We’re already two weeks into 2015, but I’ve just thought up another New Year’s resolution, so I’m going to make it now.
It’s a simple one, just four words: turn envy into inspiration.
This morning, my writer friend Claire emailed the members of our writing group to announce that she had just launched her new website and blog. In her first blog entry, she wrote about surviving two data-devouring computer crashes, replacing her computer, and—most impressive of all—planning and carrying out a week-long personal writing retreat.
Her partner, Deborah, a nurse, was off to Guatemala to spend the week working in a clinic, so Claire holed up in their rustic, off-the-grid cabin, disconnected herself from the outside world, hauled water from the well and wood for the fire…and set up a website, created a blog, started an application for a writing residency, and added thirty-two pages to her novel-in-progress.
I subscribed to her blog and responded to her email right away to let her know how impressed I was by all she had done, and how inspired I was by her successful home writing retreat.
Except that as I typed my email, “inspired” wasn’t the first word that came to mind.
“I’m so envious of your home writing retreat!” I wrote.
“Envious” seemed like the most natural word to use. After all, my first reaction, when I read about Claire’s full week of solitude, was envy. A whole week at home alone to write? Heck, yes, I was envious.
But I started to think about what that word—envy—really means. To me, at least, it has quite negative connotations. In fact, it reflects badly on both the envier and the envied.
The one who envies is saying, in a way, “Poor me, that’s something that I can’t do/have/gain.”
Even worse, there’s a suggestion, implicit in the word, that the person being envied doesn’t deserve what they’ve done/gotten/gained, or, at the very least, there’s no credit given for the effort they’ve put into the achievement. (It’s kind of like telling a marathon winner, “You’re so lucky.”)
That certainly wasn’t the message I meant to send to Claire, who had an idea for a writing retreat, planned how to make it happen, set definite goals for herself, and then took full advantage of the time to accomplish them.
So I changed my words to, “I’m so inspired by your home writing retreat!”
Because if I say, instead, that I’m inspired by what Claire has done, what I’m saying—what I hope I’m conveying, anyway—is, “Thank you for showing me that it’s possible to set goals and achieve them.”
Merriam-Webster defines envy as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”
Being “envious” takes the responsibility off of me and allows me to feel sorry for myself. It takes me back to elementary school, when maybe I was envious that Susie’s father was rich and bought her a pony, while all I got was a goldfish. (Actually, I didn’t know anyone with a pony. Or anyone named Susie, for that matter.)
And it’s true, I wasn’t inspired by Susie’s pony. I was envious. But I was a little kid. And it was a pony. (If there had been a pony, that is.)
“To inspire,” on the other hand, means “to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”
“Inspired” says that I’m going to choose to view others’ achievements in a positive way, as an example of what I, too, can achieve, if I focus on a goal and work at it.
As I told Claire, “I realized that if I make that same word substitution every time I start to feel envy about anyone, for any reason, it will automatically turn a negative feeling into a positive. So, from here on out, I will no longer feel envy—always inspiration instead.”
Of course, I haven’t exactly done a great job so far with my other ten resolutions for 2015. I sure am envious of inspired by people who actually manage to keep their resolutions.