If you’ve ever felt jealousy creeping up on you when hearing about someone’s amazing success – or compared it to your own life – don’t worry. You’re only human. Here’s how to harness that energy for productive use.
It’s raining today as I write this, which always puts me in a contemplative mood. That means it’s time to talk about one of the lesser-discussed aspects of the financial journey. Jealousy.
For the exactly seven people in this world who have never felt an ounce of jealousy in their life, this article is not for you. We appreciate your sunshine and rainbows and would like you to revisit next week to share your unbridled enthusiasm for others’ well-being. For literally every other person on the planet, settle in.
Jealousy: A Natural Product of Circumstance
We have talked in the past about how important it is to be getting constant exposure to new ideas. In fact, it’s the ideas you don’t know about that are costing you more from your financial future than all the mistakes that are currently on your radar combined. That means one of the most important things you can do to secure your financial well-being is to be sniffing out success stories: Ragingly successful people who retired at half your age. Or niche experts who can tell you about a technique that earned them thousands of dollars that you frankly missed out on for 20 years. It means joining communities that celebrate their knowledge of things you were ignorant of for years. You can start to see the problem here…
That information is fantastic for your future self. But it’s a constant beating for your pride.
Will you feel jealous? Heck yeah, you will! Who wouldn’t?
It’s not a good feeling. Many people try and avoid the whole mess by eliminating any inputs that could trigger their jealousy. They don’t want to hear any stories about people doing better than them. But that’s a sad reaction. It makes their lives smaller. It cuts them off from valuable knowledge that could better their circumstances.
So knowing that you are deliberately putting yourself in the path of these feelings (for the greater good), is there any way to mitigate the negative aspects of the jealousy beast?
Harnessing The Beast
How Jealousy Feels vs What It’s Actually Like
You can absolutely make the beast work for you. Left to its own devices, it’ll happily trample all over your self-esteem and your happiness. You just need to give it a job, and it will direct its energy towards a more productive use.
When you hear about someone’s crazy success, your mind starts to generate a cloud of questions. Why not me? What privilege did they have that allows me to discount this story? Did I miss the memo? Am I a failure?
Literally none of these questions are helpful.
You can disarm them by taking control of the conversation in your brain. Your brain can only hold onto one thought at a time. Substitute these spontaneously-generated questions with a deliberate regimen.
Ask yourself two questions:
- Am I better off than I was 6 months, 1 year, 2 years ago?
- If I’m not, were there extenuating circumstances (i.e. health issue, etc.) that would excuse a lack of progress?
This gets your brain focused on the comparison that really matters: You vs Past You.
What does your personal progress look like? And are you happy with the pace of that progress? It doesn’t matter if someone out there retired with $10 million at age 32. It doesn’t matter if your brother-in-law is a surgeon making $400k a year. Not a single penny of their fortune is going to better your life. But fortunately, every single penny of your own nest egg will. So focus on that.
If the answer to the first question is resounding yes of progress, hopefully you are feeling a little calmer. If the answer to question 1 was no, and you move onto question two and the answer is still no, then you have some real problems you need to account for. In this case, the jealousy is a wake up call that you need to fix a real problem in your life. Thank goodness it got you to focus on this gaping hole.
Now that you’re firmly back in the mindset of you and how your life is going, you can ask yourself some factually-based questions that allow you to derive value from the story you’re hearing.
- What new ideas are they implementing that I might like to explore?
- Did anything about this story challenge the way I think about how to achieve success in this world?
For example, maybe your buddy is telling you of their acquaintance that used multi-family real estate investments to retire with a few million at 35. Aside from wishing you also had millions at 35, had you considered multi-family real estate investments? Might that be worth some research given this interesting story and outsized outcome you just heard about?
You take the impatience that jealousy has created, and you channel it into action that will push you forward in your own journey.
A Few Examples
I won’t pretend that this transition from slavering, angry jealousy beast to rational optimizer comes easily. But I can say it gets smoother over time. With more practice, the steps come more quickly.
How would I know? I’ve spent my life surrounded by insanely successful people. I chose a school full of future Nobel prize winners, US Presidents, and Fortune 500 CEOS. I then spent years in an industry that put me in regular day to day contact with financiers and CEO’s worth $50+ million each. I have plenty of experience being the small fry in the room. I had to deal with feelings of jealousy and inferiority all the time. And you know what’s encouraging to remember? Literally every incredibly successful person does. It’s a natural byproduct of constantly trying to expose yourself to good ideas and best practices.
Here are a few stories of how a jealousy-inducing story was disarmed and made to accelerate my own path to financial independence.
