It's Wednesday, a chance to join Joy with life, unmasked, where we share the messy and the beautiful in life. I unmask in letters - trying to find the voice that sounds inside me.
I'm crazy comparative. I measure everything, wonder about what it means that they have that and I have this, or that they got into that PhD program while I couldn't even bring myself to take the GRE. But there is this map in my head, of where everyone is, and how fast they are running, and I watch myself running alongside them, lagging behind, not doing enough. I'm jealous of their success, jealous of their certainty, jealous of their smiles and clothes and friend groups. I know this is bad. I can feel the jealousy roar from my insides. How do I get rid of it?
Dear Reluctantly Jealous,
I think today I'm going to be a bit blunter than I normally am. I don't write bluntly because I don't love you. I love you, you crazy comparative racing writer. As my hero Sugar says, you are a "dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy tortured talent rising star glowbug." Know that I believe this about you, and when I read your letter, I hear in it the wonder of you.
Get over yourself.
Phew. Bare bones are sometimes best: we need to see our own skeletons, see what the trouble actually is, instead of what our fanciful imaginations make it out to be. Your imagination has run away with you, Jealous, and it's taking you for a spin that will do more harm than good. Our imagination tells us lies, and we have to be willing to strike back with the truth.
Lie Number One: Success is measurable.
Lie Number Two: Jealousy is so complicated, such a difficult and messy thing, that it's impossible to really get over and therefore you can just wallow in the trauma of it and write me letters about how terrible it is.
Okay, Lie Number One is simple. Success is measurable. Have you ever watched a really humble person work? Have you watched how they bend their hands and head low to the ground, how they sift the soil of their lives through their fingers? Have you ever noticed that truly humble people do not pay attention to the titles they have, or if the woman or man next to them has a fancier one? They say thank you to compliments and mean it; they are thankful that you took the time to appreciate their work, thankful for the work, thankful for the hands they've been given to use.
Be humble. Say thank you and mean it. Be generous with your praise, and imagine that the woman and man sitting next to you, who just got into that PhD program, who just had 12,000 hits on their blog in one day, who just got engaged - they should capture your attention. Watch them, dream big with them the dreams hidden in their heart, listen to them, pour out yourself for them. Not in measured quantities, not in calculation, but in a fullness that defies the world. Get over yourself, and get to work.
So we're at Lie Number Two. And here is where I'll borrow from John Woolman. And oh, how my mentor will laugh to know that I'm quoting him (ask her someday to tell you the story of my first encounter with John Woolman). "Where people let loose their minds after the love of outward things, and are more engaged in pursuing the profits and seeking the friendships of this world than to be acquainted with the way of true peace, such walk in a vain shadow while the true comfort of life is wanting." This is what I want you to understand, Reluctantly Jealous: your imagination wants you to spin in circles trying to solve your jealousy problem. But jealousy isn't that complicated.
It is hard. But hard is not complicated. Hard is just hard. So get on your knees in the dirt in your small plot of life, get down in the work, and forget the rest. It is hard to stop those charts and bar graphs of achievement in your mind. It is hard to believe that you can just find a way out of the trap you're in.
But it isn't complicated. Jealousy isn't a mystery illness, or a tortured complex. Get in the dirt, Jealous, and tell your imagination to shut it.
Get in the dirt.
The view is better from there.