I learned recently that I’m an enneagram 4w3. That’s a type four, with a three wing. Apparently, that means that I’m hardwired to be both dramatic and envious. Oh, and highly emotional.
Fantastic. I’m predisposed to sour grapes.
Jealousy and envy aren’t the same thing, so at least I have that going for me.
I mean, I’m not a complete monster. I don’t want you not to be loved. I just don’t want you to be loved more than me. (Don’t look at me like that!)
Like, we can both be wildly successful. That would be awesome.
We can both knock it out of the park doing the same thing. Or you doing your thing and me doing mine. Whatever.
But if I’m working just as hard as you are and it seems like you’re getting than I am? More money, more fame, more attention — all of which boils down to more love?
There’s this curly-headed little girl in a tutu that lives inside of me. And she pays close attention to stuff like that. Let’s call her Grapella.
And let’s just say that Grapella is not the loveliest part of my personality and to be honest, I’m pretty happy that I can blame her on whatever enneagram is.
Because sour grapes aren’t a good look for anybody.
But I have to deal with them, sometimes. (Thanks, 4w3.) Not all the time. I mean, I’ve had therapy. But when I’ve worked really hard and it feels like I haven’t had the result I think I should have?
Or worse, someone else has done better. And, oh my God, if I think they haven’t worked as hard as me? Seriously. Yeah, Grapella starts crushing her Shasta cans. The sour is so strong, I can’t get the taste out of my mouth.
But — I have to. If I want to be a healthy person who has relationships with other humans, I have to figure out how to manage the worst parts of my personality.
I’m not going so far as to call it making . . . um . . . grapeade out of sour grapes? (Did I really just go there?) But I’ve learned how to turn my envy into something manageable.
Know it When You Feel it
Sometimes, when you’re caught in a cycle of righteous indignation, it can be difficult to notice that you’re maybe not in such a healthy place. Okay — so maybe that other guy didn’t work as hard as you and maybe they don’t deserve more than you have, but you definitely don’t deserve to make yourself sick over it.
And the real truth? You probably don’t know the other guy’s whole story. But we’ll get into that in a minute.
So take a deep breath. Acknowledge that your ugly side is showing. The first step to tucking it back away where it belongs is acknowledging that it was out in the first place.
Everyone has their bugaboos. This is yours. It’s going to be okay.
Recognize That You Don’t Know Everything
Okay, so that person who didn’t work as hard as you? The one who got more than you did when they didn’t even try? It turns out that you can’t possibly know their whole whole story.
It’s true that some people are born with privilege. They’re born in the right bodies, in the right year, in the right family, in the right place. Some people just start out halfway done with the race, you know.
Hell, some of us start out at the finish line. Those are the breaks. We can work on evening the playing field, but at any given moment, it is what it is.
And then there are the lucky people. They get the right idea and implement it at the right moment in space and time. And those people really can look to the outside world like they have everything the rest of us work so hard for just dumped into their laps.
All I can tell you is that you don’t know anyone’s story but your own. Not all of it. At the very least, you don’t know how hard they’ve worked. Or how hard they’ll have to work later.
Because the world has a way of balancing things. And things that come too easy? Usually the work that needs to be done finds a way of catching up later. Because the work actually matters.
So try to keep your envy in check. It’s probably at least partly misplaced anyway.
Eyes On Your Own Plate
This is my best advice for you. Here’s the way my little brothers would have said it to me back in the day: Mind your own beeswax.
Your beeswax is your work. Your success. Your failure. Your life.
When you get too caught up in what you’re sure is some injustice — what someone else has that you don’t — then you’re missing out on what’s right in front of you.
You can’t serve two masters, you know? So you can either spend your energy worrying about someone else’s beeswax, or you can focus on your own.
Guess what? The reason why they’re doing so well is because they’ve got their eyes on their own plate. They’re doing their thing. They don’t give two shits about how envious you are or whether you think that they worked as hard as they did, or whatever.
Is it easy to turn off your ugly side once it gets going? Obviously not. You know that already. But you’re a grown up. You can do it. It starts with refocusing on your own work.
Make Sure You’re Seeing The Whole Picture
I’m talking about your picture here. Yours. It’s funny, because when you’re feeling envious, maybe you think you’re being self-centered and you need to stop that.
But really? You need to shift your focus back to yourself. You’ve been so focused everywhere else, you’ve actually forgotten how to see yourself.
When you’re busy comparing yourself other people and falling short, something odd starts happening. You stop seeing yourself the way the rest of the world does.
Everyone else looks at you and sees the good first. Want to know why? Because they’re comparing themselves to you. And, you know, they’re comparing their weaker points to your stronger ones.
Humans are so weird.
But you’ve gotten yourself in this place where you can’t see all of yourself. You’re only seeing the weak places. Try to take a step back and refocus. Ask someone you trust to help you, if you have to. You need to see yourself with fresh eyes.
Don’t Get Addicted To Your Envy
It can be so easy to become that person. The one that was slighted. The one who should have had it all, but it went to someone else instead. When they didn’t even work as hard as you!
The risk with wallowing in envy is that your focus shifts to maintaining the hurt, instead of your own growth or success or creative flow.
I’m not saying you’re not right. You might be. God knows, there have been times when I’ve really believed that I was.
But you and me? We’ve got big plans and better things to do with our energy than spend it all indulging our envy. Grapella can’t actually run the show. (Even if she is right.)
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.