The Envy Cure (Redux)

Caddy

Friday, 3:23pm
Reno, NV
Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)

Howdy.

I’m republishing this off-beat rant, cuz it’s been one of the most-discussed and helpful posts I’ve written over the years.

And it’s a totally counter-intuitive take on a subject most biz books not only ignore, but aggressively seek to dismiss. Yet, in my decades of consulting, I see it bubble up in nearly every entrepreneur I meet at some point.

So, enjoy another nugget from the archives:

Friend…

Do you suffer from the heartbreak of envy?

Are you jealous of friends and colleagues who attain success, while you continue to struggle?

Would you like to learn a simple cure for feeling inferior to others?

Well, then step right up…

Here’s the story: I grew up with the definite impression that ambition was a moral failing.  The operative phrase was “Don’t get too big for your britches”…

… which was a cold warning to anyone who dared attempt to rise above their (vaguely defined) place in life.

And one of the greatest joys was to gleefully watch the collapse and humbling of the High & Mighty.  I believe there’s some evolutionary fragment left in our systems that wants a solid check on keeping folks from leaving the pack.

Now, if you risk failing and succeed, that’s great.  We were there for ya the entire time, Bucko.  Rooted for ya.  Got yer back.

I think our innate need for leadership allows for a select few to “make it” without hostility.  And, as long as they provide whatever it is we need from them — protection, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, decisive action, look good in a tight sweater, whatever — they get a pass.

But we seem to have a ceiling of tolerance for others moving up the hierarchy too fast.  Whoa, there, buddy.  Where do you think you’re going?

And when the unworthy grab the brass ring, it can trigger a hormone dump that’ll keep you up all night.  Because, why did HE make it, when he’s clearly not the right dude towin.  This is totally fucking unfair, and makes ME look bad now.

The lucky creep.

I hope he screws up and gets what’s coming to him…

And so on.

I’ve felt it, you’ve felt it, the nicest person you’ve ever met has felt it.  Humans are constantly comparing themselves to others, and we do not like it when Mr. Envy comes a’knockin’.

Dan Sullivan (of Strategic Coach) has a good take on this: He suggests you stop comparing yourself to others… and instead, compare yourself to yourself.  Get happy with the progress you’ve made from wherever you were before.  Don’t allow your brain to start measuring how short you came up against your lofty dreams, or other’s success. (Which is what most folks do.)

I like that tactic.

However, I have another one I’ve been employing ever since I began my solo career, so many decades ago.

It works, and I think you’ll like having it in your tool kit.

Back then, as a raw rookie, I was dangerously inept.  And woefully inexperienced and unprepared for the tasks ahead of me.  Had I allowed my Inner Scaredy-Cat to win the argument, I never would have left the house to go snag my first gig.

Worse, as I moved into inner circles (at joints like Jay Abraham’s offices), I began to encounter other writers my age and younger… who were light-years ahead of me in every category.  Fame, skill, wealth… and especially that precious sense of feeling like you earned your place in the world and belonged there.

Mr. Envy showed up frequently, and occasionally I would find myself secretly wishing for these guys to fail.  I mean, why them and not me yet?  The bastards were too big for their britches…

But that wasn’t gonna work. If I wanted to earn my OWN place in the world, I realized I needed to knee-cap Mr. Envy, and lock that demon away somewhere forever.

Because the better way to look at things… was to congratulate these guys on their success, learn from their adventures getting there, and encourage even more success for them.

There was, I knew (once Mr. Envy was muzzled), plenty of room for everybody in the writing game… and the other guy’s success didn’t impact my own even a little bit.

In fact, once I selflessly began networking with them, they helped me out.  It was win-win, all the way.

Still, though… that nagging sense of “Gee, I wish I was him” kept lurching back into my head. I wanted to be an MTV rock star, a drooled-over novelist, an infamous international lover, a frequent guest on Larry King (this was a long time ago, folks), David Letterman’s best friend, a gazillionaire with no worries about rent or…

And that’s when I stumbled on this extremely cool CURE for envy.

I’m sure I nicked it from some other source, somewhere… but I haven’t been able to find it explained anywhere else.  Maybe I really did invent it.

