Overcoming Jealousy


Lauren: What to do when Beyoncé steals the show. Again.

by Lauren Fitzpatrick, Contributor

Corey Torpie

Beyoncé’s birthday is one day after mine. I know this because every year in college I used to watch the MTV Video Music Awards, and every year they used to talk about the celebrity-studded party she was going to throw in an exclusive palace decorated with live fairies and money trees. She’d appear onstage with her perfect hair and knock-you-down curves then blow the audience away before disappearing into a puff of smoke. I tried not to compare her birthday to my own, which was usually celebrated by tapping a keg with my roommates in the basement, except for the year when a pipe burst so we had to drink upstairs in the kitchen instead.

I tried not to compare Beyoncé’s life to mine, but I couldn’t help myself. How could this woman who was a mere twenty-four hours my junior be so wildly successful, while I couldn’t even decide which classes to take next semester? How had she achieved so much when I had achieved so little? I ignored the obvious facts that 1) she’s fiercely talented and 2) she works her ass off. I chose to be irrationally jealous, making annual jokes about Beyoncé stealing my thunder, again.

Soon, it wasn’t just Beyoncé who got my jealousy flowing. It was people I actually knew, which hit much closer to home. I began to pay close attention to job titles, because I didn’t really have one. People who had graduated three years after I did were legitimately calling themselves teachers and production assistants. I even knew a girl who became an FBI agent. The thought of working for the FBI didn’t appeal to me one bit, but I was still jealous. Not of her job, but at her clear career label, the way she seemed to have things figured out.

I subconsciously picked which elements of another person’s life to fixate on. It didn’t matter if they were living with their parents and generally miserable, I’d focus on the fact that they’d been published and I hadn’t. They had something concrete to write in that little box labeled “occupation” on the airplane landing card, whereas I was still writing student. Once I put writer, but changed it at the last minute because it felt like a fraudulent claim. The only things I was writing were emails and rambling journal entries.

The most uncomfortable part of remembering my jealousy is the knowledge that I was most jealous of people who worked toward what they wanted. Jealousy was just a cover emotion; I was actually annoyed with myself for not making the effort I knew I was capable of, the effort necessary to achieve success. I delayed making a full commitment to my writing because of the fear that I’d throw myself into it and still get nowhere. If that happened, then what? It was simpler to stay jealous.

When Jared and I first started dating, he introduced me to his friends from college, a couple who lived in Canberra and worked for the government. They had a cute little house with a wood-burning stove and real wine glasses; one of them even had a degree in communications, just like me. Unlike me, he had been published in several agricultural magazines, on top of his regular full-time job. There was the jealousy again, the feeling that someone else was living my life better than I was.

I started to notice that the more closely another person’s success aligned with what I wished for myself, the more acute my jealousy. I’d never wanted Beyoncé’s lavish parties (okay, maybe a little), but what stuck with me was the way she’d made a career out of self-expression. Writing for farming publications wasn’t for me, but Jared’s friend had found his niche, and that’s what I envied. I felt like I was floundering in my lack of direction, while all around me my peers were moving confidently in the direction of their dreams. Ironically, many of my own friends thought I was living a fantasy, traveling around the world without being tied down to one particular job.

When you don’t have growing up figured out, it’s easy to believe that everybody else does.

In an effort to color in my own future, I went back to school to do a master’s in writing. As I talked to the other students on the course, I started to see that very few people actually have confidence in what they’re doing. Despite this, some had written books or been published in magazines, largely because they had the guts to try. They weren’t luckier than I was or inherently better at life, and it gave me more faith in my own abilities. When I finally started taking risks with my own creative endeavors, I found that I was less envious of others (not totally jealousy-free, but mostly). I’m in a place now where I see other people’s success as inspiring, not a reminder of my own failings.

This year, Beyoncé and I turn thirty-three. I think back to the year we turned twenty-one, and I’m amazed by how far we’ve come since then. Of course I still felt a little flare of jealousy when I saw clips of her killing it in sequins in front of that flashing “FEMINIST” sign at the VMAs, but I don’t make jokes about her taking over my birthday anymore. I watched her perform, hug her partner, and kiss her baby, and I was a little awestruck. Why had I wasted energy being jealous of a stranger when I could have been learning from her?

As if Beyoncé would steal someone’s thunder; that woman makes her own, and it’d do me good to take notes on how she does it.

