Jealousy: Turning Your “Green-Eyed Monster” into Motivation

I’m going to share with you one of my dark little secrets: I’m a chronically jealous person. Writing this is scary, but liberating. Jealousy is just another color on the rainbow spectrum of complex human emotion, but it’s gotten some mighty bad press. Deservedly so. Let’s be honest. When we’re jealous, we’re hit with the reality that we lack something, and that hurts. If our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain, envy ranks right down there with having a root canal, minus the anesthetic.

Early  in my drumming journey,  I read a wonderful book called “Baby Plays Around”, written by writer Helene Stapinski. It’s a memorable snapshot of  her time spent as the drummer of an up-and-coming indie band in 1990’s New York.  Her story offered me a glimpse into the life of an ordinary working musician. But that’s not all.  It made me insanely jealous.  My green-eyed monster suddenly ramped into overdrive, and was soon followed by its nasty little cousins, discouragement and inadequacy.   Why?

Lucky for me, the answer came quickly. I was envious because I  wanted very badly to join a band and play in front of an audience.  Odd as it sounds, this realization shocked me.   My performing ambitions went as far as drumming for the furniture in my living room. Or so I thought.  Jealousy forced me to dig deeper, and admit to myself that I’d always wanted to gig. I was just too afraid to consider it. The pitfalls were considerable.  What if I made an utter fool of myself?   What if I played so badly the band decided to replace me?

As awful as those emotions were, it was a lot easier to hold onto them than to move forward and take action.  The choice was clear.  Take steps to realize that wish, or continue to feel  unworthy of the  very drumsticks I held in my hand. I’m so very glad I chose the first option.  It was the first move toward a secret but very heartfelt dream I’d harbored for years.

Heaven knows, it’s been tough at times. My shortcomings as a drummer crop up as often as I hit the snare drum, and just as hard.  And the green-eyed monster never disappears, it just takes a rest now and then. Maybe that’s true for most of us.

So, if that ornery little beast can’t be banished,  how can it be tamed  in order to keep us moving forward? Here are some thoughts:

Become a Student who “Steals” from the Best

According to Susan Harrow in her article in Psychology Today, go from jealous “lurker” to earnest learner by looking at the person you envy and identifying those skills or qualities you wish you had. Learn their techniques. Ask questions and take notes. Most importantly, act on what you’ve learned. That can be the hardest to put into motion.  Practice more. Take steps toward starting that new business. Dust off that resume and work toward finding a higher-paying job. Go back to school or attend a seminar.

Pinpoint What You Really Want

In a recent blog post, ” The Tiny Buddha’s” Lori Deschene makes the case for defining specific goals. “Wanting” can be a very tricky thing. It’s easy to assume that those you envy are completely happy with their own lot in life.   Jealousy can be a powerful tool to help us clarify our values, priorities and true desires, and can show us the actual work that goes into reaching them.

I’m reminded of an illuminating conversation with one of my drumming mentors, Jeff Olson. Jeff has played with the likes of jazz great David Benoit and ex-Monkee Peter Tork.  He shared with me how he once envied the life of another well-known drummer.  “But,” he said,” then I think about how this guy got divorced several times and is constantly on the road. I wouldn’t want to be away that much. I’d rather be at home more ( with his wife and their beloved pets) than have that kind of career.”

See Yourself as an Object of Envy

This is a good way to take stock of  strengths and positives. Instead of being a serial “envy-er”, realize that there are characteristics and skills in you that others wish they had.


For me, this has been the most powerful way of keeping that little green-eyed creature at bay. Jealousy can become destructive when we believe that our hopes and wishes are unattainable.  Good things don’t happen only to others. If we plan and take baby steps forward, they can come to us as well.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.













4 thoughts on “Jealousy: Turning Your “Green-Eyed Monster” into Motivation

  1. I love it! you’re definitely right especially in this day and age with social media we see only the best of others lives and can feel quite envious about not having our own dreams realized. Great advice for how to curve that honest human emotion and put the green monster to bed.


  2. I was fortunate to study with Phil Stanger for 6 years in downtown Chicago – he had about 90 students- so I was immersed in an environment that constantly exposed you to other drummers varying levels of proficiency… and talent. You got over worrying about how you sized up to other players pretty quickly… and figured out everyone was on their own unique journey anyway. I did come to appreciate and to see first hand the long hours of efforts others put into developing their skill. I came to admire the dedication of the other students… at all levels of proficiency. I was proud just to be one of them. Still am. The ‘better’ players didn’t just have it handed to them… long hours and dedication are still required regardless of what natural gifts one may possess. You still have to earn it. And no two players are on the same journey…

    Phil was the kind of guy who wouldn’t tolerate intimidation, or jealousy, in his students anyway. He instilled a mental toughness in his students… which, amusing to me as I think back now, wasn’t one of the things you knew you had signed up for when you studied with him. His best students were awesome players… and in different ways… with different strengths. And should you ever find yourself wondering how you fit in amongst this overwhelming and talented group, Phil would remind you they worked hard to earn it… look you in the eye… and ask, “What’s that got to do with you anyway?”….


    1. Ha! Now that’s a great teacher-you got more than you bargained for when you first signed up! To me, drumming is over 90% mental. What goes on in your head will often determine how far you go; it’s not just in your hands and feet. Thanks, James! I’m sure Phil is proud!


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