How to deal with professional and private jealousy?
May 11, 2016 5:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm struggling with recurring jealousy. I wake up anxious, dwelling in it for a while before I leave the bed. Saps me of my energy. I see acquaintances and friends around me climbing great heights, winning awards, traveling the world, and I feel I am trapped and have lost and havent accomplished anything and I won't amount to much and I'm already 33. This has been happening for quite a few years now, this intense burning in the pit of my stomach, and subsequent depression. Is there a way without medicating myself that I can deal with this? How to deal with professional jealousy? Private jealousy?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer your time to help better the lives of others. You'll feel better about yourself, it'll give you a sense of accomplishment outside of your job, and it'll likely put you in contact with people for whom winning big awards and traveling the world are distant dreams which might make you realize all that you do have. You'll be making the world a better place and find the value you can bring to the world on your own, not in comparison to others.
posted by phunniemee at 5:16 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have found that a routine (i.e. recurring efforts) of formulating my own goals as concretely as possible has helped.
Concretely formulated goals make it possible to actually achieve those goals. And I found out that 99% of the stuff I used to be jealous about wasn't anything I even wanted for myself.

Also, being kind to oneself is a good thing to be.
posted by Namlit at 5:34 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It seems to be very easy for us to want to compare ourselves to others. But it is rarely productive. Those people doing "great" things all have their problems, I promise you.
Nthing Namlit, being kind to yourself is always a good thing to be.
Practice compassion for your self, and then for others.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:42 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I won't amount to much and I'm already 33 - the fact that you believe this despite the fact that googling "later life success" turns up a bazillion articles like this, suggests that you are depressed. You ask for a way to mitigate this "without medicating" - that would be therapy.

And in the meantime, I will second the excellent advice to volunteer, will add that you should make sure to cultivate your interests that aren't related to your career - it helps to stay balanced.

Finally - someone recently linked on metafilter this amazing quote, which I can't find, but was along the lines of "everyone thinks they want to be happy, which is easy. but what they really want is to be happier than everyone else, which is hard"

Find what makes you happy and do it. Never mind what makes everyone else happy and what they're doing. Irrelevant. Focus on you.
posted by greenish at 5:48 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Where are you seeing these friends and acquaintances making all these big strides and doing these big things? I'll bet a lot of it is happening on social media. Remember that you get the highlights via social media, and that most people are just slogging through on most days. Yes, maybe someone is winning an award, but they may have had to sacrifice a relationship to put in the hours to do that. Maybe someone travels the world this summer, but how much debt did they put themselves in for it? Remember it's all about presentation, and you're no better or worse off than most of us.
posted by xingcat at 5:53 AM on May 11, 2016 [14 favorites]

Jealousy is really about what you want, rather than what other people have. Like, if you know someone who is an accomplished zookeeper, but you couldn't care less about zookeeping, you probably wouldn't be jealous of them. So maybe it would help if you could refocus those jealous feelings. Next time you feel that pit in your stomach, try to unravel it -- what is it that this person has that you want? And what's scaring you about that? It seems like this is your current thought process:
1. Fred won an award
2. Why can't I win an award?
3. I am a failure and will never amount to anything.

Try changing it to something like this:
1. Fred won an award
2. I wish I could win an award and be successful like Fred
3. What's stopping me from doing that? What does success mean to me? Are there any steps I could take toward feeling more successful or having a more meaningful life?

Also, if you're anything like me, once you accomplish something, it stops seeming like a big deal. Maybe other people are looking at you, thinking, I wish I could have what they have, while you're looking at others thinking the same thing.

If you're close with anyone who you have these feelings about, could you talk to them openly about this in a nonjudgmental way? You might be surprised to hear that a lot of people have these feelings, and could learn about how they deal with them. I remember reading an article in Harvard's alumni magazine urging people to attend their reunion despite their inevitable crushing feelings of inadequacy compared to their peers. Seriously, it was an entire article saying (to Harvard grads!), "I know you think you suck compared to everyone else, but I really want you to come, so please come and I promise not to judge you!"
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:55 AM on May 11, 2016 [18 favorites]

I learned last week of some young girls who started selling origami to help put in clean water in Africa. They are, if memory serves, 9 and 11 and have raised something like half a million dollars for their cause.

This is amazing, but sheesh. I'm pushing 40, what have I done?

But then I remembered that no one was dealt the hand that I was dealt. And I've had some accomplishments of my own that others wouldn't even attempt!

So that's my thinking on this. What have you accomplished that you're proud of? What do you want to accomplish? Remember that we're all unique and as others have said, there's a lot of people who have had tons of success later in life. (33! You're practically a baby.)
posted by getawaysticks at 6:30 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Most of the world is not successful by the metric our culture uses. Most of us grind through jobs with little to mediocre job satisfaction, work to pay the bills, and do very little that is notable or extraordinary.

