Envy can be a helpful emotion. It can help you uncover things you secretly want that you’ve buried under a pile of self-imposed fears. Its unpleasant poke might be just enough to point you in the direction of your desires.

Of course envy can also be a petty bitch that shows up for absolutely no good reason whatsoever and ruins your ability to wholly enjoy the successes of people around you.

I’ve experienced envy of both kinds and am still learning to tell the difference. So while I’m in this amateur stage of interpreting my own feelings, there is only one truly reliable indicator I have – the lack of envy. In fact, for someone like me – a non-saint-like individual who covets all kinds of things – I believe lack of envy is probably the most telling emotion I have.

Last weekend I had dinner with a group of women I met in grad school. We were celebrating my friend’s new job as an assistant professor. Everyone in my company that evening had doctor in front of their name, worked as a professor or were about to, and did respected research in my field. I alone worked a 9-5 desk job with only a master’s behind my name, something that has nagged at me in the past.

As the main thing we have in common is our work, I knew that’s the direction our conversation would gravitate. Frankly, it was a prime opportunity for that green-eyed monster to pop up on my shoulder and start whispering things in my ear about how I too could be striving for more, reaching for the stars and <insert your favourite cliche about ambition here>.

But the monster never showed up. I found, a little to my surprise, that I could clearly see how academic careers fit these women I admire perfectly while at the same time not fitting me. I could see that while my job was less prestigious, it was also less demanding of my time and my energy, and that that was a compromise I was happy to make. What really set me apart at that table wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have a PhD – it was that I didn’t have the desire to get one.

I know I’m not in my dream job at the moment. I can’t stay still for years and years – I’ll need to face new challenges and carve out new paths. But that lack of envy – that’s something worth noting.


Posted on June 6, 2012, in Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Yesssssssssss. I’m glad to hear that. Glad both for you and in a universal sort of way, because it gives me hope for all of us.

    I tried reaching for the stars, and all I got out of it was a back ache. And sore calves from standing on my tiptoes. I’m not saying we shouldn’t bother trying our best, it’s just… the older I get the better I am at articulating lines. At saying, here. Here is where I stop. I don’t need to go any further down this particular path. I’ll instead rest a while, and then go find a new path to trod. And if I don’t find any, I’ll make my own. And walk it at my own pace. You know? I know you know.

    It’s okay to be where you are.

    • I’ve been having this conversation in some form or another a lot in the last couple of years – I think many of us are slowly coming to the realization that life doesn’t actually equal career like we’ve been led to believe. Life is life and your work is just one part of that. I think I kept expecting my career to somehow complete me (never expected that from a man but somehow I did from a career, neither makes much sense).

      And we are fine where we are. Minimal back aches required.

  2. I should have said “tread” up there, not “trod.” That’s what I get for reading your blog so late. I am a horrible copyeditor. But maybe I just like trod better. I like the way it sounds. Trod. Todd. Incidentally, I’ve never met a Todd I’ve been fond of, but I keep on liking “trod.”

    Also, sorry this second comment is from me. I know it’s disappointing to see two comment notifications and they’re from the SAME PERSON. I’ll stop mucking up your comment numbers, now.

    • Oh totally NOT disappointed. I’m not that discerning when it comes to comments – they all count, including my own and when all these lovely people tell me my writing is “of good and interest material” and other thoughtful compliments. It’s so cute, WordPress has nicknamed them “Spam”!

  3. I felt this way recently. Via facebook, I found out a friend of mine from grad school is taking a teaching position at a far-away university. I had a funny, fleeting feeling, but it wasn’t envy; it was more a “two roads diverged” moment, the sense that… this could be me, if I’d chosen to continue down that road (which is what i’d initially planned to do and why I went to grad school). I was happy for her, but at the same time, I also felt reassured that I’d made the right choice for my life/priorities, which are pretty different from hers. My job may not be very prestigious (okay, so it’s not prestigious at all ;)), but it allows me time, freedom, and nearness to family, all things I decided mattered more to me right now.

  4. I can never figure out wordpress. sigh (I wrote the comment above).

  5. I like the idea of lack of envy as an indicator of what we really want and what’s important to us. I think a lot of adulthood is about figuring those things out. It’s not easy!

  6. We’ve talked around this topic a little bit, you and I. I think what you’ve realised is also part of growing up – envy without limits strikes me as a very juvenile thing, especially for girls. I think when we’re young we just covet what everyone else has, sometimes just because we don’t have it. So the realisation that hey, I DON’T actually want what people have just because they have it, is comforting, I suspect. (Please note I am not accusing you of envy without limits or being juvenile.)

    Maybe I draw this conclusion because I always feel horribly guilty about any sort of envy (clearly the recovering Catholic here). I experienced recently that first sort of envy you spoke about (and with people I cared about, no less) and in a way it actually made me feel better because it meant my ambition is back. I know I’ve mentioned on my blog before that I lost my ambition with my illness so getting it back was pretty fricking great.

    And what you’re realising is that your ambition is just directed towards something a bit different from your friends. This is a very ‘grey and shiny’ post, I think – I always think about your blurb at the top and what you want to find out via this writing medium and this strikes me as being really in tune with that.

    Love it when you post.

  7. OH MAN. The fact that life doesn’t equal career. All of this. I just want to hug you and then drag you into a corner for a long talk about this.

    And can I just be a tiny feminist for a second and say how much I love that in your friends the woman who has the masters stands out because the others have PhDs, not because the others have high school diplomas? And yay opportunity! I tend to be an outlier in these situations, either the one with the most education who no one wants to talk to because they assume I’ll be a snob (I am NOT), or the one with the least who gets looked down on by the Drs until they realize that I can have conversations. (I feel like I’m saying this poorly. I communicate way better in person than in comments when it’s a nuanced topic.)

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