Pride and the Work of Others

“He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”  

-- Buddha

For as long as I’ve called myself a magician, I have had friends who were miles ahead of where I was at. Friends who were as old as me or younger but are far better and getting far more gigs than I have even come close to.

I have to admit, in the beginning I was jealous of my friends, and I wondered why they were so lucky and I wasn’t.

Luck had very little to do with it. They simply put in more work than I did. They did what had to be done to earn their success, while I waited for success to come to me.

As I grew older, I realized this and began to work harder at my art. I understood that someone else’s success does not affect my own; there’s enough room at the top for everyone, but I just have to put in the effort to get there.

Just because other people are already there doesn’t mean I’m a bad magician; it means that I’m my own person, authentically and uniquely ME.

Unfortunately, many people go through life without realizing this. They look at the success of their peers and feel that toxic sting of jealousy.

I’ve seen this happen with magicians who have enjoyed a lot of success, but they can never be at peace knowing one of their peers has enjoyed more.

The same is true in offices around the world. A coworker gets a promotion and you don’t; or a coworker appears to be getting special treatment from the boss, while you are left unnoticed.

You can feel discouraged and angry at your coworker, just as I felt discouraged and angry when my peers were winning awards and booking high-profile gigs, while I was stuck in a magic rut.

Envy has a way of destroying everything that is good. It’s well-known how destructive envy can be in personal relationships, where one spouse might make up a whole scenario in his/her head based on envy that just isn’t true.

In the workplace, envy is just as toxic. It eats away at professional relationships until there is nothing but contempt left; it undermines the efforts of others; it tears apart the valuable teams that are found in every office space.

Most importantly, it consumes the person feeling envy and turns him/her into a liability for the organization and everyone involved.

It happens every day around the world, and is undoubtedly happening in your organization as well.

Consider two people that can easily represent millions of others, Jim and Ed. These two worked in the same office and were close friends.

Their teamwork was often used as an example of how other teams should collaborate, and they were both loved by management for their efforts.

Jim was a serious worker and would put his nose to the grindstone to get things done; he was a creative thinker and consistently produce great results.

Ed, on the other hand, dragged his feet most of the time and produced very few results; most of Ed’s success came from his charming, outgoing personality.

His personality led to an impressive social network, which presented opportunities for advancement that Jim was not given.

While Ed’s career was moving forward, Jim’s stayed stationary. Despite Jim’s hard work, Ed’s personality advanced him to places Jim had only wished of going.

As Jim’s work continued to go unnoticed next to Ed’s personality, he became resentful of his friend.

This led to spreading false rumors and trying to ruin Ed’s reputation during conversations with other coworkers.

Inevitably, Jim’s envy affected his work. His once-great work ethic fell to pieces, and he because unproductive and resentful of even his fellow employees.

It wasn’t long before management took notice and fired Jim from the organization.

The side effects of envy took a once-great employee and turned him against his organization.

Jim was filled with disparagement and began distancing himself from his coworkers, two traits that afflict anyone who is envious.

To make himself feel better, he began to first put down Ed, and then all of this other coworkers.

The friendly competition that once made Jim a better worker had turned into a toxic envy that killed his career.

Colleagues feeling envious of one another is nothing new, and nothing that only affects office workers.

In an interview one day, Paul McCartney talked about this same kind of envy that plagued the Beatles: “I would bring in a song and you could sort of see John [Lennon] stiffen a bit. Next day, he’d bring in a song and I’d sort of stiffen. And it was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?’”

When we hear of some celebrity achieve something great, we don’t feel this sort of envy because the celebrity is in a class of their own, and there’s no way we can achieve that level of success anyway (at least, we believe this in our own minds; in reality, we are all capable of achieving the greatness we read about).

But our colleagues aren’t some sort of Hollywood celebrity; they are on fairly equal ground as us and are much more “real,” because we tend to know them more personally than the subjects of this week’s Hollywood love triangle.

Envy will even keep good workers from listening to and implementing helpful ideas if they originate from a colleague.

Several studies have been done on this, and they all show that if an idea comes from a peer within our organization, we are less likely to accept and act upon it than if the idea came from some outside source. Why is this done? It all circles back to pride.

When we implement an idea taken from the outside, we are seen as the smart ones in the room; we are the collaborators who are bringing in great ideas from outside the organization.