At any rate… it works.

Wanna know what it is?

Okay.  Here is my…

Super-Potent Envy Cure: When you find yourself wishing you were someone else… or at least in their shoes, enjoying all the great stuff they seem to be enjoying…

… just imagine being inside their skin – really inside them, being them — for 5 minutes.  Dealing with everything that makes them who they are.

And then see if their life still looks so good.

Most envy comes from a lack of something, perceived or real.  When you’re broke, the dude with two hundred bucks in his checking account looks like a winner.  When you’re desperately horny, the guy getting laid all the time looks like the hero of a 007 novel.  When you’re being ignored in your market, the mogul with the big business machine looks like a cushy gig.

This is where your street-level salesmanship comes in.  (Which is what I’ve been trying to share with y’all over the past 6 years here in the blog.)

Great salesmen lead better lives.  Not because they sell lots of stuff… but because they live in the real world.  You can’t be efficient selling when you’re hobbled with a belief that the world (and everyone in it) “should” behave a certain way… or you wish they would.

Naw.  You gotta be hip to how people actually operate.  So you take off the blinders, and peek behind the masks, and get to know your fellow high-end primates REALLY well, from deep inside their hearts and minds.

This raising of the curtain — shocking at first — will actually make you love people more… while also helping you understand why they do what they do.  You’ll understand why good people do bad things, why bad people do good things, and why the inner life of everyone around you is unique.

And while you love your fellow beasts…

… once you feel comfy with yourself (because you’re finally going after your goals and engaging in your own rollicking adventure in life)…

… you won’t want to spend even a full minute inside the skin of anyone else.

Because it is CREEPY AS HELL in there.

I love to read autobiographies and biographies.  (Or skim them, when they’re horribly written.)

It has changed my outlook — and my petty jealousies — to learn the real story of the people I once idolized, and often wished I was living their life.

Wow, does it ever change your outlook.  Especially when you discover the wicked little secrets that fueled their motivation to attain whatever it is — fame, acclaim, wealth, accomplishments — that triggered your envy button.

The novelists loathed themselves.  The movie stars craved adulation like junk.  The great lovers were joyless asshole sociopaths.  The wealthy barons were infested with sick needs.

Big men still pitied themselves over Mommie’s inattention.  Forceful leaders were quivering lakes of insecurity.  Debonair social stalwarts harbored unquenchable dark desires.

Yes, there are folks out there who succeed without secret vices and immature cravings.

They’re also boring as hell.  And you’d be screaming for release after ten seconds inside their skin.  (Many have just been unusually successful at quashing their sweaty-palmed desires.  In fact, the boring ones are often sitting on the nastiest payloads of demons.  See: Every Bible-thumping politician recently caught with hookers and drugs.)

You want wit, a lust of adventure, forceful opinions and a knack for winning in your heroes?

I do, too.  But I’ve learned to like them despite the roiling mess of complexity coursing through their veins.

In fact, I embrace it.  I like my heroes flawed — it brings out the luster of their accomplishments.

It also highlights the elusive (and quickly disappearing) moments of satisfaction they seek.

You’re alive.  You are here on this earth with a ticket to ride that expires (sometimes sooner rather than later).  You may wish you had a better set-up… finer bone structure, a thicker mop of hair, more muscles, more impressive genitals, bluer eyes, a rich uncle with you in the will, whatever hang-up is spoiling your enjoyment of life…

… but the simplest way to attain lasting happiness is to let your dumb-ass desires drift away, and get jiggy with who you are now, and what you’ve got to work with.

It’s kind of Zen, and it takes effort to get there.  But it’s worth it.

You can’t be happy all the time, but you can actually enjoy the down times, too, once you change your basic orientation from “I wish” to “Here I am”.  Some of the most satisfied people I know are butt-ugly trolls who have learned that natural beauty is fraught with negative side effects (and not worth pursuing)…

… and that, at the end of the day, what really counts is what you bring to the table in terms of being a quality human being.

I’ve known a MOB of successful people in my career (including many of the most famous and infamous “bigger than life” legends in business).  I’ve been friends with them, been let in behind the scenes, and hung out long enough to see behind the mask.

