One of the things that I consistently find least admirable about about myself is my capacity for envy. While this has been something that I have always recognized in myself, I feel like it has probably intensified over the past couple of years as I have been increasingly unhappy about my own situation and the choices I made that created it (more here
). Many of my friends now are in situations that I consider very enviable in various respects, especially compared to my own.
A good example of this (and what has directly precipitated this AskMe) is something that happened last night. I had dinner with a friend of mine who is also a PhD student (in a very employable field, unlike mine). He mentioned that everything is going really well for him: he has recently had multiple journal articles accepted for publication, he may have a job offer at a major research university, and he's on track to submit his dissertation by this summer (a year ahead of most). (I, on the other hand, am having a huge amount of dissertation stress, am running out of funding this summer and all my recent final-year funding applications have been unsuccessful, and I am having serious doubts about wonder whether I will be able to finish and submit ever; I also am struggling with getting my *very first* journal article into publishable form, and no longer want an academic job anyway.) Even further, this friend met someone fairly randomly a few months ago, they turned out to have an uncanny amount in common, a really wonderful communication dynamic, and are now in a serious relationship and are talking about marriage. You need to trust me that knowing him and the type of personality he has (INTJ), I have no doubt that this will happen: he is very clear-headed and not prone to fits of romanticized fancy or emotional pendulum swings based around soulmates, and if they think they are a good match and are thinking about marriage, they really are. He has never dated or been in a relationship before, and seems through serendipity (his word) to have on his very first try fallen into the exact thing that he (and I) would most have desired. I have various other friends like this - friends who have had an enjoyable and stress-free PhD with lots of time for extracurriculars and plans to submit on time; friends who have been readily offered (some without even asking!) lots of stipend and grant funding; friends with rich and generous parents who have no financial worries during their PhD; friends whose grandparents gave them a condo or a car or a continuing allowance; friends who don't work out or diet and still don't struggle with how their body looks and seem to look effortlessly thin and beautiful; non-academia friends who fell into a lucrative and satisfying career; friends who made the right choice the first time around, went to med school, and are now in residency and about to have awesome employment; friends who have randomly met someone who was an excellent fit (the first time they dated anyone!), and got married less than a year later and are - as far as I can see - blissfully happy; etc. Many of my friends are multiple of these things.
For me, the past few years, and really my whole life, has been a long slog. I have long felt like the prodigal son's older brother. I have painfully clawed my way up for many many years to get where I am, and have sacrificed so much that I value to do it. Even putting in 110%, I feel I am barely performing adequately (broke, barely managing to look reasonably attractive (maybe), struggling with my PhD, no article publications yet, etc.). On paper perhaps I look good, but nothing good seems to happen easily for me. Everything I have ever gotten - stipends, grants, etc. - has been through sheer force of me throwing myself at it enough times, at great personal pain. Many of my friends, by contrast, really seem to lead lives that are charmed in at least one respect, and often many. Spending time with these friends makes me feel horrible and deeply envious (and I'm at one of the top universities, so pretty much all of my friends are like this - golden people who are seemingly effortlessly accomplished). I came home from this lovely dinner with my lovely friend and cried for a while, and still feel miserable about it. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I left Facebook was that I realized that I invariably felt horrible after spending time on it looking at my friends' boyfriends, husbands, graduation ceremonies, jobs, vacations, presents, babies, etc. I was tired of that familiar tightness in my stomach and fevered rush as I would flick through friends' wedding albums, so I just decided not to do Facebook anymore. This made my life somewhat better, but obviously you can't just quit social life like you can quit Facebook (nor would I want to).
I want to make clear that these friends are wonderful people who deserve every good thing that comes their way (to the extent that anyone "deserves" good fortune). The problem here really is with me. I don't want to cut off any of my friendships. My friends really are great people - moral, intelligent, hard-working, witty, fun to be with, successful, beautiful - and I am proud to have them as friends. I don't want to be envious, unhappy, bitter or resentful; basically, I don't want to be the sort of person I'm describing myself to be above. I love my friends and I want to want
to rejoice in their successes with them. How do I do this?