But when we hear the same idea from a colleague within our organization, we would admit their intelligence if we acted on the idea.

That’s something that’s very hard for a prideful person to do.

It’s clear that pride, which leads to envy, closes the door to many good ideas and sources of inspiration.

In work and in art, this will be the downfall of the person who lets it consume them. As I mentioned before, I’m no stranger to how this can affect a person.

I’ve struggled with this for years as a magician, and I still sometimes have to fight off the temptations to feel envious of my friends when then get better gigs than me.

Overcoming envy

When we’re proud, we’re weak. Pride, which leads to envy, is detrimental to our creative visions and careers.

It lies, and tells us that we’re no good compared to everyone else. This thinking is what holds people back from taking the necessary steps to pursue their art or advance their careers.

Pride would tell a good employee not to ask for a raise that he feels he deserves because he’s afraid of being rejected.

This rejection would tell him that he isn’t as good as he thinks he is, and his pride won’t let him even consider that possibility.

On top of that, if one of his colleagues receives a promotion (because she asked for it), that tells this poor man that he actually is worth less than those around him.

Pride would tell a creative not to pursue her art because she isn’t a professional and isn’t good enough to write stories, sing songs, play piano, perform magic, etc.

If she checks Instagram and sees many others sharing what they have created, this just affirms that she isn’t special and everyone else is better, so she should keep her creativity to herself.

What she doesn’t realize is that nobody’s perfect, and the ones who she thinks are so great are the creatives who have gotten past that fear of failure and pursued their art anyway.

The fear of failure goes hand-in-hand with envy. When we’re wrapped up in ourselves, we will protect our pride at all costs.

And if we never put ourselves in danger of rejection (such as sharing a new idea, asking for a raise, or getting on stage), our pride will never be hurt.

But there are people who have moved past that fear and constantly put their pride on the line, and often reap the rewards of it.

These are the people we envy because they have managed to do something that we are afraid of.

Protecting ourselves from feeling envy is crucial to advancing any career and living a happy life. Here are some ways in which you can avoid envy and keep your emotions from sabotaging your career:

  • Pinpoint the cause of your envy. Often, feelings of envy arise when you see someone who possesses a trait you wish you had. In the case of Jim and Ed, Jim could have been envious of Ed’s outgoing personality, and secretly wished he had one as well. Envy can also arise by seeing a colleague who learns new skill quicker, has a better relationship with the boss, or has a higher salary. Pinpointing the cause of your envy will help you identify what you actually want to improve on in your personal career.

  • Focus on yourself. Focusing on other people is a slippery slope to jealousy. Everyone is different, and so everyone will experience success and failure in different ways. To excessively compare yourself to others is to set yourself up to feel miserable about your current situation. Instead, compare yourself to your past self, and notice how you’ve improved. This is a much more motivational approach that will almost guarantee to make you feel better than comparing yourself to others. Besides, there are a lot of fake people in the world; just look at Instagram. The “success” that you see in others might just be a show they put on to hide their own insecurities. It isn’t worth feeling envious over.

  • Affirm your successes. This goes in line with the last bullet point. Focus specifically on your successes and what you do well instead of worrying about how your colleague can do something else better. Studies have shown that people who affirm their own successes are less intimidated by the success of others and are more open to their ideas.

Conclusion

Through humility, creativity thrives. This is because many creative ideas will turn out to be bad ones, and the only way to sort them out from the good ones is to get them out of our heads and into the world.

This could be in the form of writing them down on paper or discussing them with your colleagues.

The issue is that, when these ideas are presented to people other than us, our pride is put on the line. What if they don’t like the ideas? What if they tell you it’s a bad idea?

If you have let your pride absorb you, then this will be a devastating blow.

Pride leads to envy, and envy is what will really hurt your career. By identifying the cause of your envy, focusing on yourself instead of others, and affirming your success, you can avoid falling into the trap of envy.

You will be able to recognize great ideas from your colleagues without feeling a blow to your pride for not thinking up those ideas yourself.

This will help you along in your career while also benefiting your organization.

Envy is like a filter that blocks your creative vision. Once you remove it, you will feel more free to think creatively and share your thoughts with others.

You will feel that you deserve to be creative without being wrapped up in self-absorbed pride. This is when creativity can really thrive.

 
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Ryan Lally