Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Real Reason You Need To Overcome Envy

Envy, to put it bluntly, sucks.  This isn't news; envy is one of the original seven deadly sins.  And the media is happy to tell us that envy is the most modern of sins, enabled by social media and the fear of missing out (FOMO; by the way, who decided that everything had to be abbreviated these days.  Are we really that short of letters?).

As a result, we're blasted with advice to stop comparing ourselves to others.  Yet while I acknowledge the corrosive effects of envy, I can't help but feel that all this well-meaning advice focuses on *avoiding* envy rather than truly *overcoming* envy, and that's a huge missed opportunity.

Comparing yourself to others can lead to envy, but it is also an incredibly powerful tool.

I started my career in personal finance and investing, and I still remember one of the key lessons of personal finance--90% of investment returns come from asset allocation, not asset selection.  In other words, what matters is the amount you invest in equities, not the individual stocks you pick.

The same principle applies to your life.  The categories you choose for yourself have a huge impact on what you achieve.

It would be easy for me to define a narrow category in which I could be the market leader--for example, independent angel investors who majored in Creative Writing and Product Design and have written a best-selling book.  But such a categorization only serves to make me feel good about myself; it doesn't actually give me useful feedback on how to get better.

In contrast, if I put myself in broad categories like "Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs" or "Early-stage Investors," I am decidedly not a market leader.  In fact, I'm a very small fish in a very big pond.

It would be very easy to feel envious of people who invested in Dropbox or Whatsapp (sadly, I didn't, even though I was introduced to Drew back in 2008, and was actually a Stanford classmate of Brian Acton).  And being human, I do struggle with envy at times.

But by struggling with, and eventually overcoming that envy, I'm able to define a successful peer group from whom I can learn.  Recognizing and acknowledging my own mistakes and failings, and learning from the success of others are two of the main ways I can improve.

Ultimately, success in my world, the startup ecosystem, is determined by the ability to learn quickly.  Comparing myself to others is one of the best ways for me to do just that.

This approach isn't for everyone; you need to feel secure in your own identity and worthiness, so that realizing just how many times you've f--ked up doesn't send you into a tailspin of depression.  But once you're able to overcome, rather than just avoid envy, the rewards are great.

Don't stop comparing yourself to others...stop feeling envy and start seeing opportunity.


Ben Casnocha said...

Hey! This was my blog post idea that I'm in the middle of! :)

Chris said...

And this post was triggered by the presence of that Zen Habits post in your feed!