“Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)
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:
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.
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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.
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… 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 13 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 junkies.
- 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 underneath 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),
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.
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 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.
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I had a teaching moment with my 10 year old Son and my 4 year old daughter about this. My daughter said she got to watch a movie in her classroom. My son replied with “awwww..i’m so jealous” In that moment I said to him, “Do you think it’s better to be happy for your sister that she got to watch a movie or sad that you didn’t.” …in the adult world, it’s almost an instinct to have a pissing contest. A rising tide lifts all boats….easier said than done..takes practice I guess.
Seems like an obvious lesson…
… but it’s not. Way too many people NEVER learn it, even into old age. Envy and jealousy can seep deep and take root, and it will make you miserable forever…
Thanks for putting it into words so clearly.
I left my jealousy somewhere behind me in actually this very way, and still reading this post got me to appreciate being me again and even more clearly, since you brought this process up to my consciousness and added a kinesthetic dimension to it I didn’t have before.
Keep it real.
Took me until the age of 37 to learn it… I had to un-get (aka lose) all the things that were “supposed” to make me happy. I think there’s a reason most babies are pretty damn happy. They haven’t learned to be unhappy yet, or envious, or resentful. They don’t worry about food until they’re hungry, drink until they’re thirsty, or bed until they need to have a nap.
They’re perfectly content kicking back, shitting themselves and giggling while soaking up all the wonders of the world around them.
Shit John. Now I’m envious of babies. Look what you did to me.
Sorry. But you’re right, too…
Wow, what an article article, sir! I read it with great interest and was eager to know what solution you were to offer. And, to tell the truth, I have come to the same solution while dealing with my jealousy. I am God-fearing man, former pastor and a long-term missionary to SE Asia, now a preacher and I still have to deal with jealousy.
I use that simple cure you described above. But also I have found that when I walk with the Lord, He makes me free from the demon of envy. He takes it away from my heart so that I can see people from different perspective – from the perspective of love. It’s so much better and I enjoy it a lot. But I can tell that when I don’t have time for the Lord and His Word, envy quickly returns.
To sum it up, my hope is my Lord. He changes my inner person from bad to good.
God bless you, sir.
Hey John, thanks for throwing a line mate.
Nothing like an invitation to self awareness and kick-in-the-ass to disconnect from the pinball experience of comparisons and trying to grow somebody else’s lawn.
Funny thing… the human condition.
I appreciate your insights, they are often a soul-salve for me to help remain connected to terra-firma, while still enjoying the wonder of discovery. Happy day to you!
Glad to be of service, Greg. Thanks for the note…
I had an instructor recently who opened her class with the perfect line, and it was,”there’s room for you.” So stop trying to do everyone else and just do you.
You can use this to help people too.
I will use another\’s envy to reframe their desires, to reflect back to them what it is they want, because it often is a clue to the life people desire, but are hiding from themselves.
To say what you want, to voice your dreams to yourself and then to another, is more difficult than we tend to assume. We talk around it, we go for the thing that is almost it, but few actually go for what they want, if they even know what they want.
And envy can be a beautiful path to discovering yourself, if it doesn\’t destroy with the caustic wrought of resentment and screwy ideas about a life well lived.
Maybe the best definition of success is when you don\’t want to be anyone else, when you don\’t want to live another\’s life, when you would never take another\’s reality over your own, accept for a brief visit to fulfill the curiosity of another\’s subjective experience.
What if I tried somebody else on and liked it better? I always am, changing but still the same.
What a beautiful mess it all is, life, chaotic and calm, and perfectly confusing.
We all live in an imagination; the question is whose imagination are you living in, theirs or yours?
I enjoy dropping into your imagination from time to time, like a lucid reality, where the insanity is embraced for what it is, part of the pleasure of existence, a taste of crazy to experience.
From a cafe in Sintra Portugal and two espressos in,
Thanks for the note. Bet it’s nice there in Portugal right now…
Portugal is lovely… Amazing…
Amazing… I love the U.S., I do. And often I\’m explaining to Europeans about the weird and wonderful aspects, and they get it, more so than my friends that are native.
