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.