Who do you envy?

It's summer 2013. I'm sunbathing in my parents’ backyard, listening to an audiobook, drowning in a mixture of excitement and envy (and sweat).

  • First comes a story about a corporate lawyer named Hans who quit his job to open Nexus Surf, a surf-adventure company in Brazil.
  • Then, I hear about a family of five who sailed around the world for 15 months, traveling 15,000 miles in the process, and giving their children an unforgettable experience.
  • Next is the author himself, who created an automated cash flow source that paid him $40,000/month.

I'm about to graduate college, and discerning how I wanted to start the next chapter of my life. The vision was unclear, but I'm beginning to piece it together, and this audiobook is showing me what's possible.

As I listen, I realize that these stories were revealing a pattern: I want to create something like the people in this book. I want to do something big. Something incredible. Something meaningful. And this pattern was being revealed through a surprising vehicle: envy.

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The human condition can be bizarre—certain emotions are reflections of our own world.

Take anger, for example. If poorly designed software pisses you off, there’s a good chance you value intuitive, intelligent design. If bitter coffee pisses you off, you likely value good coffee. If unprofessional communication pisses you off, you likely value being professional and being perceived that way.

We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are. - Anaïs Nin 

The same is true of envy. Who we envy, and what we envy about them are reflections of what we value, what we want, and what we’d like our own lives to look like. We see something we want, want it for ourselves, and often get angry that that person was brave enough to see the opportunity and claim it.

Next time you find yourself with even the slightest amount of envy, pay attention. It’s saying something to you—something precious and valuable about who you want to be and what you want to create while you’re here on our ball of rock named Earth.*

This can be especially helpful when you’re planning and thinking about the future. Certain people are naturally gifted at thinking about and planning for the future—In the StrengthsFinder language, they are high "Futuristic"—but for the rest of us, we’re not compelled to think constantly about the future. Thankfully, we have envy in our toolbox.

(This weekend is marks the half-way point of the year, so it’s an apt time to be thinking about what’s next. Instead of Hump Day, this weekend is like Hump Weekend. ;)

I think many people miss the value of envy because the voice in their head gets in the way. “Who do you think you are? You shouldn’t be envying people,” it says in one form or another. And then we miss the juicy insights that life is showing us.

If that’s your paradigm, then let it go. Envy is a natural human tendency, and it’s OK so long as it’s wielded with caution.

There’s an important caveat to all of this: If you’re motivated by the wrong things, if you’re chasing only extrinsic rewards (prestige, fame, wealth) and expecting them to make you happy, envy won’t help you. It will just reinforce that paradigm, propelling you further into a future that will, in the long run, make you unhappy.

So that begs the question…

Who do you envy? 

What do you envy about them? 

What does that say about the kind of life, career, business, product, home, experience you want to create?

How will you use that envy to power something good? How will it propel you into the future?