I met my friend Allison when I was in Junior High.
It was a lucky, lucky turn of events.
Allison was an only child and her family travelled. A lot.
Her parents quickly realized that the best way they could fully enjoy themselves was to take a friend of Allison’s with them.
Which is how I found myself travelling to the Caribbean islands, Key West and Denver, all in two years.
With each trip I realized I liked travelling more and more. But it didn’t stop there.
I grew to love it all. I loved shopping for suntan lotion beforehand and carefully packing my bags. I loved the smell of the airport and snuggling myself, happily, into the middle seat on the plane.
Soon my own travels weren’t enough. When we’d get to the airport I’d immediately feel a yearning.
I began to peek at where the people behind me in the security lines were heading. I paid attention to the signs at the various gates, to the names of the places the planes were headed.
When Allison would take a trip without me, I could barely contain myself. I wanted to go where she was going. Desperately.
I was getting my first taste of an emotion that let me know what I really wanted in life.
It was my first taste of envy.
I’d heard about envy growing up. And it wasn’t good.
To want something others had? It was a bad thing. Some called it a sin. Some called it a Deadly Sin.
But I soon came to realize something very, very different. That envy, when used well, can be a great thing.
Because, in the end, it’s not about wanting to take something away from other people’s lives.
It’s about realizing what you want in your own.
Think about it.
When we plan out our futures, when we are told to think about our goals, when a motivational speaker tells us to dream big, we don’t even know where to begin.
When we hear the world is ours for the taking, that world can feel so big we don’t even know what there is to take.
If we think about other people, those we believe have the best life, we begin to think about what they have that we don’t. We begin to pinpoint the things we want. And then, simply by watching others get what they want, we realize something else.
That we can get what we want, too.
- We have a friend who performs in a rock band and it hits us that we could finally learn to play the piano
- We meet someone who gave up everything to roam the world as a travel writer and we begin to plan how we might open a B&B in Tuscany
- Our friend has her first baby and we realize that the time has come. We are ready to be a mother, too.
These things don’t have to be earth-shattering or life-changing. Sometimes it’s figuring out that we want to learn another language, train for a marathon, get the new iPad.
Sometimes envy just helps us realize that something in our life isn’t quite…right.
A few years ago I was in a Starbucks and found myself envying the woman working behind the counter. She was laughing as she made up the liquid pleasure for person after person, each of whom gave her a deep look of gratitude as she handed it over.
How I envied her! How I wanted to be her!
Then I snapped out of it and realized the truth. I didn’t want to be her, actually.
What I envied was the happiness she clearly felt. I, too, wanted to a job where I could smile, one that came with less stress. One that I could find myself laughing in.
Shortly after that I began to explore new jobs. I never applied at Starbucks, but I did look for a job that would lead to the happiness the woman behind the counter seemed to feel.
Eventually, I found it. And I laughed out loud the very first day.
Envy helps us recognize the possibilities: the places to go, jobs to have, books to write, art to create, languages to speak, ways to be.
Envy helps us realize that, if others can achieve them, then we can too.
There’s nothing sinful about that.
Now, a few words of warning. Envy is a bad thing when…
- we envy something simply because we want what others have. When we become one-uppers, when we want every new toy someone else brings to the office just to have it, that’s about pride. That’s not a better life.
- we envy someone to the point where we resent them, where we want them to lose the thing we want. That’s spite. That’s not a better life.
- we envy someone who has something that just isn’t possible for us. No matter what we do we can’t get an older sister if we don’t have one. Sometimes it’s more about acceptance. Otherwise we just feel frustrated. That’s not a better life.
Envy is a good thing when we see that someone has something we want, and we use it as inspiration…to realize what’s out there. To get it, and make our lives better.
To admit there are no more excuses not to.
This week, think about who you envy most in your life.
Why do you envy them? Is it their job? Their relationship? Their activities?
What does that tell you about your own life and what you might add to it? Ask yourself what’s holding you back…really?
Then figure out how to get it anyway. And learn why envy isn’t a deadly sin at all.
I did. I took the envy I felt at the airport and I took action. Today I travel regularly. I go overseas at least once a year. And I’m happier with each passing trip.
It’s all led to a better life.
Now, go do good…and do it well.