Posts Tagged envy
Hillary Clinton recently went to great lengths to save herself from the embarrassment of being financially successful. Her problems started when, in an effort to appeal to the masses, she said that she was “dead broke” when she left the security of the White House. Apparently, poverty polls well.
At one time, I was on pretty shaky financial ground myself, owing much more than I had in assets and earning very little from my fledging business. It’s a story common to many entrepreneurs. You sacrifice and risk comfort, because you believe in your enterprise, but I don’t think that I was ever “dead broke.” I saw true poverty in Africa – people crammed into tiny tin shacks and scavenging along the roadside. That’s “dead broke,” and it’s a far cry from being a former First Lady who can command hundreds of thousands from a speech.
Senator Clinton’s missteps really don’t bother me, but her shying away from success does. Success should be celebrated, especially in a country that was the setting for Senator Clinton’s rise from the Chicago middle class to United States Secretary of State or President Clinton’s rise from a broken home to United States President.
Imagine if Senator Clinton had pointed out that success can be fleeting, but can be recaptured with concentrated effort, instead of trying to sell the idea that two very successful people were destitute. She could have inspired others whose financial success had ebbed. She could have given us hope.
Dr. Shane Lopez of the Gallup Organization wrote a thoroughly researched and critical book, Making Hope Happen, based on his research on hope. Lopez defines hope as the energy and ideas that drive people to change their circumstances, and he champions hope as an extremely powerful tool that everyone can use in response to life’s challenges, such as losing a job or receiving a dire health prognosis.
When we have hope, we see the challenges before us as temporary and beatable. Hope inspires us to push on when life gets difficult. Hope provides a powerful psychological benefit that lifts our spirits, increases our self-esteem and provides us energy. Without it, we’re almost destined to struggle.
One of my greatest sources of hope is the success of others. Seeing others succeed affirms my faith that exceptional things can be accomplished with exceptional effort by exceptional people. It’s a belief that my parents instilled in me at a young age.
My fourth grade year was filled with challenges. It was the year that my parents decided that my physical condition wasn’t something that I would grow out of, like we hoped. That meant frequent three-hour trips from Loup City to Omaha, to see the state’s top neurologists and orthopedists at the Nebraska Medical Center. These trips were never fun, because they invariably entailed painful tests, like muscle biopsies and nerve conduction tests, and a lot of anxiety about my future. To that point, I was a kid with a slight limp. Now, there was talk of brain tumors and muscular dystrophy. Through it all, my parents never allowed me to lose hope.
In spite of the uncertainty and anxiety, they helped me imagine a bright future for myself. They encouraged me to initiate conversations with my doctors and to imagine myself as a physician. When we saw the big houses on the bluffs of the Elkhorn River on the drive in, they told me that I could have a similar home, if I worked hard. They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or unworthy of success. They never told me that life would be easy or that I should expect anything that I didn’t work for, but they gave me hope for a promising future.
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have close friendships with many high achievers who earned their success through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I admire their accomplishments and approach toward their work, and they inspire me to higher standards.
I wish that we saw more messages like that from our leaders and that success would return to high esteem. Imagine what could happen if we valued hope over pity and jealousy.
Dayton University’s basketball coach, Archie Miller, is nearly ten years younger than I am. Despite his relative youth, and in just his third year as head coach, Miller took his team to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Quick, high-level success like that earns awe, respect, and often, envy.
I felt all of those emotions in about thirty seconds the other night, as I watched the Dayton Flyers defeat the Stanford Cardinal in the Sweet Sixteen. The awe came from Miller’s team’s performance. The respect came from the classy way he conducts himself. And the envy? That came from a moment of personal weakness.
Envy is respect’s evil, ugly twin brother. We’re naturally envious of people who have achieved what we wish we could. Ironically, envy causes us to feel bitter toward the source of our envy, when we should actually feel respect.
When we’re envious, we often want to discount another’s success, sometimes rallying against the very success we wish for ourselves. It’s a foolish effort to make ourselves feel better, and it’s made worse when we act on it.
Sadly, I saw this happen twice at high school athletic events in just the past two months. At the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament, the crowd lustily booed when wrestlers from Omaha Skutt Catholic High School won or were even merely announced. Skutt was on its way to another team state title – they have won almost all of the last 15 state championships in their class – and it was evident that many in the crowd were weary of seeing them win, though they eagerly would have traded places with the champions.
The same thing happened the next week at the Nebraska State Swimming Championship, where Omaha Creighton Prep High School was subjected to the same boorish behavior. In both cases, young scholar-athletes were achieving their dreams, and reaping the rewards of sacrifice and countless hours of intense training. When their success should have been applauded, they were hearing boos.
“Envy is ignorance.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Booing and other envious acts broadcast our insecurities to the world. When we act out of envy, we’re showing that we’re not living up to our ideals or that our ideals are unrealistic, given our limitations. We’re also showing that we’re not mature enough to take corrective action within ourselves.
Corrective action should start with honest self-evaluation. The inferiority we feel when we come up short in comparison to others causes mental anguish, but anguish is often misplaced, if the subject of our envy has elite talents that are beyond our reach. Most who booed these high school athletes couldn’t compete at their level. It’s like me booing my friend Jeff during one of his procedures, because he’s a better interventional radiologist than I am. (I barely passed freshman biology in college.)
Be honest with yourself. Is the subject of your envy uniquely talented? If so, be happy for her and admire what God has created. Besides, you probably have some special talents too. It’s hard to be envious and appreciative at the same time, and one of those emotions sure makes you feel better than the other.