None of that is an indication of how happy someone is. Don't allow the size of your house or the swankiness of your job title dictate your self-worth or happiness.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:43 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Apologize for the threadsit. But several comments reminded me of an comment I wanted to share. I just discovered a 10 year old book called The Art Of Happiness. It talks about a lot of what you are describing.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:50 AM on May 11, 2016

I am 86. Many many people I knew did much bigger, more important things, achieved a recognition I never did, ended up with a lot more money, better cars, bigger homes than I did. But they are now dead. I am not.
posted by Postroad at 6:53 AM on May 11, 2016 [61 favorites]

Jealousy is a selfish emotion. It basically says, "that should be ME!"

So do two things, start being happy for those who have accomplished things. Good for them! They probably sacrificed something to accomplish that thing, they probably worked really hard.

Secondly, be grateful for what you have in your life. Someone might be jealous of you for something.

If you want the same things for yourself, think about what you'd have to do to get them. Then do those things.

It's not a zero sum game. Some one getting X doesn't mean you can't have X too if you're willing to work for it.

You may realize that whatever it is, it's not worth the hassle to have it.

My friend Donna always moans about why we're not powerful executives, I remind her that we don't like working 16 hour days.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:56 AM on May 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

When you envy people you look at one aspect of their lives. You don't know what else their lives may contain: emotional or physical illness, personal or family difficulties. Often once you hear the whole story you would not choose to change places with them for any glory.
posted by zadcat at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm 34. I've been in the same job since I was 24. No promotions. Next to no raises. I have zero professional accomplishments. I never intended to stay as long as I have. But I've pretty much just accepted this is my professional life as it is and it's unlikely to change any time soon (if ever) for a lot of reasons.

So, I have pretty much decided that I am just going to not be my job or my career. When people I ask what I do, I talk more about my volunteer work with the parent council I vice chair in my town. When people press about my "real job," I tell them, then shrug it off, and go back to talking about something actually important --- like the parent council I vice chair. And guess what that has led to? I have the ear of a pretty important elected official in my area, and that's pretty awesome! I send this person an email, and he responds! I ask him to do something for me, and he does! I ask him to join our parent council at an event, and he puts it on his calendar! It's pretty awesome. There was some event a mutual acquaintance of ours was at with him, and I got a message from said mutual acquaintance about how much this elected official talked me up and was genuinely impressed by me, what I know, what I do, how I manage my life to do what I do. That really surprised me, and honestly was probably one of the better things to hear about myself than most of what I'd hear at work.

I've also decided that I'm working to live. My job that pays me also affords me flexibility and the ability to engage in activities outside my job that if I were higher up in the chain, I may actually have less flexibility. I may be required to work nights or weekends, for example. Not terribly appealing right now.

Admittedly what I do right now is not what I planned for my life, but people our age kinda got screwed by 2008 and a lot of people with plans found they had to scrap them. So I had to rebuild my expectations. It took awhile, but it's done. And maybe some time I'll get back to old plans or to adjustments of old plans. We'll see.

As for any jealousy I feel, well, I look at how some of these people who are supposedly offering more and have more value than I would seem to treat others, and quite frankly, I don't always like what I see. My personal values push me to be as decent a person as I can be, and that sometimes means choosing not to step on other people's feet, even if it means the person who steps on mine goes up the ladder before me. I don't care. There are just some things not worth compromising on, and I won't apologize for that. I'm too old for that kind of crap, quite frankly, and I've filled my life so fully in other places that my job is just a means to other ends. All because I just decided one day to not be my job.
posted by zizzle at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

zadcat has it - one thing you will see, as you get into your late 30s and early 40s, is that the carefully cultivated facades people project (especially through social media) are often very different from the reality of their lives. There is often a lot of pain, frustration, and despair that you don't know about, or don't know about yet.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:55 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am 55. As I got older, I found that when I actually accomplished something, I didn't feel particularly better about myself than I did before.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is something everyone struggles with, to some degree. It's got to be worse lately with everyone posting their life highlights on Facebook and whatnot, projecting perfect lives. I can't simply walk away from everyone who makes me jealous, either - lots of these people are around me constantly IRL.

I'm not religious, but that prayer "god grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference" about sums up how I deal with it, myself.

I have to constantly remind myself that my life path has been different from theirs, and so I really can't compare myself to them. I made different choices, and ran into different problems, and dealt with the consequences as best I could. Like divorcing my first husband was the right decision for me, but that delayed my starting a family. I have to remember to evaluate whether I would have made their decisions - like no I didn't want to become a teacher, no I don't actually wish I was going to Las Vegas a few times a year as that's not my kind of vacation. I also have to constantly remind myself to be proud of what I have accomplished/overcome and what I'm good at, even if it's small. And honestly, having perspective - things may not be perfect, but they could be worse. I do know people who are also worse-off than myself... not something to gloat over, just to simply remember.

