one of the most powerful and healthy tools we have to process our own wants, needs and goals.

What if, instead of letting those moments of envy and jealousy shut us down, we decided to let them fire us up? If jealousy and desire have the power to move us to feel something so strongly, surely they have the power to move us to do something GOOD, too. Simply put, I’ve decided that we need to take the fear and negativity out of the word JEALOUSY and focus on the power it has to motivate, inspire and mold better businesses. So in today’s show I’m breaking down the reasons jealousy is misunderstood, how to understand it accurately and how to change your perspective and stance on envy to turn it into something that can be a positive motivator in your life and work. The link to listen are below, but I’ve also shared some overview notes from the show below if you don’t have the time or ability to listen during the day. The radio show will go into more detail about each step of the process, provide resources for staying motivated and provide examples from my work and personal life that show how jealousy can be a positive motivator. xo, grace


Read through for notes from today’s show after the jump:

One of the primary reasons jealousy gets a bad rap is that it’s often represented and aligned with the concept of cattiness between women. In fact, when I did research for my show, 75% of the articles I found lead with an image of two women looking at each other skeptically. I’m not here to say that women running businesses can’t be competitive- but the idea that women are the only people that can be jealous or that it’s inherently tied to a sense of negativity between women is inaccurate. So let’s start by getting this straight: jealousy is a NORMAL, NATURAL AND INHERENT human emotion felt by all people.

Why is it a good thing? Let’s break it down:

1. There is no faster or clearer tool for showing you exactly what you want. When you feel jealous of someone, that is a clear indication that there is something missing in your life that has yet to be fulfilled or validated

2. All those people you’re jealous of? They can, and probably should, be people you eventually add to your network of friends, colleagues, collaborators and co-workers. Rather than piling them into a list of people you dislike or could never be like add them to you list of people to email and talk to.

3. Jealousy may feel like it’s showing you what you don’t or can’t have, but in fact, it’s showing you what you CAN have. Seeing that someone in your industry got, for example, a book deal or a TV show, means that people are interested in investing in and seeing more OF people like you.

How can you learn to turn feelings of jealousy into motivation? Here’s how:

Step 1: Acknowledge the feelings you’re having and say them out loud. Jealousy shows you what you really want and your job is to get past the emotion or anger and figure out what that feeling is telling you is missing in your life.

Step 2: Investigate the reality of what you’re jealous of. We often do a disservice to people we’re jealous of by assuming their lives are perfect. Find out more about the people and opportunities you’re envious of- most times you’ll find they’ve worked incredibly hard to earn something and that their lives aren’t as perfect as you thought.

Step 3: Investigate YOUR reality. This is the moment to look at what you’ve done to achieve the things you want, accept and embrace any limitations you have right now (we don’t all have spare time to launch new businesses or the money to do so). Take a moment to look at all you HAVE accomplished in your current situation. Write it down. Be proud of what you’ve done. If you don’t look at all the things you DO have, it’s hard to put the things you don’t have in perspective.

Step 4: Take next steps. If after investigating your achievements and current situation you still feel like you’re missing something you want and need, write an action plan to get it done. If your goal is a book deal, write a plan to research what the steps are to get there and start working on it day by day. No opportunity happens overnight or lands in anyone’s lap without hard work.

Step 5: Turn jealousy into collaboration or friendship. The people you feel envious of are people who are getting things done and working hard. They’re people you admire and for that reason, should be people you keep close to you for inspiration and motivation. Instead of associating their success with things they’ve been given that you haven’t, associate it with a level of work, drive and talent that would be positive for you to have in your life and learn from.

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  • I love this piece and I think it is a very helpful way to not only look at jealousy, but to truly think about what we want out of life and what we’re willing to do to achieve our goals. For example, I think Beyoncé is fabulous and I’m glad she exists but a gut reaction of “ugh, I wish I could be Beyoncé!” ignores the fact that she works very, very hard and always carefully considers how she is presenting herself at all times. And that’s not something I would ever want for myself. Steps 2 & 3 takes the focus off of feeling like you’re lacking and instead allows you to appreciate that other people have different ways of living, while steps 4 & 5 give a path towards change if that IS what you want. It breaks envy down in a way that lets you celebrate what other people are accomplishing without feeling personally diminished by it.

