How to Use Envy to Build Success

There will always be greener pastures. Accept what you have, and build from there

YOU may have found yourself envying the position of others.

In a former life, I worked as a finance lawyer and often dealt with investment bankers. They worked about the same hours as I did, their job seemed much less challenging than mine was, and they enjoyed doing deals while I often had deals foisted upon me at the 11th hour. Despite their job being more appealing, and to add insult to injury, they were also paid 4 times as much money.  It seemed a great injustice.

You may have shared a similar experience. You might be a management consultant looking at a corporate director who is about your age but earns more money for less work.  You might be a manager for a bricks-and-mortar company looking at a more-highly-paid manager at a tech firm that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Envy is a powerful emotion.  The sobering reality though is that there will always be someone with more money, more prestige, more power, or who is younger and smarter than you are.

Recognise envy when it appears. But instead of giving in to feelings of resentment, consider directing your energy towards a re-examination or your strengths and how you might use them to create more value for others.

Success is attained by building on strength, not by wishing you are something you are not.  By understanding your talents and skills, you can find ways to use them.  By giving in to envy, however, you lose control of your own story and may wind up following a path that leads you nowhere. Such was the unfortunate fate which befell a certain Stone Cutter in the Eastern folk story recounted below.

There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”

Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into his hard surface, and felt himself being chipped away piece by piece. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.

He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.