Monday, May 13, 2013

punch envy in the face

We've all heard the phrase the grass is greener on the other side, right?

Yeah. That's what this post is about.

For as long as I can remember, I've lacked that competitive edge. I was placed into sports at a pretty young age, because my energy and enthusiasm were through the roof and I'm sure my parents literally wept in joy to have an instructor or coach try to tackle that unbridled energy for a couple hours each day so that they could lie face down on the floor and sleep for eight minutes. But even as I "competed" in gymnastics, soccer, and martial arts, I was never competitive. I simply didn't care about beating anyone else. Trophies were boring, and I was always more concerned about the feelings of the kids on the losing team when we did win. I could not have been less interested in measuring my progress against how the other kids my age were doing, or looking at anyone else to figure out my place in the world.

When I did push myself (and I do, quite often), I measured myself up against me. Was I better today than I was yesterday? Did I hike further, punch harder, stretch longer, do even more push-ups than the day before? I measured me against me, and it worked out fairly well, because the most important thing I gained from that was happiness. I was happy to just be me. I didn't need to be anyone else, even if some kids were going further or faster. What other people accomplished simply didn't affect me, not because I didn't care about them, but because it never felt like the accomplishments of other people took something away from ME.

School and acting were the same way for me. I received high grades in school but didn't care what other people were earning (I remember getting cornered by the Smart Kid in my AP English class one year when he discovered that I had the highest grade in the class. But you don't even care, he kept saying, as if my lack of competitiveness meant that I shouldn't be able to write an essay well.) When I moved up to LA to pursue acting, I was genuinely glad when someone I knew booked a great part in a tv show or movie. It still never felt like something was being taken away from me. I was happy to just be traveling on my own journey, at my own speed.

Years passed. My Happiness Set Point remained solid and steady, and I was content to take things at my own speed. But little by little, other people worried about me, and they told me so. They were concerned that I was missing out on great opportunities, because I wasn't pushy or aggressive enough. They assumed that because I was content, it meant that I didn't care about taking my career further. They pointed out that other people had more auditions or jobs than I did, and what was I going to do about it?

It's hard to stay happy when people tell you that you shouldn't be. And of my own accord, a few years ago, I opened the door to Dissatisfaction, and along with it came Insecurity, Unhappiness, and yes - Envy. Suddenly, as if I were trying to make up for all those years lost, I couldn't stop obsessing about other people and what they had. Why didn't I have what they did in their careers? Every job my friends booked, I was still happy for them - but it hurt. It was a subtraction from my own happiness. Their happiness took away part of mine (something I hate to admit here on a public blog, but don't worry - this story has a happy ending.) And every actual expert on happiness can tell you what I had completely forgotten, as I went over and over every night what mistakes I must have possibly made, as I looked back at the past and bathed in regret each evening wondering what I should have done differently so that I'd be a successful working actress by now. They'd say that TRUE happiness does not concern itself with what other people are doing, that real happiness only multiplies and adds, never subtracts, never divides. And I know all that. Intellectually. But it's hard to fight back against the demons once you opened the door and let them come in and trash your house.

So I had to start from scratch. Just like taking a break from working out, it was hard and discouraging and time-consuming and frustrating and there was a lot of  I already learned this lesson, why am I here again. I put one foot in front of the other and tried to remember what it felt like to not compare myself to others. To not take things personally. To feel genuine joy for the success of other people.

It was not easy, and it took a while. But I read a quote one day that helped move that journey along a little faster. It said, "The grass is greener on the other side because it's getting watered."

BAM. That was it. That was the perspective I needed. The grass is greener on the other side...because on the other side is someone who is working their ass off, focusing on their own journey, taking care of what needs to get taken care of, and not spending so much time looking over at their neighbor's lawn. And I had NO CLUE. I had no clue what other people were going through, that some people were looking at ME and being envious of me and thinking I was the one who had it easy. We are all looking over at each's other lawns and having zero clue about the hard work that goes in to maintaining it, all of us needlessly comparing and competing and making ourselves miserable.

And then I started to remember. Like muscle memory, I started to remember my natural happiness set point, where I never felt lack in my own life just because someone else had abundance in theirs. I remembered what it meant to be grateful, to be present and grounded and focused on my own life (in a non-selfish way), to take deep breaths and start focusing on my own grass rather than worrying about what someone else was doing on their grass.

I am still driven, I am still pushing, especially in a challenging career choice that encourages competitiveness and back-stabbing. But I'm back on track. And I've been trying to write this post for several months now, and I finally got it out of my system and into the world and if only one of you who reads it is changed by it, I will have done my job.

Go out into the world and know that nothing is against you. Go out and punch envy in the face.


kj said...

Aw Tracy, you are a gem. I love your honesty and you write so darn well! That ego clammers away and you somehow maintained your own place of center. So you listened to others for a time and then, true to form, you learned what you already knew.

These studies in happiness confirm that Alice is thrilled with her salary increase until she learns that cheryl makes more. Then Alice is miserable. As if contentment is something to be compared

My heart and my fingers are crossed for you that you reach every dream you wish for. That you know that is quite enough tells me I wish we were hang around friends :-)


Rosaria Williams said...

Ah, you are wise beyond your years!

I find that young people are consciously pulling back from competitive situations mostly because they have seen their parents burn up, develop high blood pressure. They learned that happiness is a private satisfaction that relies on setting the bar for yourself, not for others.

Luck is what you define for yourself as luck; it is not what others define for you.

Anthony Duce said...

It’s great when we step back and take these things into perspective. For some it takes a lifetime, and some never learn.
Wonderful post…

JJ said...

Tracy: I have to tell you that in my lifetime I did a zillion things. I am a pretty competitive guy, but many times I did not get the results I desired. However, many times, I also succeeded. Whenever I did, there were always people who said, "You are so lucky." Bull. I worked my tail off!

I followed Pro golfer (first name Nick) at a tournament one year. He struggled the first few rounds and a reporter, (a real pain in the ass), kept asking him how he felt on each opportunity. When it looked like he would not make the final round, he hit a very rare shot they call a "sandie." The ball popped out of the sand and into the hole. He made the final round, but the reporter kept asking, ad nauseam, if he was just lucky. Through all those annoying questions, he always remained a gentleman and a man of few words.

In any event, in the final round, Nick played well, until the last (or second-to-last) hole. Then, unfortunately, he hit his ball into the sand bunker on the far side of the green. His opponent was on the green and two strokes away from victory. In an amazing display, and very unusual moment, Nick hit another sandie and won the tournament. The gallery went wild, but the reporter continued her badgering about luck.

As he stood holding the winning check for photographers, the reporter approached him and said, "This is your last chance to address the TV audience. Tell us, that was just luck, wasn't it?" At last, Nick spoke, very softly, and replied: "Yes, it was. And if you practice as hard as I do every day, you can be lucky too."

He walked away, and I learned a lesson at a young age that stayed with me my whole life.

You are a wonderful human being, and that is not luck!

Barbara said...

It has always amused me, that people are envious of each other. Nobody gets off...everyone has problems. After all these years, I still want MY problems. Jealousy is a waste of time.
However...I don't think competition is necessarily a bad thing when you're young. You've got to be prepared for life and work. Getting a job IS a competition. Especially these days.

Bathwater said...

I am glad this ended the way it did. It didn't sound like you for a moment.

I try not to measure myself against others, what they have comes with things I am not willing to pay. It is easier for me to think that way with career and material things.

Eric W. Trant said...

Spot-on, my friend. We can be our own worst critic or biggest fan. It's up to us who gets the mic, and that makes all the difference.

- Eric

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