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Comparison, Envy, and Achieving Authentic Success

We’ve all seen the tweets or status updates on Facebook from friends and acquaintances saying, “I can’t believe I get to do _____ for a living. #blessed”.  For those of us who aren’t where we ideally want to be in our careers, these people may as well be saying, “You’re life sucks, my life is awesome. The end. Have a nice day.”

I’ve noticed this in my own life as I continue to pursue a career in acting. Ever so often an acting acquaintance will tweet something like, “I booked the role!” Don’t get me wrong, if it’s someone I respect for their character and work ethic I find myself celebrating their success and hoping the same happens for me down the road.

But what are we to do when success happens to the people in our lives who we like the least

Maybe you’re one of those people who likes everyone. And just for clarification, I’m not talking about loving everyone, I’m talking about liking everyone. But no matter how much “like” you have for others, there will always be a temptation to compare ourselves to those around us. I confess that it’s been a struggle for me as I’ve witnessed many people I know, the likable and the not-so-likable, stacking up success like pancakes on Saturday morning.

The problem with comparing ourselves to others comes down to a simple truth: we are not telling their story. They are.  The same applies in reverse order: we’re the only ones who can tell our story.

So why do we succumb to envy and comparison? I believe that envy is a lie rooted deep in the heart where we feel that our story is inadequate and that no one is interested in hearing it. We’ve believed a voice saying that our lives are only worth the amount of career success, material success, or relational success others are experiencing around us.

My mother-in-law recently reminded me of how Jesus responded to Peter when he was comparing himself to another disciple:

“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’” – John 21:20-22, NIV

We don’t know what Peter’s exact reaction was, but I’m guessing he had a good cry, binged on ice cream, and called it quits on his disciple career after being called out like that by Jesus…Or not….No, in fact, Peter went on to become an even more passionate follower of Jesus after his focus was redirected to his calling and not the calling of the other disciple.

Why would Peter respond this way? I’ve been thinking about this and I’m beginning to conclude that Jesus’ words didn’t just “call Peter out”. More than that, Jesus’ words reminded Peter that he was important, that his story mattered, and that his life’s success would be measured by God’s approval, not the success of this world. Validation from God is something that will either scare us because of the massive responsibility that comes with it, or it will be the spark that sends us out on the journey of our lives filled with hope, joy, and confidence.

If you’re looking at others and comparing yourself to their “success” you will be filled with despair, hopelessness, and anxiety of what the future holds. However, if you set your sights on God and the calling He has on your life to follow Him you will find hope, not despair. You will find confidence, not envy. You will find Courage to pursue your dreams, not fear of falling short.

This is something I’m still grappling with, but each day that passes I’m beginning to realize how little my comparisons accomplish outside of manufacturing despair and anxiety. There is a better way.

– AV