And I wouldn’t want to spend 5 minutes inside any of their skins, ever.  I like who I am, with all my faults and all my regrets and all my inherent stupidity.  I fit well inside my own skin.

And — though it took a VERY long time — I earned my place in the world.  Really earned it.  Nothing happened from wishing, or cheating, or relying on luck.

Naw.  I blundered my way into the Feast of Life.  Utterly fucked things up along the ride… but kept learning from mistakes, kept cleaning up my messes and fixing what I broke when I could, kept trying and growing and staying true to the goals that resonated with me.  That’s all I had going for my sorry ass.

We’re all pathetically flawed.  All of us, from James Bond on down through your neighbor who just bought the new Jag (and won’t stop gloating about the deal he got).

Nobody gets out of here unscathed.  You can’t live without making mistakes and stepping on toes.

And yes, sometimes you will get too big for your britches, when you’re going for the gusto.  When it happens, buy new ones.

Stay frosty (and true to yourself),

John

P.S. My recent reads include the autobiographies of Keith Richards and Christopher Hitchens.  Keith’s may be the best-written of all-time — he’s a brilliant storyteller, used a writer who knew him for decades to help collect his thoughts coherently… and he is tough on himself.  Hitch bares all, but can be a bit long-winded.

The key to biographies is NOT to settle old scores, or try to spin your existence so your legacy looks better.  Screw that nonsense.

The key is to spill the beans, relentlessly.  Lift up your mask, raise the curtain on your demons, cop to your trespasses.  And share the juicy details. The story is not the broad overview, but the detail.  You lived it, dude.  I wasn’t there.

What happened?

P.P.S. What biographies or autobiographies have you liked?

And let us know, in the comment section here, how you’ve handled envy (good or bad) in your life.  Along with the realization that your fellow passengers on this whirling planet are one scary-ass species…

VERY Special P.P.P.S. While not exactly an autobiography, my latest book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” reveals a ton of behind-the-scenes adventures and insider advice aimed straight at the tender beating heart of the struggling entrepreneur.

Get your copy now, either as an ebook or in paperback. For a few measly bucks, you’ll be ushered into a front-row seat to see how I stumbled upon the amazing result-getting lessons of great marketing…

… and I guarantee you’ll laugh your ass off along the way.

Get it here: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“.

 

39 Responses to The Envy Cure (Redux)

  1. nada says:

    jake just had a very similar post on envy, yesterday. linky: http://www.john-carlton.com/2013/09/the-envy-cure-redux/

    found your version from one of the comments on that post. digging your version though.

  2. Stephen Bray says:

    Helmut Newton, the photographer after whose work the term ‘porno-chic’ was coined wrote useful and entertaining autobiography.

    It could have been a confessional, but Newton avoids this trap by exposing his foibles and weaknesses in accepting, but modest way.

    His is a story of a strong mother, adolescent sensuality, Nazi persecution, escape. seduction, internment, bonking across Australia, marriage, Vogue photography, the poverty we all have known at some time in our lives, and how he came to buy his first Bentley.

    Then remarkably, shortly after being stung on the gonads by a hornet – and having June, his long suffering muse suck out the poison by the road-side he writes:

    “I am ending my story here, for to write about one’s successes, small or big, is simply of no interest to the reader. Getting there is what this book is all about.”

    • John Carlton says:

      Nice.

      My main trouble with post-modern art (everything after Picasso decided to go rogue) is that critics insist that art “stand on its own”, and no background explanation is desired, or appreciated. That, for me, is absurd — like with Newton, the background story is part-and-parcel of the entire “thing” he represents… his art, his life, his very existence.

      You cannot understand early Hollywood and early 20th century literature without understanding how World War One affected the collective unconscious — all of the Dadaist canon is post-war rebellion against The Man and “common wisdom” and everything that had been considered “normal” (which included warfare, at the time). To look at Dada painting, or signed urinals, or silent movies, and not have an inkling what kind of trauma brought the artist to the point of creation is to ignore everything about the art that’s relevant.

