Are you envious of anyone? Is there something to learn from the envy?
I once shared the leadership of a retreat with a person I didn’t know very well. Both of us had been brought in as outsiders to speak at this event. On that day I felt both appreciative and grateful for this guy’s abilities. He was good!
In the afternoon it was my turn. I rambled and people yawned. Even as I talked, I heard the voice in my head saying “You are losing them Doug.” I talked louder and faster as if that might wake them up. Later I braced myself for the evaluations, and they confirmed my fear. People were kind in a tepid sort of way. It was the rave reviews for the morning guy that really got my jealousy going.
Envy is a funny thing. I generally don’t waste a lot of time feeling envious of people who are very different from me. I’m not jealous of Bill Gates, Meryl Streep, or superstar athletes. But sometimes when I encounter someone similar to me-- someone who does what I do only better—I feel jealous.
My friend Nina Frost has helped me to see that even envy can be helpful in discerning a call. She says that the point isn’t to imitate another’s life, or feel badly about measuring up to another. Rather “our spiritual task is to identify the qualities we need to claim in our own lives and think of how to incorporate them in ways that are unique to us. The person admired is the starting point—an energy locator. Our sacred task is to translate and appropriate these beckoning qualities.”
Just thinking about working with envy as a spiritual task is helpful. As is the idea that envy is just the starting point, perhaps a signpost to some quality in myself I want to develop. Envy can get us in trouble for sure. But there is also good stuff to be found in our jealousy.
How about you--is there an invitation in your envy?