Lauren Fitzpatrick

Lauren graduated from Indiana University with no idea of what to do next, so she got a working holiday visa for Ireland. Over the next ten years she worked her way around the world, picking up a Master’s in travel writing and an Australian fiancé along the way. She is now based in Newcastle, Australia, and still doesn’t understand what “settling down” is supposed to mean.

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  • Sara

    This is something that I struggle with daily. And I just recently realized other people do as well :) Not that I thought other people were immune, but just the general ‘what the hell am I doing’ part of life is something people don’t talk about often. I just got back from vacation with a few friends, and one of my girlfriends that I greatly admire and am insanely jealous of how put together her life is (booming editorial career, loving husband, just adopted a retired racing greyhound) told me she was jealous of ME(!) for how much I’ve travelled and that her goal was to see as many places as I have. It really took me back that someone could look at my life and see something to envy when I feel so aimless.
    I went to another friends house on Saturday where we all talked about youtube videos/reddit/Imgur posts we had watched/seen during work hours and I felt better about not having figured out my career life yet.

  • “There was the jealousy again, the feeling that someone else was living my life better than I was.”

    I definitely struggle with this. I spend a lot of time comparing myself to my peers — even my partner, since we’re the same age and he has things much more figured out than I do — and it’s jealousy, but it’s also insecurity. This “what do they have that I don’t, that allows them to be successful?” line of thought. I end up convincing myself that based on their successful results and my lack thereof, I don’t have what it takes.

    I think what helps me most is the realization that I don’t want what they have: “being an FBI agent or writing for agro magazines don’t actually appeal to me.” Which allows me to own my life. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read was to “write your own story” — in a world where we’re surrounded by everyone else’s success story, it’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else did to make it, but when I focus on the fact that what I hope to write (literally and metaphorically) isn’t what they’re writing, I begin to try harder to find my own voice.

    • Meg Keene

      I think the only way to “make it” (whatever that means) is to listen to your own internal voice as hard as you can. That’s the only thing that can guide you to your success, and the truth is, nobody else’s success will feel like success to you.

      That sounds very woo-woo, but I actually don’t mean it in that way at all. I mean it in a really literal, you’ll know when you’re on the right track for YOU, if you pay attention to your voice, not all the others.

    • Anonymous

      That line got me too. I struggle with jealousy/envy EVERY. DAY. I try to keep mantras like “don’t compare your insides to someone’s outisdes” in my head, but I find it so hard not to look at people around me and feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t measure up. I try to focus on what I’m grateful for, like my absolutely wonderful husband, but then it seems like my friends/peers also have wonderful husbands, plus killer wardrobes and 10x the money. At 32, I still feel like I haven’t found my path in life, and, like you say, I feel as if I don’t have what it takes. My way of coping is to try to gain inspiration from people who didn’t “make it”, so to speak, until their later years (there are a lot of them!).

    • anon

      “This “what do they have that I don’t, that allows them to be successful?” line of thought. I end up convincing myself that based on their successful results and my lack thereof, I don’t have what it takes.”

      The post + the line above really hit home for me. I’m in a phase of extreme jealousy right now, and I really wish I weren’t. It’s almost a year after a 4-month relationship ended, and that blip followed a multi-year drought which came on the heels of a short relationship that occurred after a multi-year drought…. and I’m just jealous jealous jealous of people in relationships, of people who date easily, of people with prospects. It’s been a depressingly unfulfilling summer of first dates that go nowhere and being alone and people around me finding their people and me still being, yet again, alone. My inability to find a mate, or even just a second date, is eating me up. I’m trying and nothing happens. I let go and stop trying and nothing happens. I move and nothing happens. I try the internet and nothing happens. I go to group events and nothing happens. Everything feels futile.

      So…I think my jealousy is also about insecurity (am I dateable? lovable? capable of relationships?), but it’s also about really wanting something I don’t have. Which is tough, because even if I can (momentarily) excise the insecurity, I’m still left feeling empty. And if I (momentarily) excise the jealousy, I still wonder about my capacity for human partnership. The “so what if I live a generally decent life, if I lack the thing that all effort to find has merited zip” downward spiral ain’t pretty. Lots to work on.