Towards the end of my time in college, I attended a one week exchange program in Asia. One of the speakers they had arranged for us to hear from was a successful local entrepreneur. I later had the chance to catch up with him over coffee one-on-one, and the stories he shared were incredible. He had built a successful overseas shipping company that did a few million in revenue annually. He had also just raised a $50 million venture capital fund of his own. He was 34. His girlfriend, he told me, also ran her own business, and had made her first million just before her 30th birthday.
As an eager 21 year-old who had done basically nothing of real note in life besides binge-read bad books when I should have been studying for midterms, I was floored. I was initially eaten by all sorts of ugly feelings. I was about to start my own adult journey. Was I going to get anywhere near close to that level of success?
After I had stewed in my own jealousy for a while, I started to ask myself the questions above. It was cool that I had heard these stories so young. Maybe these two had gotten started earlier than I had, but if I started now, I might shave years off the plan I had initially set for myself. These stories made me appreciate the benefits of owning one’s own business much more than I had before. After all, while he had been clear the first few years were absolute hell, he and his girlfriend both got to enjoy the benefits of a thriving asset that continued to throw off huge amounts of cash, even when they wanted to turn their attentions to other activities like starting a venture capital fund.
If I hadn’t been intrigued by the idea of starting my own company then, I certainly was now. And later when an opportunity I hadn’t considered came up – working at an investment firm – I recognized it as a particularly intriguing path in finance, whereas most of the jobs in the field were not relevant to my journey. After all, as an investor, you owned chunks of exactly these assets that had ongoing value, but you didn’t do the hard work of building them. Your hard work was finding and making the investment happen. This success story sparked jealousy in me, but it also gave me valuable information I could use in my own life to great impact. To this day, I think of choosing that first job in the investment space as one of the three best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
A few years later, working as an investor, I spent a lot of time in meetings with the CEO’s of successful businesses. Many of them were founder-CEO’s – folks who had started the business themselves – and a lot of them were young. Like, 26-29 years old young.
I would leave these meetings and go home to my boyfriend (now-husband) and complain. Look at these wunderkinds! I was so behind. I wasn’t worth $20 million. Even if I buckled down now, I surely wouldn’t have a majorly successful business to show for myself by the time I was 26-29!
But here’s the thing.
I asked myself how hard they were working, and whether I had it in me to do so as well. I asked myself what level of risk they were taking, and whether I had the appetite to do so myself. It was time to put up or shut up.
Over the years I worked as an investor, I developed a new appreciation for starting a business, and realized that most businesses were not ones I’d want to run myself. I don’t like managing people. I don’t like selling. And the risk they took so early in life went against my own appetite in a way I hadn’t really had to confront. Here I was kvetching about their success when really I should be thanking them for the valuable insights they gave me – their war stories showed me that I probably did not want to start a start-up the way I thought I did when I first graduated. I later discovered there were avenues like blogging that were also entrepreneurial that fit my personality, but I was seriously considering starting an internet start-up when I graduated, and I’m so glad I dodged that bullet. I was exactly the wrong sort of person to start that kind of start-up. Their stories helped me refine my own path without having to go through their pain.
Perhaps even more important, these regular meetings made me come to terms with how hard these extremely successful people worked. Most of these entrepreneurs would tell me about how they worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week. How they hadn’t taken a vacation the first four years of the business. How even now, they can’t go anywhere without their email and smartphone attached to their hip.
How many hours was I working? When I clocked out on a Monday night, had I done anything exceptional to convince my firm I should get promoted or get a raise? Was there another person in my class who had done more? I’m a daydreamer. I like to loaf, and think big thoughts, and generally lay on the couch thinking about doing things but not necessarily doing them. This regular diet of constant reminders of how hard others were working prodded me into accomplishing a lot more than I would have on my own.
Bottom line, you can turn the energy of jealousy into spurring yourself to greater action. Jealousy is impatience for more, sooner. Use that impatience to get you to invest more into your own progress. Put in the extra hour at work. Read that extra blog article on Roth IRAs. Jealousy is a helpful companion when you strip it of its power but use its reserve of energy.
In order to achieve your greatest potential success in life, you need to be exposing yourself to new and upgraded ideas compared to your old life. Climbing a higher rung of success necessarily means exposing yourself to others who have achieved more than you, with techniques more spectacular than yours. While you may feel that the jealousy this creates is a liability, it is actually an employee that can be harnessed to help you achieve faster progress. The faster you can get used to jealousy and make it work for you, the quicker your road to success will be.
What do you think? Have you been able to harness the impatience created by jealousy to work harder on your own goals?