Her name was Annie. We were classmates in elementary school. And she got my spot in our school’s elementary choir. How did I know she got my spot? Because when we auditioned, she got a spot and I didn’t. It didn’t matter to me that other classmates of ours also made it into the ensemble. I did not, and I decided that it was all because of Annie.
A few years later in middle school, I would find myself playing the understudy to the lead in our school’s spring play. Who was the lead, you might ask? Annie. Of course. Once again, she took my spot. And man, oh man, was I mean to that girl. I made up lots of excuses to be mean to her, to make myself feel better, because for all of my vices and shortcomings as a child, I really wasn’t mean at all, to anyone, except to Annie. I was insanely jealous of Annie. But I didn’t want to confront my jealousy. I didn’t want to admit that I could possibly be jealous of anyone, let alone her, so I told myself there were other reasons to be not so nice to her. I told myself she was annoying and whiny and too sensitive and didn’t deserve me being nice to her. But I was so so very jealous. And even though I was a perfectly pleasant, polite, kind, sweet little child, the very thought of my jealousy turned me into a very unpleasant, mean spirited bully when it came to the subject of Annie.
Jealousy is a tricky emotion, isn’t it? We HATE to feel jealous of someone. I personally feel as if it is one of my least favorite emotions. To me, it is worse than sadness or disappointment or even the rage that wells up deep inside me when I am forced to walk into a Hobby Lobby. Jealousy makes us feel enraged, humiliated and vulnerable all at the same time and that particular combo, to me, is just unbearable. I don’t know if I suffer from a larger case of jealousy than the average human, but I know that I feel jealous a lot, more often than I care to admit to others or myself. And that is why when an author I was reading recently had a small tidbit of wisdom about jealousy, my heart ate it up.
In her book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist (oh! You thought I was going to reference Brene Brown again, didn’t you? Ha! Showed you! Although Brene Brown does provide the forward for this particular book, so the apple didn’t travel all that far from the tree, I suppose.) Anyway, in her book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist says this about jealousy:
“It seems to me like most of us were taught that jealousy is bad, and so when we feel it, we should push it away from ourselves as quickly as possible, get rid of it fast. But I’m learning that envy can be an extremely useful tool to demonstrate our desires, especially the ones we haven’t yet allowed ourselves to feel.”
She goes on to explain that the next time she felt jealous of someone in her life, she gave herself permission to be jealous and then she explored what exactly she was so jealous for. She learned entire new things about herself by doing this. She made new goals because of it and allowed herself to dream bigger dreams.
I read this and my heart skipped a beat. It described me to a T! I despise jealousy! And, yes, I had been taught that jealousy was bad, on every level, and it felt bad, on every level, and so yes, I did shove it to the side as quickly as possible, usually with a pious reminder to not break the tenth and final commandment by coveting my neighbor’s ox. And different than all of the other negative emotions I had chosen to shove way down deep, it would appear that everyone -society, church, the Girl Scouts- agreed that jealousy was bad enough that it should just be buried and hopefully forgotten about. Except, its never really forgotten, is it? The very next time you are reminded of that person you envy, that object you don’t possess, that title you feel you deserve but somehow keeps alluding you, you plunge right back down into the clutches of the green eyed monster.
I read this paragraph once. And then again. And then again. And then I put the book down and I pulled out my journal. And I began to list all of the people that I am currently jealous of. (I am proud to inform you that Annie is no longer on the list.) It was a truly humbling experience, not only because the list was much much much longer than I care to admit but because there were people on it that I barely even know. And after listing their names, I went back and reached deep into the dark for my jealousy. I invited it into the light and I asked it a lot of questions. Why are you jealous of her? What does he have that you want so badly? Why does she make you feel so inadequate? Why are you so angry? I told my jealousy that there were no wrong answers and that the bad cop wasn’t lurking around the corner waiting to beat him down with the gospel of why jealousy was wrong. I told myself to answer honestly and with great detail.
And I was amazed at the answers that he spoke to me. Shauna was right. I did discovere entire passions and dreams in my heart that I didn’t even know were hiding there. Some of them were petty, like I want her wardrobe…or more truthfully, I want her body so I can look like her in her wardrobe. And some of them were more complex and even more tender to admit, like I want to be known and liked and respected. To be honest, it was a painful process. It is a humiliating and humbling experience to name all those that you envy and then move a step farther and find that very thing that they possess that you desire. And then to admit just how much you desire it.
Some of my desires feel very far fetched. Some feel even impossible. But I have owned them now. I have claimed them and I know that they are hiding in the shadows of my heart, hoping that they are asked to come out and play. I’d like to say that jealousy is now an emotion of my past, that by simply acknowledging my jealousy I have conquered the green eyed monster and I am envious no more. But that isn’t the case and that wasn’t even the point, I don’t think. Maybe it was for Shauna Niequist, but for me, this little exercise was about learning something new about myself and still accepting myself when it was over. It was about claiming power over an emotion I have kept hiding in the dark for far too long. It was about inviting the dark to come play in the light and surviving the play date.