Kosher cookies generally suck. However, the ones I was munching on last summer at the Houston Jewish Community Center weren’t half bad.
I, along with the other lanky teens hovering around me, was awaiting the awards ceremony for the annual J-Teen arts competition, an event where Jewish teens from around
their best artwork to be judged by a committee of starving artists. I submitted
a kick-ass pastel work that I was sure would take top prize.
A soft tap on the mike signaled the start of the awards.
Best in thematic photography: something, something, Cohen! Best in thematic digital design, something, something, Levy! Best in thematic works on paper…Rachel Goldstein!
My name is not Rachel Goldstein.
jeal·ous·y [jel-uh-see]: resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another's success or advantage itself, in other words, the very feeling coursing through my veins at the time.
Behind everything we do, there is a source of motivation that drives us forward. Some look to their future dream job as a surgeon at Texas Children’s, as they sit 'til 3 am doing an AP World History project. Some focus on the Ducati they’ll be able to buy after a summer of barista-ing at Starbucks. But what do these two have in common? They are both dreams fueled by jealousy.
I believe that jealousy is the root of all inspiration. You want to be a surgeon because you either know or have heard of a doctor with a 6-digit income who gets to improve the lives of thousands of children. You only want the Ducati because it got your brother laid, and you want a share of the magic. You want to be able to experience the benefits of these achievements for yourself.
The main problem with admitting jealousy is that it generally has a very negative connotation. It is directly assumed that if you are jealous of someone, you are not happy for them or are malicious toward them because of his or her achievements. I don’t believe that this is always the case. In the above anecdote, I had nothing against Rachel- I simply desired the recognition that she had received in the contest for myself. I used my desire, my jealousy, as a push factor to create an even more spectacular piece for the next competition. I spent weeks on my new piece, obsessively perfecting every detail, imagining myself receiving the award, which I’m pleased to say I did.
I also believe that jealousy is one of the strongest motivations we can have to succeed. We choose role models on the basis that they have achieved something that we want to achieve as well. If you have older siblings, this line might sound familiar: “Your brother placed 4th in the American Chemical Society exam, why can’t you?” Well…maybe not that exact line. However, if you have been the target of similar comment, at that moment, your parents were implementing a very effective motivational tactic that I like to call “positive jealousy”. In the very best case of positive jealousy, you will strive to gain the same esteem in the eyes of your parents as your older sibling by studying your butt off for the next ACS exam. You place 4th, and your parents love you again!
But what if you don’t? What if our best efforts fail or we’re simply not good enough? This is where jealousy reveals itself as a double-edged sword that can at first inspire and later send its victim tumbling down the slippery slope of unconsolidated loathing. In my case, if I hadn’t gotten the spot the second time around, the most important thing to do would have been to deal with it and let go. This is the catch that comes with jealousy and gives it its reputation, for this is where many meet their ruin.
Jealousy that is allowed to fester after it no longer has purpose or isn’t directed into anything productive can be extremely destructive. Some are literally eaten away by jealous grudges against loved ones or rivals that they could not let go. Extended jealousy has been proven to degrade one’s physical as well as psychological health. A recent study showed that it can even degrade one’s vision. Talk about ‘blind jealousy’…
As cynical as it sounds, I believe that jealousy makes the world go round. But above all, it’s what makes us human. No other animal experiences envy of a fellow’s possessions or position, yet at the same time, no other animal pushes itself as hard as we humans do to satisfy anything other than its basic needs. When used correctly and in small doses, jealousy can have marvelous effects. The constant desire to upstage our peers may sound heartless, but it promotes progress like no other and has brought us where we are today.