Make Envy Your Friend

The Green-Eyed MonsterNothing sharpens sight like envy.” ~ Thomas Fuller

Envy has a bad rap. It doesn’t have to poison.

Envy and jealousy, like fear, is just something we feel. And just like with fear, rather than fight it, you should understand it.

Envy as a Tool

How do you react when someone else achieves something great – particularly peers, colleagues, and competitors?

My guess is initially there’s a little envy, some jealousy. It’s natural. It’s not so much what you feel at first that matters, it’s what you do with it.

Our emotions are part of who we are. Learning to work with emotions, instead of trying to control them, helps us grow. It’s okay to get pissed off. It’s not okay to run the idiot talking on his cell phone in the middle of the parking lot over with your car.

How you choose to react to your emotions is what can create opportunities or problems.

  • An acquaintance’s company gets bought for 10 million bucks. You’re still plugging along. You feel envy.
  • Your peer gets funding for her home-based venture. You don’t get funding. You feel envy.
  • Your brother-in-law is able to quit his job, and work on his new project full time. You have to keep your day job. You feel envy.

Now what?

Understand why. Explore your envy. And at the risk of sounding like Brad Goodman, embrace your envy.

As Thomas Fuller said in the opening quote, use the envy to sharpen your sight. Use it to get motivated. If the person you envy deserves what they got, acknowledge it. If not, let it be your incentive.

If they can do it with that crappy [site / business model / attitude / logo color], you sure as hell can do it. Maybe even do better.

What do you think:

  • Has envy or jealousy helped motivate you or influence you in some positive way?
  • Do you see where it can?


  1. I love the illustration for this one! Nice.

    This reminds me of greed speech in the movie Wall Street.

    A lot of things that have been given negative connotations can be turned around and made into a positive opportunity by a change in perspective and a thorough examination into why they impact you so much.

  2. I completely agree with the necessity of understanding and harnessing emotions, but I’m hesitant to ’embrace envy’. Sure, envy and greed are great motivators, but they’re powered by insatiable desires. Allowing them to control your thoughts is dangerous.

    I guess the key is balance. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  3. Anthony – Thanks. Greed is another example of an emotion some folks are “afraid” to feel.

    John – “Allowing them to control your thoughts is dangerous.” Absolutely, 100%, correctimundo. That’s what I was trying for (in a round about way). What I mean by understanding and embracing the emotion, envy in this case, is to get to the root of it. Learn where it’s stemming from, and better understand yourself. Trying to fight it, or wallowing in it, are two extremes that many end up at. What I’m saying is feel it, maybe express or channel it in some way (possibly as motivation), understand it, then let it go.

  4. Tony, thanks for the great reframe! I always feel guilty and terrible when I have a twinge of envy… and try to squash it. Now I see that this could be useful in helping me to get to the bottom of my dissatisfactions…

    Brilliant as always (and I DO love your cartoons… this monster is cute).

  5. You may have already known it, but for some people, it is pretty hard to control envy and this usually turn to jealousy. In actual fact, any normal human being will too, even if it is a tiny bit. It depends on the will of the person to turn this to motivation and work on it.

  6. I’ve experienced this before, I’ll admit. I think your right, you have to find away to use it to your advantage. The truth is, the situation can be a great motivator to re-evaluate and “step it up”.

    The illustration is extra cool!

  7. Karen – Thanks. Part of being human is having emotions. Trying to fight them just makes things worse. It’s not the emotion, it’s the REACTION to the emotion. You can let envy give you heartburn, or let it fuel the fire in your belly.

    Lyndon – You’re absolutely right. It’s definitely not easy. Just like a lot of things it comes down to choice and work. You can try to suppress it, let it stew and make you crazy, or understand it and let it go. But it does take some work.

  8. I firmly agree. Sometimes words are just words(so profound). I concentrate on “My” subconcious feelings behind the words and my actions to my feelings. The truth is that some people react to a situation with feelings of problems and others with solutions. I choose solutions.

  9. Tony, I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one.

    From what I’ve seen in life, it’s a bit like a bunch of drunk teenagers thinking they can control their campfire in the dry woods. In theory it should be no problem, but the odds are you’re going to get burned.

    Like Yogi Berra said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

    It is comforting to think we can control envy and jealousy, channel them constructively. But even if we succeed in producing positive results as result of embracing them, their caustic affects still cause us harm, especially where our relationship with the target of our envy is concerned.

    A much healthier approach is to be genuinely happy for the other’s success in spite of our own apparent lack. Celebrate with them.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t re-evaluate where we stand, make improvements to do a better job ourselves.

    But we’re better off skipping the envy all together. Not out of fear either, but in the interest of our own well being.

    Unfortunately far too many folks get this half right. They say outwardly that they are happy for someone else’s success because they know they “should” while inwardly envy is still eating them alive.

    We gotta let it go. Give other’s permission to succeed beyond our level.

  10. Anthony – Yes, it just comes down to how you react to it. Just like anything, you can grow from it, or let it make you crazy. (The illustration really seems to be a hit 🙂 .)

    Priscilla – You’re right. It sounds hokey, but looking at what positive you can take away from a situation will frame how things go – and how your view is determined. Anger, Fear, Envy, Apathy – these are “low-flow” emotions. Things that if left to their own accord, will make life miserable. But understanding them, allowing them to be felt, then letting them go, helps to find that solution you mentioned.

    Chris – Disagreement is healthy, especially between friends, but I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing 🙂 .

    I’m not talking about controlling it – because you can’t. What you’re saying about being happy for the one you may envy is spot on. But for a lot of folks, they can’t get past the envy. By acknowledging that you feel envy – even just a little – it’s easier to let it go. And from my experience, it’s impossible to do without acknowledging it.

    The key is not to let it consume you. To do that, you have to recognize that you’re human, feel a little jealous, try to understand why, then let it go.

    This post came from an actual experience with someone I’m working with. I gave the same advice, and it helped – a lot. If you sit on your couch and feel envy of what your model entrepreneur is doing or has, then you just get bitter. If you realize that you feel it because you have your own things you want to accomplish, let it go, and get off your ass and do something about it, it becomes an opportunity.

    Thanks for the great input. It’s always insightful!

  11. Like many others, envy can be a problem for me. When I am aware of it I try to reflect on the situation and then I am thankful for what I have and what I have achieved. I then turn any negative feelings towards others and strive to do better, to improve my situation.

  12. Dear Tony, came from Aaron’s blog. Interesting.

    In my case, i hardly envy. if I do, surely it motivates me! Viji

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