I get jealous.
And no, it is not only child syndrome - it’s ego. Well, ego, fear and a sprinkling of shame.
We’ve all felt it. That moment when someone tells you about their amazing news and all you think about is why you don’t have that yet. Or better yet, you start running through the list of bullet points that compare the two of you to determine who is truly “better” or has won out.
I hate that it happens and wish that it didn’t but before I know it, it’s like the toddler in me emerges and all I see is what others have that I don’t.
When I was a kid, it was more about who had the clothes or car everyone wanted, who was the most popular or who had the best grades. As time went on, I still noticed myself looking at all of those things but the list of comparisons expanded. Body type, relationship status, job or career choice or progression, even number of likes and followers on social media — all subjective units of “success” I would evaluate others to be at, wishing I could find myself an equal in their presence.
And as a business owner, another layer is added. You don’t want to but soon enough you find yourself focusing on how you compare to the degree of success others have achieved. You analyze skill, training, service or product and rather than using others’ momentum as motivation, celebrating them and making space for you, you find yourself in one of two routes — feeling depressed and “less than” or separating yourself from others, scheming about how to get to the top of the mountain and leave others behind.
Now, is this the “real” me? Yes and no. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my brain and has an impact on how I think about things in the world. Is it all of me? No. See, our ego is just a part of our brain and while it is present throughout these interactions, it does not have to win out in those interactions. It’s like a nagging parent, belittling coworker or boss, or even the “one-upper friend”…we may not be able to get away from it all of the time but we can decide how we want to use that information and to what degree they get to control the narrative.
Why does it make us think this way?
Well, the ego is kind of like shame’s best friend. It creates perceptions and illusions that are rooted in fear and with one purpose - to avoid vulnerability at all cost. See, when we are vulnerable, there is a chance we can be hurt — rejected, made fun of, left behind, etc — and the ego does not want to be any part of that feeling. No, not to protect you, but to protect itself. And so instead, it jumps in, in an attempt to minimize that discomfort and eliminate the feeling of vulnerability by focusing on a perceived reality that takes you in one of two directions. The first choice, option A if you will, makes you feel as though you are inherently lesser and unworthy as compared to the people around you. The goal? To make it so you don’t try for anything greater or beyond the norm of predictable shittyness. It beats down your confidence to keep you in the confines of its grasp. If you don’t try for anything, you can’t be let down or hurt. Route 2? It starts to make you see all of the ways you are superior to others. You cut down or nitpick their success, you say things like “I could do that” or “I am a better ‘X’”. Rather than celebrate others, you seek to find their faults so as to create an artificial sense of superiority, which ultimately leads you to the same place as option A - disconnected and caged in to this alternate reality.
What can I do about it?
Well, the first thing is to know that in all actuality, the thing that bonds us is that we all feel this way. The antidote to shame and ego is to know we are all fighting to not feel shame and vulnerability and in that vein, we are all connected and belong to a community of people with a ton of fucking pressure on us, every day.
Once I could accept this and not inadvertently judge myself for judging myself, I could figure out what I wanted to do with it. I could either stay stuck in a cycle of shame and negative self talk, telling myself how terrible I am for feeling this way, swinging back and forth like a pendulum from superiority and inferiority, or I could find a way to manipulate those thoughts and feelings for a greater purpose.
See, I have learned to use these thoughts and feelings as signals. I see them as a sign I am focusing on external motivation and validation rather than intrinsic self worth, values and ideals. When I find myself in this space of thought, I check in with what I am worried about or fearful of. I ask myself about the ways in which I see myself striving to break out of the spaces of my comfort zone or even, the ways I have kept myself inside of it and long for the day I can break free. I move from judgment to curiosity as self judgment never does us any good. I think about the “why” behind the feeling and use it to create a roadmap of response.
Now, to be clear, this has taken me years of practice to not be guided by these thoughts and feelings. And it is not an all-or-nothing type thing. I find myself regularly getting stuck in those negative headspaces. I go to a friend’s public speaking event or see someone’s new artwork or the list of shows they are in and immediately find myself back in a state of comparison. It is not about being perfect at this game but instead being willing to keep playing and reevaluating.
Putting yourself out there is hard. Authenticity, in many ways, is synonymous with vulnerability and that is petrifying. If I am rejected for the version of me my ego creates or because of the performance I have perfected, that is one thing. But if I try for success? If I share my true self? If I show up fully to my own life and do not attach myself to the fucked up ideals and culture of comparison around me? Whoa. That is a lot. And that possibility of rejection feels infinitely more intense.
But think about it this way…if you are always living in a state of rule of the ego and shame, aren’t you just living in a shadow of rejection anyway?