In a recent conversation with a friend it became clear to me that too often we think there isn’t enough of something, resulting in jealousy and envy, leading to negative thoughts and behaviours. Is it justified? Most of the time the scarcity we have in our mind doesn’t actually exist in the real world but the scarcity mindset and the negative competitiveness it introduces into our behavious (think office politics, backstabbing and lying) does more damage to us and our relationships than it contributes in any way to us achieving our goals.
Let me explain what I mean with all of this.
You can’t always get what you want
Think back to a time when a friend of yours had something you wanted, be it a new shiny bicycle to ride to school on, the latest trendy toy or maybe they got to go to Disneyland for a week during term break while you had to go camping with your annoying cousins at the lake 10 miles from your house.
For children to be envious in these situations is pretty normal, but us adults have life experience and maturity that should help us to not act like jealous jerks when someone has something we don’t.
And these situations come up all the time. A colleague got promoted when you thought you should be the person next in line; your brother bought exactly the car you wanted to buy but couldn’t afford; your best friend’s husband keeps in shape and spoils her with flowers and gifts while your spouse is more likely to spend the day in his man shed and drinks too much beer.
When you really think about these and plenty of other examples, ask yourself this: Does it take anything away from me if someone else has something I don’t? Unless we’re talking about organ donation where your friend gets the donation and you don’t (and you die), the answer is most commonly: No. It doesn’t take anything away from you at all.
In our mind though we’re suffering a bit, we’re hurting, because we feel short-changed by life. It’s unfair. Why can’t we have all of these things as well? After all, we work hard and we deserve them!
Replacing scarcity with abundance
I don’t want to focus on goal setting here and on how you can achieve the things you want. Instead I want to encourage you to let go of this scarcity mindset and think of abundance. There is plenty for everyone.
If your friend (or her husband, or both) are in great shape, fit and healthy and full of energy, that does not mean that they have the monopoly on it and that you cannot achieve it. Rather than focusing on your ‘lack’, on what you don’t have and what you haven’t achieved yet, be happy for them. Then work on it for yourself. Don’t look outward at the superficial and material things that are seemingly out of your reach. Look inward at the strength, the power and determination you have in yourself to change your situation.
Stop comparing. If your brother bought the car you want but can’t afford, the fact that he bought it doesn’t mean you should be mad at him. You probably still can’t afford it and if you can (now or later), I’m sure there will be plenty of cars left at the dealership for you to buy. Until then, be happy for him and go for a roadtrip together. That way you can enjoy the ride, spend quality time together and experience the car for yourself. You might even find out something new about each other and strengthen your relationship. And tell him that you were jealous, so you can both laugh it off.
In work situations, envy can lead to tricky situations, to time-consuming political game playing and commonly result in people shifting their focus away from the job at hand and onto things that hinder them in doing their best work.
Sure, if your colleague gets a promotion for the one role you wanted, there might not be another one like it available. If you resort to backstabbing behaviour and to playing games as a result, you will hurt your own reputation which isn’t beneficial at all.
Swallow your pride and work within the new arrangement, continue to prove your worth and deliver your best work. Instead of talking your way to the top and getting there through games and alliances, make sure that you achieve your goals through the quality of your work in a fair way that will let you sleep at night and that you’d be proud to tell your children or parents about. Honesty is the best policy and being a conscientious team player will pay off in the long-run. Every time.
If you are in a toxic workplace where political games are the only way forward, get out. For your own benefit, your mental and emotional health.
Pick your battles
Every day we face situations where other people’s decisions impact us. We think (or shout) ‘this is unfair’. I don’t want to suggest we just take it on the chin and move on, but let’s pick our battles wisely. If it’s time to speak up, speak up. Unfairness, injustice and all the ‘isms’ (racism, sexism, etc.) that come with it, are not ok.
There are situations, however, which are not worth your energy to battle. These are different for everyone. They could be attacks from social media trolls. In my situation they’re not really attacks but just annoying comments. If I see a chance to educate someone, I will. If I think it’s hopeless, then I just block people and move on.