      • LucyPirates

        You are literally describing me at New Year’s Eve… including the years of drought despite the first dates or rare occasions of a 2nd and 3rd… Even though I had (and have) a happy full life and was refusing to settle for just anyone, it is MEGA mega hard not to be jealous as this is not down to a lack of effort or trying. In this instance, I would say this is not the same as jealousy of success, more a jealous of circumstances, which are to some degree out of your control.
        However, I decided that the only thing to do was to go on as many fun dates as much as possible to at least give myself the most possible chances – New Years Resolution made. I met my boyfriend on Jan 11th. This is not to say that the fairy tale ending has happened but it’s looking good!
        All this to say, I have been there, it sucks, and you are allowed to say it sucks and be a bit jealous. Just keep in your head that it isn’t you, you just haven’t met your person yet

      • CPR

        Oh, sister…I feel you so much. After getting dumped by the guy I was beyond convinced I was going to marry, I went through a 7 year dating dry spell. You read that right… 7 years, not one date. I watched my friends pair up; I watched them get married, have kids, and buy houses. I even watched some get divorced and RE-married in that timeframe. Those made me really, really angry. I can’t get a date while you can convince not one, but two people to marry you?!?! My jealousy ran deep. But, even worse, my loneliness knew no bounds.

        I’m not going to tell you it gets better – that you’ll totally find someone any day now or that you just need to stop worrying about it and your perfect partner will magically arrive at your doorstep. I remember how trite and patronizing all those things sounded when I was struggling with my loneliness and how, often, they just made me feel worse. But I’ll say, again, that I feel you. That I know the empty feeling you have. That I, too, have wondered if I was dateable, lovable, capable of partnership. And that, in my experience, there’s nothing wrong with admitting those feelings and owning those feelings and sometimes even wallowing in those feelings. But, also, that digging deep to do the work that you’ve already mentioned in your post is the best thing you can do right now. It’s good for the people who are in your life right now and it’s good for the people and partners who will be in your life in the future. But, most of all, it’s good for you.

  • Shotgun Shirley

    “When you don’t have growing up figured out, it’s easy to believe that everybody else does.”
    Yep. This. I think I’ve got everyone fooled with this grown up thing, what with my real job, real travel, two kids, & hubs. Except I don’t; I often feel we’re in a weird holding pattern since we still live with his mom. Nobody I know personally is doing that and I’m often jealous of other marrieds’ distance from their in laws. (Even a few blocks counts as distance.)

  • Kelly

    Well, that couple from Canberra might have lived in a cute little house and been published in magazines, but they also had to endure living in the most boring city in Australia…

    Jokes aside, I always love you posts, Lauren! As a now 30-year-old grad student who spent her twenties working and traveling seasonally, I identify so hard. Nothing else to add, you hit the nail on the head.

  • JD

    This is a very timely post for me. Lately some of my closest cohort have really been trading up in various facets of life, and it has been hard to swallow. I always try to make a point of not being jealous of others, of really being happy for them, but I realized last week (with some horror) that I was only able to contain my jealousy because they had been envying my life, and now that they were “catching up” in their eyes, my life just wasn’t so awesome to them anymore. It pisses me off to no end that I had basically been judging my own life through the eyes of others (without realizing it no less), and I am still ashamed to admit that is the case. Now I’m trying to retool my thinking and fall truly back in love with my life, not because my friends envy it, but because I envy it and love it and enjoy each moment of it.

  • Sarah E

    “The most uncomfortable part of remembering my jealousy is the knowledge that I was most jealous of people who worked toward what they wanted. Jealousy was just a cover emotion; I was actually annoyed with myself for not making the effort I knew I was capable of, the effort necessary to achieve success. I delayed making a full commitment to my writing because of the fear that I’d throw myself into it and still get nowhere. If that happened, then what? It was simpler to stay jealous.”

    Same here. Total cover for just being really frustrated with/disappointed in myself. Then I get fixated on external things: If I only had a house, a dog, fancy kitchen appliance, eco-friendly everything, makeup, clothes, whatever. . .THEN I’d be able to reach the unspoken goal. Even though my wiser self knows that none of that is true. Buying shit is easier than self-work, though, that’s for damn sure.