If something is making me unhappy and I am able to do something about it, then I do. Divorcing my first husband was HARD but I was infinitely happier afterwards. I have changed career paths, moved to different cities. I work on difficult relationships worth saving, like with my sister. I'm currently tackling a serious weed infestation in my yard. Change takes time, and can be done in manageable steps - getting started is the hardest part. Have courage.
posted by lizbunny at 8:42 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

...Solon set out upon his travels, in the course of which he went to Egypt to the court of Amasis, and also came on a visit to Croesus at Sardis. Croesus received him as his guest, and lodged him in the royal palace. On the third or fourth day after, he bade his servants conduct Solon. over his treasuries, and show him all their greatness and magnificence. When he had seen them all, and, so far as time allowed, inspected them, Croesus addressed this question to him. "Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?" This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, "Tellus of Athens, sire." Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, "And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?" To which the other replied, "First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours."

Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enumerating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the second place. "Cleobis and Bito," Solon answered; "...this tale is told of them:- There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Juno at Argos, to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and then their life closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi."

When Solon had thus assigned these youths the second place, Croesus broke in angrily, "What, stranger of Athens, is my happiness, then, so utterly set at nought by thee, that thou dost not even put me on a level with private men?"

"Oh! Croesus," replied the other, "thou askedst a question concerning the condition of man, of one who knows that the power above us is full of jealousy, and fond of troubling our lot. A long life gives one to witness much, and experience much oneself, that one would not choose. Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. ... The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty, whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest. Hence man is wholly accident. For thyself, oh! Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art the lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For many of the wealthiest men have been unfavoured of fortune, and many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of the former class excel those of the latter but in two respects; these last excel the former in many. The wealthy man is better able to content his desires, and to bear up against a sudden buffet of calamity. The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, however, his good luck keeps him clear), but he enjoys all these following blessings: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the man who may rightly be termed happy. Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect- something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of 'happy.' But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin."
posted by praemunire at 9:39 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

how about taking up a productive hobby such as woodworking, knitting, computer programming with a raspberry PI, soapmaking, papermaking, etc. especially something where you can either use or give away your final product.

i started making soap 3 years ago, and over time, I got better and more efficient. 90% of what i make is donated to the food bank.
People are impressed and grateful for my offering, and I feel good about myself.
I'm far from being an expert, or handy or creative, and I've spent more time cleaning and reorganizing space than actual soapmaking, but time goes by and if you spend it somewhat productively, you will advance.

I'm also sure to minimize the time spent looking at what other soapmakers make, because it will make me frustrated that I haven't done as much as them in the time that I have.

it might take a while to pick up steam, but once you get going you start to advance pretty quickly and people will admire you for being able to make things.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:50 AM on May 11, 2016

I'm thinking that this may be a time to re-evaluate what you consider success. Maybe your ideal life doesn't consist of the soul-less, time-crunching, mindless endeavors that keep others moving up. Maybe you would prefer a schedule that allows you to do the things that bring you joy, but still provides enough to survive upon. Maybe you need to allow yourself to visualize your authentic version of success - a life that will keep you sustainable, happy, and healthy?
posted by itsflyable at 12:06 PM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a friend. We've known each other for 30 of our 40+ years. We have several things in common (creative, overweight, strong women). But I believe she is deeply jealous of some of the things I've achieved in life. Don't mistake me - I am proud of, and made happy by, those achievements. But it saddens me that she holds this against me. She has no idea how hard my life is, how I struggle, how I've fought to earn the bits I have. I don't think she knows how jealous I am of her for walking away from the rat race, but I'm sure I'm not seeing how she struggles with that. My point is this: success doesn't rank the same for everyone. Something that is a struggle for me may be easy for her, and vice versa. Don't judge yourself against other people. They aren't running the same race - each of us is on our own track. I'd also like to make another point: depression lies. Please examine the real source of your jealousy and dissatisfaction. Why do you feel you have't achieved, or that your achievements aren't enough? Look at your situation through others' eyes, with the same compassion you'd give them. After that, set goals and then set up the tiny baby steps that will get you to them. One day at a time.
posted by AliceBlue at 4:01 PM on May 11, 2016

I feel I am trapped

You're not the first person to use that word.

Read The Happiness Trap. I've been blessed by a boundless capacity for happiness-boosting downward comparisons ('it could be worse, I could be dead...'), plus a near complete blindness to the upward mobility of others (not being on Friendface helps here).

But for those I know who were made miserable by others' success, they all recommend this book.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take long breaks from social media. It's anxiety provoking if you already tend toward anxiety and/or agitated depression. And even if you don't.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:58 AM on May 12, 2016

step 1. Delete your fb account
step 2. Hit the gym

No in all seriousness, the way i kill off jealousy is to take a hard look at why i feel less than x, ask my brain if its worth putting much stock in those thoughts, and if yeah, see if thats something I could pull off too.

Say, Jenny has a huge butt (i'm naturally like Skeletor, you get where this is coming from) so then i decide that squats and barre classes are in order. Jenny might also be Brazillian and naturally just have glorious assets (sorry this is such a retarded example), but also struggles with finding a good guy 'cause every dude she meets is just into her for her booty. Everyone gets a different set of private struggles.

Also, just like the wise ones up before said, doing good things for others just because you feel like it, will do wonders for your head, heart and soulmeats. The less i sit around dwelling on all my shortcomings the happier i am.
posted by speakeasy at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2016

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