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.