Dear Preston: I Get Envious of My Competitors




Dear Preston,

I’m in the first few years of developing my catering business, and I put all of my heart and soul into it. I want to be happy for my fellow caterers, but sometimes I feel sick when I lose out to a competitor or hear someone raving about an event catered by someone else. How can I cope with this envy?


A little bit green

Dear Green,

I, too, can get very envious when I encounter the amazing work of others (ie.  a beautiful event put together by another designer or a blog bursting with interesting and useful ideas). Envy makes me wish I had produced these things. This is silly, of course—I can’t be the originator of all good ideas in the world, or even in event design. Besides, how boring would that be?

Here’s an embarrassing memory. Oprah, darling that she is, has been incredibly generous to me over the years, and I was a guest on her show on five different occasions. Yet I felt incredibly envious when she invited the wonderful (and extremely successful) event designer Colin Cowie to be her guest—as if I should be the only event designer ever invited on her show. I got so envious watching his appearance that I had to turn off the television, telling myself that I’d never be as talented as Colin. When Oprah then invited him to do several of her events, I got even more jealous. (Every time I see Colin, I want to tell him this story, but I never had the nerve. Colin, I hope you’re reading this book.)

Envy feels awful, of course. When we feel envy, we are focusing on negative feelings and wasting energy that could be put to better use in pursuing our own dreams. Julia Cameron (who you’ll remember is the author of The Artist’s Way) writes that we need to learn not just to let go of our envy but also to use it. When we feel envy, we need to see it as an urgent message: it tells us what we want but aren’t pursuing. It tells us about what we really want.

When you’re feeling poisoned by envy, there are two main antidotes to try: empathy and action.

Envy antidote #1: Empathy. Think about the object of your jealousy as a fleshed-out human being, with his or her own joys and disappointments. When you feel bitterness and jealousy, you may console yourself by thinking that the object of your envy just happened to get lucky, or emerged from the womb with effortless talent. But while luck and talent may have played a part in that person’s success, he or she may also have fought hard for what they have, and deep down they may be just as insecure as you’re feeling right now. See if you can force yourself to be happy that your fellow human being overcame so many obstacles to get where he or she is, even if you don’t really feel it at first. If you can empathize with the person you resent, you can often diminish those terrible pangs of jealousy.

Envy antidote #2: Action. The second way to banish envy is to identify what that envy is telling you about your unfulfilled dreams, and then do something. I find that when I focus on my own development, my envy evaporates. Identify one tiny step you can take toward a goal and then do it—right away. When you see the gorgeous spreads offered by those other caterers, what exactly are you jealous of? Is there a step you can take toward putting that spark into your own business? You’ll be amazed by how even a bit of headway can take your mind off the achievements of others. The universe is generous. There is more than enough talent for everyone. Angela, a commenter on my blog, put her philosophy on the abundance of opportunity this way: “The birds in the air never collide, no matter the number that fly.” Don’t let envy convince you that someone else’s moment in the spotlight will deprive you of yours.

See more in Dear Preston: Doing Business With Our Hearts.

Readers: Do you ever feel envious of competitors? How do you deal with jealousy?

Looking forward to your thoughts,