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Envy Can Be Good For You

How jealousy and envy can lead to greater success.

A reader asked me to comment on jealousy at work. I responded with a post I wrote about envy. I will share what I wrote about envy after I explain the difference between the two.

Both jealousy and envy are natural emotions. Small amounts of jealousy can actually keep a relationship together or inspire attentive actions. Envy can motivate action as I describe below. Both emotions come from primal instincts that serve to protect ourselves, our families and our possessions.

If you are capable of sensing what emotions you are feeling, you can ask yourself, "What am I jealous of, really?" and "What does that person have that I don't that makes me feel envious?" If you can find a quiet place to answer these question truthfully, you may be able to use the emotions as information to help you make choices.

When either of these emotions consumes you and you react unreasonably instead of consciously, then the emotions can lead to bad results. People do harmful things when in a "jealous rage." They end important relationships with those they envy. People who feel inadequate, insecure, or overly dependent tend to be more jealous and envious than others. If you feel like a victim to your jealousy or envy, please seek resources to help you manage your reactions.


According to David Straker, author of Changing Minds, jealousy is about loss. When you percieve someone has taken something that you are emotionally attached to or is threatening to do this, you react by feeling hurt and angry. If this person is a friend, the sense of betrayal adds fuel to your wrath.

Robert Leahy wrote a great post on how to break free from jealousy. Please read his wise words.


Envy on the other hand is about coveting something you don't have. The person you envy has what you want. The more unfair you think the situation is, the more you will find ways to demean the person you envy. Then instead of working to achieve more, you justify the reasons for staying in an inferior situation.

I had a conversation with a coaching client about professional envy. I asked her, "What is it you are saying to yourself when you envy someone else's success?"

She answered with the same questions my brain often screams at me:

"I should be the one recognized for that. How did they get the breaks and I didn't?"


"I have been saying those things for years. How come I'm not the one who is famous for those ideas?"

If you have similar thoughts, these are great questions to ask yourself. It is possible that life is unfair and the person was given an advantage you didn't have access to.

However, instead of focusing on what isn't in your control, can you shift to focusing on what is in your control to change for yourself?

Is it possible that the person you envy took some steps that you either didn't think of or you avoided? Even if you don't approve of the steps (you think their methods are a bit shady), the person still had the courage to step out into the world in a way you did not.

Case in point: There is a man that every time I hear his name, my stomach turns. He was able to be recognized as a thought leader in a niche I have been working in for years before he chose this area of expertise. Although my depth of experience, research and knowledge is much deeper than his, he brilliantly aligned himself with other thought leaders and marketed his work in much more profound ways than I.


So what can my envy teach me?

1. What can I learn from his success that I can apply to my plans?

2. What stopped me from playing a bigger game like the one he is playing? If I am so smart with so much more to say, how can I play at that level too?

3. Have I set the right standards for my own success? Maybe I'm not celebrating what I have created enough. And if I want more recognition, how can I thank my colleague for showing me ways to achieve it instead of just envying his success?

If we embrace our emotions, whatever they are, we can learn from them. They are there to teach us and help us make major life decisions. Envy can open up doors you never saw or were afraid to walk through before. Jealousy can lead you to treasure things and people you might have taken for granted.

What lessons has your jealousy or envy taught you?

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, coach and author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, teaches classes worldwide on emotional intelligence and leadership. You can read more about Dr. Reynolds at

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