My Journey With Envy
The battle of an Enneagram 4
I wanted to “make” it.
For years I had written songs and recorded them, but it was time for me to play my songs live, in front of real people. The night came, and the jazz club was packed. So much seemed to be riding on this. Like Eminem, my palms were sweaty — but it wasn’t my palms, it was my armpits. (I sort of have an issue with that but I digress.) Maybe something magical would happen—I would get discovered and become a moderately successful indie artist (I was optimistic but still a realist.)
As we played, it went well. Even though we had only practiced a couple of times, the band was tight. My songs weren’t the worst ones ever written. People talked and ordered drinks, but they mostly listened. I was pleased.
Then, it was time for the headliner. She was a Norah Jones type singer who had started gaining a following in the OKC area. As she set up, she complimented our band. She couldn’t believe this was our first time playing together, which made me think that I was on the same talent level as she was.
She started to play and sing, and everything changed. The entire atmosphere morphed. Nobody was talking or ordering drinks anymore. They were all mesmerized by her voice.
I was crushed. She possessed something that I didn’t. I was missing something. This was a gift that I would never understand, and it hurt.
It’s taken many years and a lot of soul-searching to discover that I have a chronic battle with envy. In hindsight it’s so obvious but I didn’t realize it until I started studying the Enneagram. If you don’t know the Enneagram, I’m a little shocked. Right now it’s as trendy as La Croix water, reclaimed wood, or oat-milk lattes.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality type tool, rediscovered and unearthed in the past couple of decades. It’s been a great tool to help me understand myself better. Mostly, it’s helped me identify my shadow side.
For the record, I don’t think the Enneagram, or any personality test, is perfect or magical. It doesn’t hold the key to our future or explain the reasons behind everything we do. It is a tool that has helped me examine my tendencies, motivations, and desires.
I’m a 4 on the Enneagram. The primary shadow side of a 4 is envy. As I examined my life, I found this to be so true. In high school, I was envious of other athletes, gifted with height or speed. I’ve been envious of the musical gifts of others. When Spotify first came out, I went into a mini-depression, realizing the innumerable brilliant musicians and songwriters in the world. I read Anne Lamott and get frustrated because I’ll never write like her.
I have contradictory levels of envy for the lifestyles of others. I’m envious that some people are rooted and planted in a community, owning a home . I’m envious of other people for being nomads, traveling across the world without planting roots. I’m envious when people live a minimalist lifestyle but also envious when people have accumulated a lot of stuff.
Envy is a parasite in my life. It clings to me and travels with me wherever I go. It eats away at the peace and joy inside.
A quick side note — envy is different than your typical jealousy, at least in my case. No offense, but I could care less about your house, your car, your spouse, your clothes, or your wealth. Good for you. I don’t want those. My envy is a deep, intangible kind of longing. I assume other people have something internal that is better. Things like talent, gifting, personality traits, etc.
Once you identify it, you can work on it.
This was the best gift the Enneagram gave me. I finally was able to name this deep, dark shadow side that I had always battled without knowing it. Through a lot of work, I realized that my envy is not an external problem. It doesn’t originate from what others have — it is an issue of my own soul.
My longing comes from somewhere deep within me and the only way to unearth it is to look inward. The work required to battle envy is not external but is the work of the soul.
One of my favorite quotes is from Dallas Willard, “The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.”
What is my soul becoming? How am I being formed?
I realized that to become a more whole person, I needed to stop looking at others and look within.
Through a lot of meditation, reflection, and prayer these are the three main ways I have learned to battle my envy from within. (I need to give a “cliché-alert.” These are clichés, but they are clichés for a reason. They are proven and true.)
1. Living in the moment. What could be called the “with-God” life.
Our lives are a gift. Our very breath is a reminder that we are alive, for this moment. We are not guaranteed another breath. Peace and contentment come from the knowledge that external things or dreams of the future will never bring ultimate satisfaction.
My boss, John Ortberg says, “The best place to start doing life with God is in small moments.”
This is true. Every quiet, small, seemingly insignificant moment is a chance to sit with our Creator. To breathe. To listen to the voice of the Divine, that is all around.
One of my mantras is, “nothing is missing.” Everything I need for fulfillment and joy, I have right now. In this moment. Joy doesn’t come through the things I do, or what I have, or what people say about me. It comes from within.
2. Believing that “I am enough.”
One of my core beliefs is that each of us were created with intention and purpose. Not randomly or by accident. The Psalmist says this in Psalm 139 :
13. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My unique makeup of personality and gifting is enough for the purposes God has for me. Even if you don’t believe in God or a higher power, you can’t deny the uniqueness that each one of us has.
Each one of us has a unique personality, history, and perspective on the world. I want to use my uniqueness as an advantage.
3. Remembering that “comparison is the thief of joy.”
It’s interesting, the singer I mentioned earlier never made it out of the OKC music scene. I don’t even remember her name. As great as she was, there is always someone better.
Comparison is a losing game. No matter how hard we strive or work or how talented we are, there will always be someone better and there will always be someone worse.
When we compare our self to someone less talented, it leads to pride and a warped perspective. This takes our eyes off of our unique purpose. When we compare our self to someone more talented, it leads to frustration or resignation. This takes our eyes off our unique purpose.
This is still a hard one for me. It helps to repeat my mantra every time I watch a brilliant speaker, listen to a beautiful song, or observe a moving piece of art. I repeat, “nothing is missing.” They have what they need, and I have what I need.
Quick side note. You know one of the places that causes the most comparison? Social media. If you deal with comparison or envy, it may be worth limiting the amount of time you spend looking at the carefully curated, perfect photos of others. This is something I’ve had to do.
I may never be a successful musician or artist but I can “be the best me I can be.”
Okay. That’s too many clichés, I’m done.