I occasionally like to share online articles that I like, and you’ll see sporadic posts entitled “Articles I Like” throughout the blog. But honestly, Curated is probably a more accurate title. I recently found an article by Benjamin Schaefer on the website Electric Literature, although I was led there by ThePassiveVoice website. The article is entitled “We need to talk about professional jealousy,” but if you read through it, you’ll see that the term isn’t quite right.
He is writing from the perspective of a writer who is not as successful as some other writer friends. And when he saw their successes, he tried to hide from what he was feeling, telling himself that it was jealousy. But as he notes, it is not really jealousy. If you accept that jealousy is usually experienced from the perspective that someone else has something, it is finite, and therefore you can’t have it, or even more pointedly that it is something that can be taken from you by another, seeing someone else’s success is more about envy than true jealousy.
And I find that an incredible nuance. I have always felt that “jealousy” was never the right term in careers, writing or otherwise, even when it was a position you competed for and didn’t get. I have never felt like, “Oh, they got it, and I didn’t” in any semblance of jealousy. I didn’t begrudge them their success. As a friend liked to joke when she missed out on some opportunities that she wasn’t qualified for, it’s so unfair when they hire these bright, talented people with experience instead of a random Jane like her!
As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve seen people who used to work for me go higher and higher. Or colleagues who were at the same level and aspiring to even higher heights. Occasionally, I wonder if perhaps I should have pushed harder to go higher, even when I know in my heart it’s not what I want. Yet I could feel something there. And envy is a much more accurate description than jealousy.
I was also intrigued how even inaccurately calling it jealousy the way most literature does, or more accurately calling it envy as a therapist might, it still wasn’t really what he was experiencing. It was more disappointment than envy. Which is a really subtle nuance. You might often feel envy that someone else has something that you would have liked to experience too. But if it is disappointment, it is more tied to ego…the article doesn’t discuss it, but if it is disappointment, then you have to have had hopes that you were a) good enough to achieve the same outcomes and b) that you actually tried.
Many people might feel envy as just envy. They would like the same outcome/success too, but they actually have no talent to match nor even have tried to achieve it. I might be envious of a QB’s success in the NFL, but it’s not anything resembling realistic envy because I could never do that, not physically, mentally, intellectually or emotionally. That wasn’t even close to an option for me. So that would clearly be envy, not disappointment.
But within my own field? Yeah, I can see how there could be some aspect of disappointment in there for some situations. It is, after all, related to one of the biggest fears I have in life — that “unrealized potential” would be a really sad epitaph.
Ultimately though, I just really liked the nuances. Maybe others will too.