THE BLOG
01/13/2015 12:50 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2015

Let's Talk About Envy

This is going to make people uncomfortable, I'm sure. Talking about envy is talking about privilege. It brings up feelings of shame, guilt, entitlement and often anger. Yet, to varying degrees, everyone knows what it is like to be envied.

When we talk about envy, we always talk about feeling it towards someone else, never the opposite. We never talk about the shame and discomfort we feel at being envied. It doesn't make for great dinner conversation -- "God, it's so hard being as successful as I am, everyone wants my job" -- and never have the words, "you're just jealous," made anyone look good.

So I'm going to bulldozer through the shame and guilt, and talk about it head-on: I am a smart, attractive, kind, and funny person.

Having those four qualities, I see a lot of different kinds of envy. Some people will straight out tell you that they envy you. It's very uncomfortable, but it's honest. However, most people won't. So there's never really an opportunity to talk about it -- except for maybe here.

The problem with knowing that you're envied is the under-current that runs through your interactions with people. It's the unsaid thoughts that you can read on their faces, yet are never verbalized.

It's the little comments that are meant as compliments, that actually make you feel like shit: like when you're getting ready to go out with a friend, and she says, "you're so much prettier than I am," and you just stand there, unsure of what to say (is that a compliment? an accusation? a scientifically-proven fact?), but knowing that if you don't say anything your silence will be interpreted as a confirmation.

So maybe you mumble an awkward "um, thanks. But you're beautiful... as well, so... yeah," or maybe you pretend you're receiving an urgent phone call and secretly vow to never to do cat-eye again when going out with that friend. But you're also thinking "God, I really should do more cat-eye."

Some people even get aggressive about it. One friend was staring at me from across a dinner table once, and out of seemingly nowhere said, "I just want to rip your skin off your face and put it onto mine."

Oh... please don't... ?

These awkward moments aren't the problem as much as the patterns that they can turn into. What I have experienced, and what I know many others (especially women) have, is self-sabotage. I used to dumb myself down so as to be less threatening. I would self-deprecate and practice false modesty, which doesn't work anyway because people see right through it.

I used to physically harm myself because I felt so guilty and uncomfortable about being told I was beautiful.

We're in a culture that prioritizes self-actualization, but when we see someone who's achieved, or partly achieved, what they want, our first instinct is to tear them down -- and we tear them down because we envy them.

Yet, if we became more aware of these feelings then we might try harder to work towards achieving our own goals.

And if we became more aware of those guilty, shameful feelings when we're envied, we might learn to say: "Thank you, that's very sweet of you to say," and continue to work hard at being the best we can be, whilst also staying humble.

It's okay to be the one that makes everyone laugh. It's okay to be that person who starts working on a difficult project months before the deadline, and finishes it before everyone else. It's okay if you get hit on more than your other less attractive friends.

It's okay to be great.

And it's okay to be proud of it.

Of course, I'm not advocating for arrogance. But self-knowledge never did anyone any harm.