      Confessionals are, too often, just score-settling selfish revisionism of personal history. The truly liberated, fully conscious writer always looks deeper than is comfortable, and shares enough to get the real story out.

      Anyone who feels confused or bewildered by modern culture needs only to dive into a deep pile of modern biographies and autobiographies, and keep an open mind (and their Bullshit Detector on high alert).

      Thanks for the note, Stephen.

      • Ken Ca|houn says:

        great points, John — it’s all about context, environment, to put it all in perspective… makes sense

        -k

      • Keith Sims says:

        Great post, John. I really enjoyed it. I find that much of envy, for me at least, is tied to the material world, and by walking away from consumerism–not that I don’t still enjoy the occasional filet or purely want based pursuit–I’ve pretty much put envy away with it. I find your comments on the post-moderns interesting as well, as I have long held that the only criticism valid on its face is the contextual examination of the artist, whatever the medium. To me the rest is just crap. BTW, I noted that the Insider’s Club is down for re-vamp. Noted something about it being back up in a few days, but it seems to running longer. Is it still a going concern?

        Regards,

        Keith

  3. Stephen Veit says:

    Mark Twain’s Autobiography is terrific. He tries to be honest about himself and others. What is very insightful is that the people he portrays are the same as people are today. The same virtues and the same faults.

  4. Scott McKinstry says:

    Great post, John. Aside from the sterling advice you give, your writing glitters: “sitting on the nastiest payloads of demons” — what a great phrase!

    This essay could easily be titled, “How To Be Happy,” because I think the gloomiest moments of my life have been when I’ve wallowed in the self pity of my shortcomings.

    As I’ve gotten older, those moments have lasted shorter and shorter, in part because I’ve realized … just like you said … that I wouldn’t actually trade my life for anyone’s.

    But those seductive voices still speak … I read about someone younger than me with millions to burn, and suddenly my eyes lose a little sparkle. So it’s good to hear a reminder of how to get out of that funk.

    Another way I can lift myself up is to borrow a little inspiration from some of the greats in the past (who are safely dead and so cannot possibly make me look bad;).

    My favorite autobiography is “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” by Neal Gabler. Whenever I need a jolt of entreprenurial mojo, I just thumb through the pages of the early years of Walt’s life, when the First Imagineer and his brother built an animation empire out of grit, vision, and some fast talking.

    • John Carlton says:

      Interesting how the early years of anyone great are where the real adventures are. That was my beef with “Behind The Music” (those VH-1 documentaries on bands) — they skipped over the fun early years (which usually produced the music I loved) and went quickly for the scandal or trouble years. Ozzie, more about the bat biting thing than Black Sabbath’s genre-changing music. The Beatles, all about the break-up, not the pop singles that sizzled my teenage brain. AC/DC, all about Scott’s death as the “hook” for the show.

      Good autobiographies weigh heavily on the early years, for good reason. By the time fame and accomplishment has happened, your life is much less interesting…

  5. Bernie says:

    Let me quote the late great Gary Halbert:

    “Imagine an albino dwarf who desires to play pro basketball. Imagine Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale and every other preacher of positive thinking giving him encouragement. “Think positive!” they shout. “Never give up!” “You can do it!” “Handicaps are nothing but opportunities in disguise!” Etc.

    And so, for 20 years, this poor little guy shoots baskets for 10 hours per day and then… he goes to try out for an NBA team. And guess what? He makes it! Because…They Use Him For The Ball!”

    My experience has shown me that people do not focus on their strengths…and develop what they actually have to work with. They chase dream after dream with no success, and wonder why they have failed where others have succeeded.

    This has been my own experience in life…which has led to many dead ends. I know there are quite a few ways to deal with envy. John, you have stated one of the best ways to cope with it. Trust me on this one. I have have been the basketball several times. Great post.

  6. Cedric says:

    Hands down one of my favorite bios is “the life and times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club”. It’s great story telling by Sonny, that is well written by the Zimmerman bros.

