I’m on vacation. I’m on vacation. I’m on vacation. This was the zen mantra I attempted to recite to myself when I suddenly became unglued in a New York airport terminal. Mind you, my cross-country flight wasn’t delayed. And I was just moments from strolling into the airline lounge to feast on popcorn, cookies and free wireless Internet. None of that mattered when I Saw It. There, lying on a front table of a bustling Hudson Books and so prominently displayed that I could reach out and swipe it: my friend’s novel.
@#L$K@ L#$ V@!! I could wallpaper my apartment with all my book-proposal rejection letters. Meanwhile, Leslie’s pride and joy was next-door neighbors with a Stephen King thriller. I stood there in a brief state of shock, then practically sprinted into the Delta Sky Club in a haze to finish writing an article. Vacation could wait. The green-eyed monster had reared its ugly head.
Surely you’ve traveled to that unsetting destination as well. I’m here to assure you that professional jealousy is legit, and it’s as natural as an orange sunset on a late summer night. The sentiment doesn’t quite equate with that of watching a friend marry and have kids. There’s a certain amount of luck and timing and good genes when it comes to personal wealth; domesticity isn’t a one-size-fits-all lifestyle choice, anyway. A different, more inferior feeling is at work when your friend succeeds at work. A plum achievement is the real deal, based on unbelievable ambition and pure talent. It’s a combo that seems attainable yet frustratingly out of reach.
I used to tell myself that jealousy was bad karma to the extreme; as if each envious pang would lead to a setback in my own burgeoning career. I should be happy for that plucky girl, because she would be happy for me. Right? Now I not only accept the jealousy, but welcome it.
The key is to be productive with those emotions and try not to let them rot inside your psyche. All that self-pity about my friends’ accomplishments? It fuels my ambitions and helps me ultimately fulfill my high standards. I keep that burning drive as part of my day-to-day thoughts and actions. A close pal recently revealed to me that when her friend got a promotion, she was so envious that she got the extra incentive to push her bosses for her own long-deserved title change. She demanded more money and extra benefits to boot.
Indeed, if envy translates into what you wish you had in your own career, then envy forces you to examine within and realize what’s missing as well (i.e. additional responsibilities and power, flexibility to work from home, more travel, financial freedom, industry respect, etc.). Having a friend set the bar can inspire you to achieve goals that you never thought possible. That aspirational aspect — “If she can do it, maybe I can, too!” — is also tinged with admiration. When you admire, it’s awfully difficult to resent. Translation? Your overachieving former roommate doesn’t need to be a loser for you to be a winner.
The truth is, Leslie had always been one of my biggest career cheerleaders. There were times she slanted down at the same time I slanted up. I know that my emotional response to spotting her book in that context had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. As long as I can recognize the root of my jealousy and use its powers for good, I can be productive. I can also be a supportive confidante rather than a seething sniper wallowing in doubts.
That makes me feel good about myself as a writer — and, more importantly, as a friend.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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