  • C Eller

    Thank you, Lauren!! I turned 33 last month and have really struggled with envying the career success of others. It reached an all-time low recently when I found myself begrudging a really nice graduate-degreed 25-year old their promotion because of my insecurity (even though I would never want to manage hospital dieticians!). I found success in my design career and was in management by 25. But, corrupt behavior by my then-employer and a pre-existing health condition led me to take an executive assistant job 3 years ago. It’s been miserable at times and humbling to discover just how much of my identity is, in fact, wrapped up in what I do for a living (or what I get to say that I do for a living). Changes in healthcare mean that I can now actually consider starting my own design business (yay and terrifying!). But regardless of what I do next, I’m sure I’ll always have to fight the reflexive tendency to compare myself with others. A lot of social media makes it easy to see only the “highlight reels” of those around us. Thanks, Lauren and APW for posts that include behind-the-scenes footage and encouragement to be ourselves :) “Comparison is the thief of joy” – attributed to FDR

  • Violet

    The “growing up” part of this is so crucial in my case. When I was younger, I had PLENTY to be insecure about. And that insecurity made me jealous of others. In the ever-continuing process of growing up, I’ve changed to the point where I have less to objectively be insecure about. And yet, jealousy is still my knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone else whom I admire. These days when I try to find the underlying insecurity prompting the jealousy, it’s not really there anymore, so then I just feel like an evil person for feeling jealous for “no reason.” Reading Lauren’s beautiful piece has me realizing that jealousy is just sort of a vestigial organ from another time in my life, like wisdom teeth or an appendix. Maybe it made sense before, but it certainly doesn’t now. Mental note from now on when I’m feeling jealous to remind myself that admiration/respect is the healthier substitute for when I see someone else living their life in a way I admire. It’s gonna take some time for me to disentangle this admiration/jealousy link, as it’s had several years to become ingrained.

    • Audrey

      Your mileage may vary, but I’ve been (slowly) learning that beating myself up for feeling things doesn’t work. I, too, have issues with jealousy, but it works better for me to acknowledge it and not fight it rather than attempting to force something else. I love the “vestigial” analogy – it’s there and not going away, but we can acknowledge the feeling and make peace with it without giving it power to shape our actions.

      • Violet

        Exactly! Feeling guilty over feeling jealous isn’t going to get me anywhere. But I do prefer to have a substitute thought process to shake me out of my old habits. “Don’t feel jealous” isn’t exactly something I can just do, like flipping a light switch. But recognize the feeling, acknowledge it, and then turn my attention to admiring the person and how good *that* feels? Yeah, that I can slowly adjust over time.

  • Just Saying

    Beyonce also had successful parents who knew how to manage and guide her career. She did not have to figure it out all by herself. Innate talent combined with a strong support system was key to her success.

    • Lawyerette510

      I think this is a key point, having parents who can identify innate talent and help develop it is a HUGE advantage.

  • S

    “Jared’s friend had found his niche, and that’s what I envied. I felt like I was floundering in my lack of direction, while all around me my peers were moving confidently in the direction of their dreams. Ironically, many of my own friends thought I was living a fantasy, traveling around the world without being tied down to one particular job.”
    This whole post is so so good, but this particular quote really struck me. I just turned thirty and am really struggling with where I am in life at the moment. Recently I found out a close friend is pregnant again, and (I’m not proud of this) my initial reaction was to be angry. She and her husband seem so happy since they had their first child, and it’s hard not to be jealous. Outwardly, it probably looks like I have a lot of good things going on in my life. But internally I’m struggling with our lack of children/careers/marriage. As Lauren says, it feels like my friend has found her niche as a mother, while I too am floundering with lack of direction. And after awhile you do start to wonder if it’s because you don’t want it badly enough, or are deficient in some way. Thanks for sharing this Lauren

  • Yup.

    I should probably have something more to say. But that’s all I’ve got right now.

  • Gemjay

    I relate totally to this but more about finances. Every time someone I know buys a house I get filled will crazy green envy. I literally can feel it physically sometimes.

  • MC

    Ha! I had to laugh at this, because I too know the feeling of comparing myself unfairly to a celebrity. Taylor Swift is exactly 3 days older than I am, and when I learned that a few years back, I was like, “WTF?! She already has like 3 albums out and I haven’t even graduated college or done anything of note. Am I a failure??”

    But, I mean, TSwift and I have COMPLETELY different life trajectories. (Aside from the fact that we’re both obsessed with our cats.) So I try not to compare too much and instead I love cheering her career on and seeing how she’s growing, because it makes me realize that I’m growing, too!

  • Jenny

    Thank you so much for posting this. The last few months have been really difficult for me. I have a doctorate degree & have had a difficult time finding a job. I have been constantly comparing my work experiences to my peers & had that “feeling that someone else was living my life better than I was.” Your entry really resonates with so many us because we’ve all been there too. I just need to find my path & take my own creative risks. Thank you. Thank you for saying what we’ve all been thinking but just don’t say,