    • John Carlton says:

      Read it. Loved it. Hung out, for a time in the late 70s, with folks in the Bay Area who knew Sonny. Fascinating sub-culture similar to the roving bands of brigands in the Middle Ages. Having dumped every motorcycle I touched, however, I stayed away…

  7. Carl Picot says:

    I’ve recently been reminded of my own envy John .. but the story is long winded and one for another day…

    I was very badly the subject of envy in my past, with ‘friends’ who I attempted to carry on my way up… and who eventually succeeded in sabotaging my efforts so badly that they brought me crashing…. with them still sat on my back!!

    I learned my lesson and distanced myself .. but the ‘Dog eat Dog’ nature of man shocked me in glorious technicolor ‘WW2 in colour’ vividness.

    I’m not sure who’s biography I read last – although I’ve got to study the author of Harry Potter with my year 8 English kids tomorrow :)

    I bought your book a few weeks ago and its sat on my iPhone ready to be read on lunchtimes… When I can get an hour a day to enjoy it.

    I WOULD love to have the knowledge that Gary Halbert and Yourself possess about marketing … and maybe Dan Kennedy .. however am studying you all like a hawk and am still at the scared ‘Don’t tip toe’ out of your room stage when it comes to getting out of the fog that initial copy-writing and direct marketing brings in its infancy ..

    I listen to the Scuttlebutt sessions daily and the copywrite hot-seats in the Marketing Rebel Club …. and slowly start to practice my own pages …

    OK .. thanks for the wisdom – I once was a professional musician – in the 90′s – in a Stones type band …

    Saw egos and met famous people .. yea there was nothing behind the curtain for sure … I was proud of myself in those days -but couldnt write cope as well as today (even at my novice current state) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4Crm0PNv4E

    OK … time to get back to the learning – thanks for a great inspirational post :)

    See you in the Marketing Rebel Club…

    Cheers

    xxxxcarlxxxx

  8. Three must reads but for very different reasons.

    Michael Caine – An amazing read.
    Keith Moon – could not make any of that shit up.
    Enoch Powell (UK MP) Famous for his ‘rivers of blood speech’ but a great story of political survival and brutally honest views held by millions at the time.

    You’ll love all of those John.

    Richard

  9. Kei says:

    Spot on!
    Enjoyed reading this !!

  10. Julia says:

    Nice post, John.

    It got me to thinking why I don’t feel envy, and then I remembered that when I was about 7 years old I read a story in a comic where someone wanted with all her heart to swap places with another child in the neighbourhood. She had ponies and treats, and her parents were just lovely to her.

    One morning when they woke up the switch had happened – and then we find out that the envied child is dying, and that’s why she gets all the good stuff.

    It wasn’t Dickens – or John Carlton! – just a simple story that told the young me to be careful what you wish for – and to be happy with what you have :-)

    • John Carlton says:

      That’s a worthy tale to ingest young. I recall many of the old morality tales, and the Grimm fables I grew up with (and watched as rehashed plot twists on shows like Twilight Zone)… and that stuff worked. On my own, I took the warnings and advice from those tales and found The Golden Rule all on my lonesome. “Do the right thing” can take you a long way, if you truly understand it…

  11. Frank Meyers says:

    And God Laughs…

    The Autobiography of Arthur Jones

    This is the wildest ride I have ever read. Snake hunter, satelite inventor and ultimate inventor of the Nautilus Exercise machines. Admits to numerous wives, a number of killings. Arthur Jones makes everyone else look normal. The best most dysfunctional autobiography I have ever read including every mini auto biography by Gene Landrum ever written. However, you probably have to be a little jagged and street wise to actually enjoy it.

  12. Daniel says:

    Wow, that’s amazing. I actually start to feel physically nauseous after about 5 seconds of imagining myself in anybody else’s skin–even those people I hypothetically envy. Great trick, John. Thanks!

  13. Paul Richardson says:

    John-

    I love your writing style.

    My question is this: How can I get my son to write more clearly?

    Any suggestions?

    Paul

    • John Carlton says:

      You’re kidding, right?

      Study my stuff. I’m all about writing clearly, and I write ABOUT writing clearly constantly.

      First hint: Write without adjectives. Just write plainly, like you might speak if you had the chance to edit what you said.

      Skip the flowery language (or write poetry on the side) when you’re trying to communicate.

