Play Against Yourself: Jealousy is a Cancer

We’ve all done the thing where we find out a friend has accomplished some amazing career goal we also hope to do, only to realize that friend is 3 years younger than us.

The shock and horror of a friend beating you quickly sets in.

And to keep the bizarre logic of your brain in balance you start to either 1) tear them down (“they didn’t deserve it/got lucky/knew the right person”) or 2) tear yourself down (“I’m worthless/insignificant/not worth investing in”).

And what a loss.

One of the most meaningful parts of the human experience is close and vulnerable relationships. We’re talking about the very people who we should be able to most trust and be open with.

And yet we risk ruining those special relationships with constant comparisons. Jealousy eats everything.

Play Against Yourself

The only person you should be competing against is yourself. Like most good advice this is a cliché but true.

But why? Why focus inward instead of outward?

1) When you compete against yourself making a mistake counts as a win because it means you took action. The only thing that matters when it’s just you is momentum, so breaking that initial inertia is vital. If you try something and screw up you’re a hero because you’re further along than the version of yourself who did nothing.

You can incorporate whatever you learned into your next step and keep moving.

2) Everybody is dealt a different life hand. Maybe you’re a math genius but your friend’s parents are super wealthy. The specifics don’t really matter….

Everyone’s “nature and nature” is different, so any comparison will be unfair. Even identical twins have different friends, inherent interests, and life experiences.

3) No one knows how happy and successful others really are. We bemoan modern social media for telling us the most exquisite life moments are constant and normal, but some form of this social performance has always existed.

Do you think your grandparents’ 1957 family Christmas letter was more honest than your Disneyland Instagram posts?

This shit is built into us. Fight it.

4) You start keeping mental math of favors and view life as a fixed pie. “If I help you get a job interview you owe me a future favor” is a direct route to feeling disrespected, insignificant, and small.

Giving without expectation of a return not only feels better but also makes you think bigger. You’re not limiting yourself to what others might be able to do for you.

5) There will always be somebody better, faster, smarter, with more. Fighting everyone is impossible.

The Pursuit of Meaning

There is nothing meaningful in beating others, especially your friends.

But there is something special to be found, however small, in accomplishing something new to you. In putting in the work, in seeing progress, in choosing a goal path and overcoming the inherent obstacles along the way.

But constantly looking up to observe everyone else? A recipe for despair and suffering. Since everyone is playing a different game, so should you consider everyone else’s scores to be meaningless.

If you liked this essay...

Then consider signing up for my personal newsletter

It contains the best material I find anywhere – this means books, articles, podcasts, research, videos, Twitter threads... the most interesting stuff that will give you something to say.

>10,000 Silicon Valley executives, investors, and leaders read it every week.

You're in!
Ack – that didnt work. Try again...