Jealousy Is Always Premature

I’ve always been fascinated by endurance events such as the marathon. They demonstrate that one has the ability to inflict discomfort on one’s competitors – physical discomfort – without laying a finger on them. Doing so, however, requires increasing one’s own discomfort level. It’s sort of like holding your hand over a flame: a measure of physical and mental toughness. Tenacity.

(The biggest players in many industries understand this. It’s why Walmart supported the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate: not because Walmart is a glutton for punishment but because it understood that the mandate would have a decimating impact on its smaller competitors – those with employees much closer to 50 employees than Walmart’s more than two million.)

Tour de France riders ask “How much more pain can I tolerate?” In the world of startups one asks “How much more money can I invest in my idea?” The writer asks how many screenplays she’ll peddle before giving up, and so on.

As in life, victory in marathon doesn’t go to the runner who leads most of the race but to the one who leads at the end of the race. Life’s race ends when you’re dead, which is to say it never ends. At least not in this life. The guy who pulls away from the pack right from the start? Sure, he gets his name mentioned on tv but twenty miles later, when the real racing has begun, he’s nowhere to be found. Similarly, the 23-year old A-lister soon finds himself in the Where Are They Now file just as the patient and persistent begin rising to prominence.

So if you’re going to be jealous of anyone, be jealous of the persistent. Or better yet, abjure it altogether. It’s said that jealousy is the only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide even temporary pleasure. If that’s not enough for you to renounce jealousy whenever it rears its ugly head, then consider this: it’s always premature.

“This sounds well and good,” I hear you say. “But how does one fight a feeling such as jealousy?”

Here are four words which have always helped me : “Too soon to tell.”

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The Futility of Envy

green eye textLast night I lay in bed with the mellow satisfaction one enjoys at the end of a particularly good day. Then, shortly before calling it a night, I checked-in on Instagram and suddenly found myself feeling jealous toward of a couple of my colleagues.

Instantly my mood had changed from mellow satisfaction to painful dissatisfaction. It was then that I reminded myself of words I had read many years ago by George Will and which have stayed with me ever since: Envy is only one of the seven deadly sins which does not provide the sinner even temporary pleasure.

In the annals of products promising quick relief, few will serve you better than these words have for me over the years. Implicit in shame is the possibility of a new beginning through forgiveness and making amends. Lust has its tantalizing appeal and righteous anger can be exhilarating. Envy, on the other hand, is the emotional equivalent to drinking Drain-O: nothing good comes from it.

When feeling envy, I remind myself of George Will’s words and then of how life is like a movie: it is comprised of countless “frames”: in one frame we’re winning the lottery; in another we’re stubbing our toe. And while it’s tempting to compare our own movie to someone else’s, it’s absolute folly to compare an individual frame to someone else’s, particularly if that frame is an outlier.

Besides, everyone’s “movie” eventually comes to an end. And like movies, the wise admire those lives which tell the best story while fools admire the biggest box-office hits.

Return to or see how a head injury started my journey from a conventional- to comedic juggler.