      And read “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. Immediately. And then reread it.

      That’s all step one.

  14. Scott says:

    I’m reminded of the Swan.

    Swans are amazing. They look so graceful and serene as they glide across a glassy lake or river. But if you take a little peak under the water you’ll see their legs paddling like crazy. It’s chaos under there.

    And the poor swan looks across to their cousins and wonders to themselves “How the hell do they do it? I’m paddling like crazy here while they just seem to glide across the water without any effort at all.”

  15. Raymond Duke says:

    Perhaps not an autobiography, but the work of Eric Hoffer will blow you away. From going blind to regaining his vision, to an unsuccessful suicide that led to the split decision of becoming a migrant worker, to becoming a well known 20th century philosopher while working as a longshoreman, he has an addicting aphoristic style of communicating his thoughts.

    He had said many things. One thing I think you would appreciate as a writer is this:

    “There is not an idea that cannot be expressed in 200 words. But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say. If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.”

  16. John
    “…the simplest way to attain lasting happiness is to let your dumb-ass desires drift away, and get jiggy with who you are now, and what you’ve got to work with…”

    Alan Watts mirrors this perfectly in his 3 minute video “What If Money Was No Object?” http://youtu.be/je3rQevW-cw

    Jonathan

  17. dude says:

    i don’t know which part of the universe passed gas to push me along this path, but tonight I was brought to your website while researching Gary Halbert, liked what I read, and decided to check out your homepage.

    and holy pope poop! i am in such a shitty state of mind lately because many things i’ve tried have not worked, or if they did work it was only for a little while and then I wanted to strangle my customers for being the dumbest shit stains on earth.

    when i first read this i didn’t really think i was experiencing “Envy”, it was more like “WTF”, as in how the f#(% is THAT IDIOT making money with all the dumb ass mistakes he makes everyday, and I’m doing everything aimed at perfection, and getting no where.

    but i guess it really is a form of envy, but the worst part is not the “moral” lesson that envy is “evil”, it’s the time and energy that it steals from your life, to the point where you don’t even want to try to do anything anymore.

    anyway, i feel like some charlie’s angel up there likes me tonight and got me to your website for some turnaround action. i’m excited to head over to amazon next and get that book moving on it’s way to me tonight.

    i think i’m going to deal with envy by being glad i’m not that stupid idiot who is having a lucky streak at the moment. cuz i know it’s just luck, not talent, and when the house of cards falls, my house of bricks will still be standing.

    um, how many metaphors do i owe ya for?

  18. dude says:

    oh cruel world! i forgot that my business credit card had to be suspended due to the hacker break in at adobe, and my amazon order is in limbo until the new card drags its ass to my mailbox, and then I have to activate it using the old fashioned home phone line. another wtf moment :)

  19. Hey John,

    I REALLY needed to read this! Yesterday I spent hours dealing with mulitiple technical train wrecks to get 6 packages in the mail.

    Been freelancing for close to twenty years. Building custom harmonicas and now teaching people how to do that ( http://hotrodharmonicas.com )

    I am now officially beat up enough to see the wisdom of old school salesmanship, marketing and getting someone else to mail my stuff for me.

    Just ordered your free lance course – The thing I like about your stuff is that it is so damn entertaining plus makes the hard work part of the deal look like an adventure, instead of just, well, garden variety hard work…

    Also am almost done reading your “Guide to getting your Shit together”

    Thanks for all you do!

  20. PS….

    I got lost reading your blogs & thought I was responding to the “3 Old School Rules That Can Ruin Your Plans To Remain Poor And Miserable” So – sorry this response is in the wrong place…

    I needed to read this envy cure, too….

  21. Colin Heath says:

    This has totally changed my outlook on sales. I to was raised to rally against the rich and believe that too much achievement is to be hidden or ashamed of.

    One of the things holding me back from selling properly is the belief that selling makes me a bad person or goes against my pursuit to become more enlightened. Well not now!

    Thanks for clearing things up there. I have purchased your freelance course and can’t wait for it to arrive now and get stuck in to starting a path to a life in copywriting

    Have a great day

    Colin

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