We all do this bad bad thing ... but it actually makes us win at life.

When I was in high school I was jealous of a particular girl in my grade. We were worlds apart in personality, but very close in achievement level. We were friends, but it was a friendship filled with tension. One would come first, the other would come second. The problem was, I was too often the one coming second. And I didn’t have the personality to match.

When she came second it seemed like she could carry it. She had the charisma. The laugh. The jokes. I was awkward and more serious and less willing to show what I was really feeling. I was jealous of the way she could capture and keep attention, and that she would win a lot of the time. This jealousy made me feel vindicated when I did win. Or when I received acknowledgement before she did.

This ugly, spiteful, bratty side of my personality meant that I did better in high school than I ever probably expected. My competitiveness – but more than that, my jealousy for this one person – made me fight harder to be just as successful, acknowledged, ‘celebrated’ as she was.

(Spoilt and lucky and privileged, I know. But true none the less.)

This morning I read that 30% of us are motivated by envy, more than any other factors. More depressingly, the study found participants were more likely to ignore a larger prize in a raffle, and settle for a smaller one, in order to diminish another player’s chances of winning.

This surprised and shocked me at first. But then I thought about it.

(Diminishing another players’ chances aside) The way that we can be motivated by jealousy is so true. 

Google’s traits for success. Post continues below video. 

Given, the study wasn’t huge. It was a survey of 541 volunteers, published in Science Advances. But it got me thinking.

Seeing the things that we might or might not want in other people, and feeling envious of what they do or do not have, helps us more effectively identify and address the holes in our own personality or life path.

There is a more positive take on this. It’s called ‘Shine Theory’, and it was coined by Ann Friedman from The Cut. Shine Theory suggests we should be celebrating other women’s success, instead of seeing it as a cause of insecurity, because it will benefit us in the long run. If we surround ourselves with successful, smart, confident women, who are achieving great things, we are going to rise up under these circumstances, not fall further into our supposed (likely imagined) hole.

Friedman says there are different types of confidences. Sometimes a person’s confidence is designed to put others down (a sure sign they’re faking it). True confidence, on the other hand, should bring others up.

The underlying feeling still might stem from jealousy; for example looking at what someone else has and feeling envious of their success. But the reaction to this jealousy is different.

My high school grades improved because I chose to engage with someone who was smart and successful and better than me at most things academic. Friedman is more successful because of, not in spite of, her best friend Amina who is “effortlessly stylish, frighteningly intelligent, and beautiful, too”.


I wonder: How many times have we been motivated by jealousy, or envy, and come out for the better because of it?

It can be superficial…

I feel jealous of someone I stalk in Instagram, and then I buy the dress they’re wearing. – Sam, 24.

“Her hair looks better than mine,” I go to hairdresser. – Holly, 28.

My ex had perfect posture – straight as a ruler – so now I’m painfully vigilant of how hunched I can become. – Carla, 26.

It can be about brains and success

I guess sometimes I look at people I’m jealous of and realise I feel jealous because of something I’m lacking. I remember being really jealous when I saw my friend graduate from law. And I was so confused because I’ve never wanted to study law. It’s not that I wanted what she had. But then I realised at that point in my life I just felt like everything was a bit meh and I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to be achieving. – Annie, 26.

I was jealous of a girl my friend was dating, who is a television presenter. So I did a presenting course at NIDA. Kill me. I am so embarrassed that that was my motivation. – Zoe, 28.

I used to read really crap blogs but get jealous because I didn’t know what to do with my life. One of them was just SO crap that I was like “I better go to journalism school”. And here we are. – Alyshar, 23.

It can be practical

I was jealous that everyone in Australia can go to the beach 3/4 of the year so I moved here. – Amy, 32.

It’s always a lesson

When I get jealous (and it can be of so many things), I’m now at a stage where I can sort through it a bit in my head and then try to work on me a bit. My jealousy, in the end, usually makes me grateful because I do that old herbal hippie thing of going through all the things I have in life – not the things I don’t. It also reminds me I am not other people. I’m me so my life will be different and what I want out if it will not be like other people. – Jacqueline, 29.

(Now we’re all jealous of this final reaction, because it is perfect.)

Yes, jealousy can be an indicator of the things that are missing from, or that we want in, our own lives. But it should also be a reminder that we are lucky to be in a position where jealousy over a job title, or a certificate, or a family, or a house, is a possibility.

When used for good, jealousy can make us better, more accomplished people and professionals and partners and friends (with arguably better hair). But, when used negatively, jealousy has the power to turn us into a teenage brat who’s going to shut down and become moody and throw a tantrum if she comes second one more time.

As with everything, balancing your jealousy is likely to be a key to success (one more thing to balance, amiright?).

But shining brighter because of the wonderful women around you, not to ‘beat’ them or to cut them down, is something we should all make a habit of. (If for no other reason than people will be jealous of you kick-ass friendship group).