Please tell me this isn’t just me. But every now and again, I will open up Instagram or facebook or whatever, and see that either a friend or someone I’ll never meet in my life, has achieved something great - they might have written an award-winning screenplay, or maybe just landed a fab new exciting sounding job - and there, in the pit of my gut, is an unpleasant and definitely unwelcome emotion. But it’s there alright. And it’s called jealousy.
How many of us are willing to be honest about the times we’ve been jealous about the career successes of a friend? I’ll start. Quite a few times, actually. Maybe someone won an award I was also shortlisted for. Maybe several peers were considered for a job I liked the look of and I wasn’t. Maybe someone is making it look like they get paid eye-watering sums of money to do not very much at all. In my magazine days it was often because another magazine editor had landed the cover star I’d also been chasing for months. Although today, day 202 of January, all it will take is seeing anyone I know on Instagram grinning at me from a beach.
So wrong, right? Evil, even. It’s something we’re never, ever supposed to feel, and if we do, we must obey the norms of polite society and STFU about it. Kindly retreat silently into a shroud of shame. And definitely not do anything crazy like tell anyone that’s how you feel.
But I’d be suspicious of anyone who told me they ‘never’ get jealous. At the very least we’ve all been that toddler in the park with our nose out of joint when another kid was hogging their turn on ‘our’ swing.
Because it’s very human. And if you’re an ambitious person, who has hopes, dreams and goals, it’s going to happen from time to time that, when we see someone else getting some kind of career win, we’re going to have a moment - fleeting though it may be - of feeling somehow slighted, or ‘less than’ by comparison.
When someone else’s high feels like a kick in the guts to me, my first instinct is always to try and deny I’m feeling anything as heinous as all that. ‘Not me, dear, oh no no. I’m not simply pleased for her, I am delighted, do you hear me?’
But here’s the thing: Trying to pretend I’m not wrestling with jealousy only makes it worse. That gnawing, hollow sensation in my gut will intensify until I stop and make myself examine it. It will sit there, like the glowing green monster it is, until I sort of pull it out and look it in the eye. Almost like being forced to say to myself: ‘OK, alright yes - this is me. I am that jealous bitch, there I said it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?’
On the plus side, in the same way that Elizabeth Day says ‘failure is just feedback’, the same is true for jealousy. Acknowledging the feeling, at least for me, is always uncomfortable - embarrassing, actually - but also really useful, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, if you can stand to sit with yourself when this is happening, and really ask yourself, honestly, ‘Why does this good thing that’s happened for another person bother me?’, it will often tell you a lot about what it is you really want. It’s at those times I have a stern word with myself and say, ‘OK, well if that’s what you want, stop feeling bitchy and sorry for yourself and get on with x, y and z to help you achieve it.’ What’s a really ridiculous part of it all in my case is this: often this little chat with myself reveals that I’m feeling jealous flickers about things that I don’t really, in all sincerity, even want.
Things like book deals for instance: I have to say things to myself like, ‘But you don’t even have the time to write a book, let alone have an idea for one.’ Oh yeah. That’s right. I don’t want to write a book.
The best cure (at least that I find) is to take a moment to remind yourself about everything good going on with you. Because it’s just the truth, isn’t it, that the envy springs from how we assess our own self worth. What is jealousy, really, other than a natural, occasional wobble of insecurity?
Given that we are conditioned to seek success - and that too often success is measured in achievements, accolades and acquisitions - it’s only natural that we look around and perceive that if others are doing better at all of that than us, it’s going to give our self-esteem a bit of a kicking.
I’m really nervous about writing this. It feels quite brave to admit to grappling with what is tarred as one of the darkest and most unpleasant emotions in our repertoire. And, as with so much of this stuff, it feels riskier as a woman to lay it out there. For some, I think it feels as though it flies in the face of the edict that ‘women should support women!’ And if you know me, you know I agree with that. I’ve just never bought into the idea that being competitive - at least professionally - is in any way ‘unsisterly’. I think that’s really sexist, actually.
So let’s talk about it. Tell me what you think. When have you suffered with a professional jealousy and what did you do about it?
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Is it Oscar Wilde who said: when a friend succeeds a little bit of me dies? It’s totally normal. Any one who has ever had a sibling or has kids knows about jealousy - and you are right that it’s a good moment to have a look inside! Well done for writing about it! Kudos x
On a daily basis Jo, daily. basis. I'm constantly jealous of others people success, even if it's success I probably wouldn't care for if I tried my hand at it. As lame as it sounds, watching people on Instagram parade around taking photos of themselves and securing brand deals and raking in the cash, I'm jealous of how easy it looks to do. But then I have to remind myself that I'm never going to be interested in putting myself in that sort of spotlight, so what's there to be jealous of! Giving yourself that mental check of "well if you want it, then go ahead, no one is stopping you" - is helpful to realise what I actually want!