How envy eats away at your net worth

photo by Hazel Bregazzi

Sarah, leaned over my way and whispered, “I am so envious I cannot hardly stand it.”

I didn’t know what to think. Envious? Envious of what? Then I understood. She was envious of the acclaim the organization was receiving. She craved approval and validation. That organization had it. She wanted what they had for herself.

Glenn Llopis, contributor to Forbes magazine wrote an outstanding article called “6 Ways Envy Destroys Career Advancement.” In it he wrote – “Envy doesn’t fuel people, it defines them.”

He is precisely correct.

Envy certainly defined Sarah. She labeled herself for what she didn’t do, not for what she has done. I have seldom seen in real life a more perfect demonstration of the evidence of envy and what it does to someone.

People who are envious of others covet their achievements without considering the effort expended to gain those achievements. People who are envious of others covet their possessions without counting the considerable possessions they themselves own. It was the inimitable Alfred E. Newman (of Mad Magazine) who said “Most people don’t know what they want but they’re pretty sure they haven’t got it.” People who are envious of another admire another’s talents, looks, money, fame, whatever while discounting their own. Harold Coffin wrote – “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.

Envy gauges the appearance of success without considering the reality of success. For a few years I coordinated two or three conferences a year for a west coast organization. It was my responsibility to process the registrations and shoulder the many administrative responsibilities for conferences in which 1100 people participated. The tasks were many, the hours very long, and the pay only so so. I remember vividly the opening night of one conference. The introductory comments and ceremonies had come off without a hitch so I left the dais and exited the building to check on some of the volunteers who were helping out in other departments. As I passed through the foyer of the main auditorium I encountered a middle-aged man who was pacing nervously back and forth.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“I’ll be ok. Tell me”, he continued, “What it is like in the big time?”

“The big time?” I was confused

“Yeah, the big time. You know standing up there with all those famous people.”

“Famous people?” I almost laughed. “You mean those guys up there on the dais? Well. I’d hardly call it the big time. Those guys put their trousers on just like you do. Fame, as you call it, is now what you think it is and it is not at all what it’s cracked up to be.”

He was envious of perceived fame and success. The operative word there is “perceived.”

Envy functions only from the individual’s perspective and it really is a matter of perception. “Most people don’t know what they really want but they’re pretty sure they haven’t got it!”

We perceive that what someone else has is better than what we have and we envy them. However, looking from their perspective will yield an entirely different perspective. They see the work, the failures along the way, the challenges, the stress, the whatever and regard what they’ve achieved very differently than we do.

So, what happened with Sarah? Well, she started her own charity to care for disabled adults and soon discovered that behind the acclaim and adulation was an unending work load. Envy wants the reward but does not want to pay the price for it.

The antidote is not an outward look but an inward look. And, the question to ask is “How much is enough?” The contributing factors are many. We allow possessions to define us, careers to validate us, and positions in society to reward us. The real measures of a person’s life are entirely different. The challenge is to be content with what you have and not anguish over what you don’t. Envy eats away at your net worth because it values what others have or are and devalues what you have or have done.

What examples of envy have you encountered and will share with us? Do you know someone who struggles with envy of another’s success? Perhaps you can assure them they are successful in their own right.

*not her real name

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