When I see my friends doing awesome stuff, I sometimes feel jealous. But it isn’t a negative emotion, it is an intensely positive one.
I suppose it is a form of inspiration that comes as a result of seeing someone I know achieving on a high level. Celebrities can be inspiring in a way that makes me think I could never achieve what they do but I might try to get close. Positive jealousy inspires me in a way that I think I could actually accomplish something.
I remember the first time I heard about the Appalachian Trail. My immediate reaction was that there was no way I could ever complete a through-hike of it. But the first person that I knew who succeeded that 4-month journey immediately inspired me to do the same.
Similarly, I remember hearing stories about people who practiced their instrument very hard and won competitions. I always thought it was just nice to think about but as soon as one of my friends won a concerto competition, I started practicing my butt off. When I am motivated by people I know personally, it is a much more poignant experience.
Emmanuel Pahud or Izhak Perlman can be super awesome but I will never aspire to their positions. However, if one of my colleagues gets a sweet job or a gig, I immediately start brainstorming how I could do the same.
It seems like we should be able to motivate ourselves in these ways but it is always helpful to have a bar to set. Not an impossible bar like “I want to be Katy Perry famous.” But a bar like “My friend won the concerto competition, so can I!”
So I just remind myself to view jealousy this way. I don’t hate the people of whom I am jealous. On the contrary, I love them! My jealousy is a kind of call to action to achieve what I want to.
Jealousy is also a litmus test for wanting things. If I am jealous of someone for achieving something, that thing is probably something I want badly. In a world where social media, hiring committees, and professors tell me what to want on a regular basis, jealousy reveals what I actually want.
Even positive jealousy can feel negative at first. But I just have to remind myself that it is a good thing to have the motivation that jealousy provides.