    I love that you took something negative and made it positive without putting on rose-colored glasses and pretending everything is easy. It’s not easy to deal with feelings of inadequacy but those feelings don’t have to be buried under layers of guilt and denied because they’re not nice to think about.

    I also like your point of women helping each other instead of thinking there is only room for one. I think marginalized people are often pitted against each other and actively amplifying each other’s success can help change that perception. Thank you for writing this! I love this whole series. These are great conversations to be having!

  • This article is awesome. I never thought of jealousy as a motivator, but you are absolutely right. Nailed it!

  • This often happens to me lately because a) I’m a single mom and b) I now have a FT job after years of freelancing. So now I do my freelancing with whatever little time and energy I have left. When I see peers doing well, I often feel that tinge, and I process it and then I compliment them on a job well done. After I’ve done so I feel much better and try to formulate a plan to have more time to work on my goals. Lately I feel I get stuck on the formulating part. But when I finish a project, I feel amazingly satisfied. Staying on track with my goals has become more of a struggle than not. Still, raising my little one is, in itself, very rewarding, and I know that time is precious and fleeting. When I feel stressed or overwhelmed, taking the time to know just what I have is freeing. Thanks for validating this feeling of jealousy and turning it into a positive conversation.

  • Very inspiring article. Jealousy has always fueled me to either be better at what I do or better at how I treat and view myself. I’ve had better adventures, met more amazing people and developed a pretty confident sense of self by comparing and contrasting productively. I’m glad you found the subject of Jealousy and wrote such a wonderful essay!

  • I work full-time as a freelance journalist and blogger and consider myself lucky to work in a field where people are really supportive of one another – yet I still have my jealous moments! Two years ago, I realised that jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing – now, if I get a jealous moment I examine it to find that often it honestly highlights what I secretly want. And that’s not a bad thing! Like you said, you can use jealousy as a tool to motivate yourself and increase your drive. When I feel the green eyed monster coming on, I look at how far I have come and often I do a little mental exercise where I come up with ten things I’m grateful for right now. I remind myself to try to be grateful when I’m feeling good and graceful when I’m feeling bad, because the more secure I feel in myself, the happier I am and the better the work I produce. I also know that people who succeed have worked very, very hard and you will probably never know all the hours, energy and money they have invested into something. I also know that social media does not necessarily speak the utter truth and so I often take feeds with a grain of salt! Love this Grace, thank you for writing.

  • I love this! I get this feeling quite often when someone I know or know of finds creative success. Most people blow it off as a tacky and invalid emotion but you are completely correct, it is very motivational.

    I actually wrote about “motivational jealousy” a little while ago (here’s the link if you feel so inclined: http://mslazybonesandthemorningman.blogspot.com/2013/02/motivational-jealousy.html ).

    When I get these pings of jealousy I can often get to step 3 but I’ve never really pushed myself to go beyond that. Thank you for starting a conversation on this topic and your always helpful spot-on advice, maybe next time I can make something productive come out of these icky feelings.

  • I love the idea of this, and I’m curious as to how it could relate to jealousy in a relationship. What kind of motivator would it be then?

    Also the skeptic in me sees Step 2, and thinks it’s a gateway task to feelings of schadenfreude. But maybe I’m just inclined to be negative. I do like the idea of channeling jealousy towards something good, so maybe practice makes perfect.

    Great article!

  • Thank you sooooooo much for this. It resonates. A little while ago I wrote some stuff about this and I found a quote among my writings that I always come back to. I recite this to myself when I start to go green with envy: “Don’t begrudge other people’s success. If someone has succeeded in the very thing you’re trying to achieve it does not mean that something has been taken from you. Be inspired…work harder…and when you succeed, be kind and generous!”…Thanks for always producing quality shows and content, such a pleasure to read/listen.

  • Loved this episode!! What was the first book you mentioned? I have already read the Happiness Project, but there was another book and I did not write it down. Thank you!!

  • This is so great. There is so much wisdom in the emotions we like to sweep under the rug. Thank you for writing this article. Jealousy can definitely help us clarify our desire.