Archie Miller is an impressive coach who has managed to capitalize on his talents through hard work and dedication. Though I’m not perfect, I’m comfortable that I too am capitalizing on my blessings, and that helps me squash envy. I hope the same for you.
The weight room at my gym is where I do a lot of thinking. For an hour, four or five times per week, it’s just me. my thoughts and my body. I experience the highs and confidence of pushing more than 300 pounds with my arms, and the lows of struggling with even the smallest of weights in my leg workout. When I work my upper body, I think, “What if?” When I work my lower body, I think, “What’s next?”
Toward the end of one of my workouts the other day, as I was gazing out the window between sets, I saw one of the trainers returning from a run on the trail beside the Papio Creek. For a moment, I let my mind stray into the dangerous territory of “I wish I could.”
We all wish WE COULD something. We wish that we could have more money – that we could be taller, not as fat, not as bald – that we could have a better job, more friends, fewer worries. Heck, I wish I could stay awake through a movie with my wife, and she wishes I could get along with her mother. Some things are just not going to happen.
In this way, my physical disability has been a gift. I understand that certain capabilities are beyond my reach, and this awareness has allowed me to see more clearly the blessings that I do have.
Instead of lamenting the fact that I can’t play basketball at the gym, I’m happy that I’m healthy enough to exercise and build muscle. Rather than being bitter about needing to turn down tickets for a Nebraska football game, I’m fulfilled that I’ve found the skills to build a reasonably successful business.
Few of us spend much time thinking about everything that we can do, while we spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the things beyond our reach. Doing this robs us of the joy of the moment and impedes our progress toward our goals. This is a lesson I constantly review when I go hunting.
Hunting is my passion, and it’s one that challenges my will to focus on my strengths rather than my limitations, because it’s a pursuit best undertaken by not only able-bodied individuals, but individuals in fairly athletic shape. This is because the highest number and best trophy animals are often in the most remote and unforgiving terrain – terrain that is almost always beyond my reach.
Many times, I can see where I want to go, and I can sometimes even see the game I’m pursuing, yet, my legs can’t get me there. November 2010 was a good example of that. I was out in Nebraska’s Sandhills, trying to fill the spot on my wall for a trophy whitetail deer.
The whitetail is one of the most challenging North American trophies, because the mature, large bucks became large and mature by associating humans with danger and avoiding them at all costs. The best way to get close to them is to quietly sneak into their territory, leaving as little scent as possible. Most people park a mile or two from where they are going to be hunting, and then walk in.
I’m not most people. This year, like every year, I had to have someone drive me to the blind where I was to sit for the remainder of the day. My guide Aric then drove back out, and returned on foot a short time later to sit with me, probably scaring every deer within a mile. Because of the commotion we made, it was no surprise that we didn’t see anything all morning, and we decided to take a mid-day break.
Shortly after Aric left to get the truck, he came running back to the blind. He had seen the big deer that we knew was out there. In fact, my trophy stood and stared at him from 50 yards. It would have been an easy shot, extremely rare for a trophy buck, and if I had been with Aric, my trophy would have been in the back of the truck.
Instead, Aric and I sat there until nightfall, and for several more days. We saw the trophy deer a mile or so away a couple of times, but we could never get him to come close enough to us for a shot.
I could have left the Sandhills angry and frustrated, because I felt both of those emotions over the long days in the blind, but being angry and frustrated is counter-productive, especially when you are trying to enjoy your passion. Instead, I felt thankful for the excitement I felt knowing that this deer was close and might appear at any moment. I had also enjoyed watching many more deer and clearing my mind from mental clutter, as I had nothing to entertain me but some of nature’s best beauty.
I think that all of us have those deer blind moments when we can’t seem to get what we want and it seems to come so easily for everyone else. We look enviously through our windshields at the Mercedes, oblivious to the freedom that our own transportation provides. We’re jealous when we learn that our friends earn more money than we do, instead of reassured knowing that we have relationships with achievers. We see a trainer returning from a run on a sunny day, and we feel helpless that we will never feel that exhiliration.
That’s the wrong way to live. It robs us of happiness and closes our minds to hope and possibilities.
Each one of us has capabilities that someone else wishes they had, even if it is as simple and basic as our health.
I was reminded of that one morning, years ago, as I made my way to an early morning class at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. I was having one of those mornings where everything seemed to go wrong. A series of drops and spills had made me a few minutes late, though I awoke at the right time. My tardiness cost me a shot at the close parking spaces near my classroom building, so I had to park a few blocks away and hike in.
By the time I reached my building, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was then that I met a young man in a wheelchair.
“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking,” he began, and before I could respond, he asked, “Were you ever in a chair?”
Being in a chair is one of my biggest fears, one of my largest motivators for time in the gym and a likely future according to some in the medical field. For those reasons, I resist even thinking about the possibility. I stammered my answer. “Umm . . . no.” Then, quickly, almost defensively, I followed up, “Why?”
“I’ve noticed you and thought that maybe, since your upper body appears so strong, that maybe you spent some time in a chair, but trained your way out,” he said and looked away.
It became quickly obvious to me that he watched me limp around and saw hope. While he was watching me and hoping the same for himself, I fought self-pity. We were unaware of each other’s struggles.
If I could borrow a healthy set of legs for a day, I’d return them sore and tired. I’d find something to hunt, and then pursue it through the thickest, nastiest terrain. I’d walk through the Old Market and over the pedestrian bridge. I’d play a game of basketball with my son in the driveway.
But, none of that is going to happen. And I’m OK with that. Because life is too short and too precious to waste time sulking, I’ll enjoy the life that I can live within the restraints that cannot be changed, and I hope the same for you.