Abundance in daily life
In a work environment, I see the abundance mindset being helpful when you manage people or projects. You cannot do all the work yourself and if you have perfectionism tendencies like myself, it’s time to chill out and give others a chance to prove to you that they are very well capable (often even more so) of doing the work that you thought you had to do. Delegating and giving tasks to others creates opportunities for them to have variety in their jobs, try something new, tackle a different challenge and build new skills. Don’t hog it all for yourself, give generously and spend your time doing the things you are really good at and where you can add value.
Abundance is also important in communities, be they your local church group, your sports club or our beloved dataviz online community. Creating a space for people to learn, network, exchange ideas, meet and grow together is something I find intellectually stimulating and very satisfying. I get a kick out of helping people. And the best way for me to help people is to put myself behind the scenes to pull the strings that make things happen. I enjoy seeing people succeed and to gently nudge (or push) them a bit further into the spotlight of the community so their work is seen.
I don’t do it to gain attention or glory for myself. The building of my brand is certainly a benefit that I consciously pursue but it is not the driver behind my work. I love situations where I can make something happen for people and sometimes they don’t even realize it. And then comes their moment to shine and I sit here (or elsewhere) and get to witness people doing amazing things. Yes, it is nice to know that I helped them and that gives me satisfaction. And in my opinion it is perfectly acceptable to help others and receive this satisfying feeling in return.
How I handle jealousy
I’m not free of jealousy. I would never make that claim. What I try to do, however, is to direct my jealousy into energy that motivates and drives me to achieve my goals. I also try and make jealousy a short-lived feeling by assessing each situation rationally.
For example: I might see a woman walking down the street in an amazing dress and she looks stunning. Option A: I could get mad at her for having such a great figure, amazing hair and the money to buy that dress. I could then move on to wish bad things on her like ‘I bet she had surgery done’ or ‘Maybe her boyfriend is a boring loser’.
People think that kinda stuff and when you read it, it sounds really pathetic. The only person I am affecting with these thoughts is myself and I’d immediately put myself into a bad mood.
Instead why not go with Option B: Depending on the environment, I might actually walk up to her and tell her she looks absolutely amazing. I’ve done that a few times and you wouldn’t believe how happy it makes people to receive a genuine compliment from people. In any case, whether I talk to her or not, I should give her a quiet compliment in my mind for putting together a great outfit. I could then try and find that dress for myself if I like it that much and if I think it would suit me. Or I could simply be delighted to have seen a person I admire and get on with my day.
The woman looking beautiful doesn’t take anything away from me. It doesn’t make me look less attractive, it doesn’t make me poor, hungry or homeless.
By making the jealousy short-lived and simply acknowledging someone else’s achievements, skills, beauty, etc. I can collect positive moments from my environment instead of poisoning my mind with hateful thoughts.
Stop comparing yourself to others
An important element for fostering abundance in your life is to stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone, you included, can make meaningful and lasting contributions to our society. In previous generations, there was often the mindset that if there is an expert in the field, there is no room for anyone else. ‘Why would they listen to you when there is someone who is much more experienced and established?’
Well, this has changed significantly through the internet and the global network we have formed. Sure, if I write something about data visualization, it might already have been written about by someone else. They may have even included lots of ‘how to’s ‘ and videos, write a blog every day and create so much content that my contribution seems pathetic. But there will readers who will like my content. Maybe they like my writing style or the way I explain things, etc.
And for this reason I want to encourage you to not think with a scarcity mindset, assuming there is no room for you. Just like you make room for others in your community, at work and in your family, make sure you also claim some room for yourself in the environment that matter to you.
Your contribution is important and will matter to people around you. Don’t be discouraged if your success takes a little while to develop. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you may not quite be the next unicorn. But you are you with your unique voice, view points, opinions, skills and methods. Share that with the world if you wish and build it up step by step. Think with abundance, because there is enough space for everyone. Today we have people building businesses around products and services which we never even conceived of a few years ago. There is room for them. There is always room for passionate people. Claim your space and give others the space and the applause they deserve.