As much as envy can be poisonous, I think it can also be one of the best motivators when used in a healthy way. I don’t think anyone is immune to some form of envy, jealousy, covetousness, discontent…it comes in various forms and it strikes in big and small ways. It makes you uncomfortable, wanting something you don’t have. Sometimes it’s something really silly and shallow, like wanting a new phone or pair of shoes. That’s fairly harmless and often fleeting, although it can be a mask for deeper discontent. Sometimes it’s wishing you had a certain physical feature or personality trait that you don’t naturally possess. That’s more complicated, where it’s probably advisable to just reroute your energy to being the best version of yourself that you can.
The form that you can harness, however, is jealousy of a certain talent, skill, creation, or achievement. When you see someone making art that you wish you made, or playing an instrument you wish you could play, or speaking another language you wish you could speak, etc. etc. This is the type of envy you should really pay attention to, and use it to propel you. My digital media professor this past semester said once, “jealousy is a motivating factor to get what you want, and is a giant clear flag of what you want. Don’t bury it.”
I like to check in with myself whenever I feel a flash of dislike towards someone, because I usually don’t make a habit of disliking people. Anytime I encounter someone, in real life or online, who seems cool but I instantly react negatively towards, I try to step back and identify why. Often, it’s a form of jealousy. Like, whoa, that person is a really good artist. I wish I had thought of that thing they made and made it myself. Or, hey, that person is not much older than me and has published a children’s book, that’s something that I want to accomplish in the near future. Or, wow, that person is working really hard and achieving some cool things, I would love to do the same.
Honestly, I think part of the reason I started this blog and have become more proactive about creating things–working on my writing, design, illustration, and photography–is partly due to envy. I was jealous of all the artists I had started to discover through Instagram that were making stuff that felt like stuff I could make if I tried. I was feeling some cognitive dissonance, starting to tell people that I wanted to illustrate a children’s book but not really practicing or sharing any art. I was discontented with where I was creatively, feeling like I had a lot of ideas that I never did anything with, and I decided that I was uncomfortable enough to finally take action. Because really, these feelings were motivational envy. It was wake-up-call jealousy. Why am I feeling like this? Oh right, because I’m being passive and lazy in this area. If you want to be a good artist, you have to show up and make art, not just do it on the rare occasions that you feel like it. I’m still working on that, but I’m getting better, because I’m motivated.
Now, I open Instagram and I get super inspired by all these great artists that I follow, because I’m starting to make stuff of my own that I kind of like. It’s like the Ira Glass quote, to paraphrase: you get frustrated in the beginning because the stuff you’re making doesn’t seem good to you, because you have good taste. But if you keep pushing through, if you keep working until your stuff starts to measure up to your own taste, then eventually, you get better, and you close that gap. But it takes work. And that sort of jealousy of the work you admire is a great motivator to keep putting in the work.
Going on Instagram keeps me motivated, because I have my art/blog account where I exclusively follow artists I love, and looking at all the beautiful stuff just makes me want to keep contributing my own beautiful stuff. I just really love pretty things, whether colors or objects or animals or plants or whatever, so I love that I can also sort of steal these things I admire or covet and make them my own through making art. I was watching a random old movie on TCM a little while ago, and I wrote down this line from it that stuck out to me:
“Well that’s one consolation about being an artist: at least you can paint the things dearest to your heart even if you can’t always have them”– Whiplash (1948)
And I don’t mean to exclude non-art situations here, because I definitely employ this concept in other areas, too. My family and friends have always motivated me immensely to be a better person by wanting to be more like them, with their various admirable qualities and strengths. People in my community who are contributing their talents to make our small town better inspire me to contribute what I can as well. Watching a few productivity-themed videos or vlogs online can be super motivating. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has turned from literally your next-door neighbors to the whole world with social media, so for better or for worse, there’s unlimited inspiration to tap into. You just need to turn envy from a downer into an asset, and you totally can, even if you need to follow or unfollow a few people to help with the process. And then, maybe it’s not “envy” anymore, maybe it’s an entirely different, positive thing.
A big component of this is to make sure your self-esteem is in the right place. If you don’t believe that you are capable and deserving of your idea of success, then you will struggle with celebrating the successes of other people, and you will struggle to tap into that positive comparison as opposed to hurtful comparison. You need to believe in your own worthiness for this to work. Again, it all boils down to being mindful about your feelings and how you live your life, to turn the negatives into positives wherever you can. I think I could end almost every post I write with “MINDFULNESS, yo.” and it would be relevant, which is good because that’s the point of this blog. And I think I’ve become overly mindful of how mindfulness applies to everything, haha. mindfulness, yo.
P.S. You may notice some links throughout my little essays on this blog. They may seem random, but usually I try to link videos or other articles that inspired my writing or that may be helpful and relevant resources. It’s my way of unobtrusively sharing some of my best curated finds, because as much as I love to create, I am constantly consuming as well. So I definitely recommend clicking the things I’ve linked for further exploration!