In fact they, the non-natives, will tell me things about the country that I\’ve observed, that they\’ve so, almost gleefully seen for themselves, that make the country so beautiful. It\’s diverse and aware.
I have no nationality.
I don\’t believe in identity as such, from a young age, refusing to pledge the allegiance, and refusing to celebrate my birthday on the 4th of July, which for most, might sound like a statement of naiveté but for me, if you truly believe in freedom and liberation you have no choice but to see through all the bondage we throw upon ourselves, and nationality is one that screams loud.
It\’s easy to see.
But all the rest, all the traps that we lay before ourselves, that keep us stuck and in suffering, well I refuse to let them drown me.
And in truth they are all self imposed.
And that is a terrible thing to acknowledge at first.
But what else might free you as much as seeing and acknowledging and then living into the truth of what you know, even if your knowing twists.
Perhaps, this comes from being a child of the west; how deep does manifest destiny run into the spirit of the sun, the spaces, the landscapes, the width of freedom and air to express yourself.
Whatever it is, it lives upon freedom and the choice to explore ourselves.
And yes, Portugal is stunning, free and beautiful…
And humorous too.
I wrote a piece recently that you can read here if you\’d like, \”That time I paid 5 euros to get stabbed by a homeless woman in Porto Portugal…\”
Actually I won\’t link to it here out of respect, but let\’s say, the country is amazing and if you have the chance to live here do. But don\’t come to visit, come to live.
It\’s the only way you can know a place.
And John, you talk of empathy often, the Portuguese live with such curiosity and compassion, that the only way you can reciprocate is to live with Empathetic Joy. And that is my guide.
Thank you once again for the inspiration, for being, if I may say, a joyful kick in my ass, with the absurdity of existence, my favorite colouring.
Emeric Damian Thorpe
Actually, most people don\’t get it like you do. And for whatever reason, most of what you say is true in a way that George Carlin spoke, making fun of the very people who were paying to listen and laugh at his jokes.
I\’ve never been able to deduce if the audience realized they were the one\’s being made fun of, or if they did, but laughed as if they weren\’t.
The discomfort to know, you are the chum churned as fodder for another man\’s dollar…
This has always been one of my absolute favorite Rants.
Forever timely and Evergreen I grok it entirely!
Thanks John. I wrote a autobiographical book, not an autobiography about my life (I wasn’t that full of myself!), but it was an account of the crazy things that happened when I really began to listen to and follow through with my intuition. (By the way, paying attention to your intuition helps you become more of the authentic you, the true you). So I totally get where you’re coming from. Thanks for all that you write. Take care.
Thank you for writing this, John. I’ve had a great number of copywriting successes the last few years at Agora Financial, including writing a promo which generated $30 million over two years. But I still find my self struggling with envy. . One of the things I’ve discovered about the life of a copywriter is how easy it is to fall into “envy trap.” Very easy to look at your numbers versus others, and to allow this to affect you mood.
Though competitive spirit is a very good thing… envy usually ends up making me feel just plain rotten.
True. Glad you’re having success at Agora, a very tough place to excel at…
I speed read your entire blog and reread both of your books, to become really serious about starting my freelance career. It’s a treasure box of wisdom. I’m really glad I did. Thank you very much, and thank you for reminding me this envy cure again.
As usual, it came right on schedule.
PS. When can we expect your own autobiography John?
My books are mostly autobiographical, as a way to weave stories into the marketing lessons. I’ve thought about an autobiography… but I don’t think I quite qualify as someone other people want to know that much about…
“I don’t know about that,John!” “When you have fellow marketers like the one and only Frank Kern,acknowledging your greatness and accomplishments,don’t you think that may motivate you a bit, to want to right a self biography?” “Just saying!”
Embodying a similar perspective as the one here, I’d love to read your autobiography. Give us more of the juicy rags-to-riches and personal life particulars. 🙂