How to Conquer Envy

Edward Hopper: Office in a Small City
Edward Hopper: Office in a Small City

Dear friend,

The problem with today’s world with social media— we quantify our self-worth with others.

This is easy for us to turn victim to envy. To jealousy — wishing that we were someone else.

1. Life isn’t a competition

edward hopper
Edward Hopper

First of all, there is no competition in life. This concept of games have screwed up us since we were kids. We were socialized from a young age that there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’

In Spartan times, they didn’t let the kids play games. Because they would have a concept of ‘winning and losing.’ They wanted to make sure that Spartans could never feel a sense of ‘losing.’ Even during the battle of the 300 Spartans— they weren’t remembered as being ‘beaten’ — but remembered as being ‘played.’

2. I am not immune

Edward Hopper Automat
Edward Hopper Automat

I know I am prone to envy. No matter how good I have it, I will always envy others. Envy others with more toys than me, envy others with more followers and likes than me, and more money and influence than me.

I want to share these personal remedies with you; things which have helped me (somewhat) overcome my envy:

3. Only compete against myself

Cape Cod Morning - Edward Hopper
Cape Cod Morning – Edward Hopper

In life, I think competition is good to motivate us. But it is unhealthy to compete against others.

The only person we should compete against: ourselves.

For example, I used to be an insecure scrawny Asian kid, and I started to lift weights as a way to boost my self esteem. However over time, I used to compare myself to other guys at the gym. I would feel discouraged for all the guys with bigger biceps than me.

But now, I try to only compete against myself. When I deadlift at the gym, I ignore everyone else. I am only focused on increasing my ‘1 rep maximum’. Each week, I try to add 2.5 – 5 pounds to my deadlift. I try to increase my personal maximum. I am only competing against myself from a week ago.

Even in photography, my only goal is to compete against my past self. To try to make better photos than I did a year ago.

4. Ignore numbers

People in the Sun - Edward Hopper
People in the Sun – Edward Hopper

I think numbers are bad for our ego. When we compare ourselves on social media, it is the worst. I look at my photos that get fewer likes than my friend, and I feel envious. I feel like I’m failing somehow.

The strange irony — even though I might get 3,000 likes on a photograph on Instagram, I am still envious of the guy who gets 10,000 likes. So it is like money — no matter how much you have, it will never be enough.

Now, I try not to quantify my self-esteem through numbers. I no longer count the number of pull-ups or push-ups I can do. I still count the deadlift numbers, but it is more about knowing how much weight to add, to increase the difficulty.

I don’t count the 0’s in my bank account. I only check my finances once a month. I intentionally have setup my social media so I don’t look at my likes on my photos and the views on my videos. I know that whenever I look at the numbers, I feel a bit disappointed. And I lose my enthusiasm.

I think numbers are bad, and I no longer believe in this ‘quantified self’ movement. I don’t think human beings should quantify our self-worth through numbers. We shouldn’t count our self-esteem through how many 0’s we have in our bank account, how many likes, followers, comments, or toys we own.

5. Think of all the people who would envy to be in my spot

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Rather than looking forward in life, I start to look backwards.

It is easy to look forward, and see all those other people who are ahead of you. But rarely do we look backwards, and look at all those others that we are in front of.

No matter what, we will always have people who would envy to be in our spot. Even if we are poor in America, we are still more wealthy than 99% of the world— think India, Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.

6. Just do me

Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper

I used to be nosy what others were up to. Now I really don’t care. I care about how my close friends, family, and loved ones are doing. But 99.9% of the rest of the world, I don’t really care.

I think it is important to “do you” — which means, do what makes you happy. What uplifts your soul. Do creative work which is meaningful to you.

7. We are all on the same basketball team

Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper

I used to feel envy for other photographers who were more successful than me. But now, I realize— we are all brothers and sisters. And when my brother or sister succeeds, I am also succeeding.

So why should I feel envy? I should feel happy. Because we are all on the same basketball team. If the point guard makes the three-pointer, and I am the center, I still gain 3 points. It is a team effort. Life isn’t a zero-sum game; we are all on the same team, all helping and supporting one another.

So whenever I see someone get a book deal, have a fancy exhibition, get a bunch of followers, win some award, whatever— I feel happy for them. Because what is good for them is good for me. And what is good for me, is good for them.


Carolina Morning - Edward Hopper
Carolina Morning – Edward Hopper

I have still not wholly conquered envy. But I have conquered a lot of envy.

Some practical tips:

  1. Use ‘Flume’ to upload photos to Instagram from your laptop (if you have a Mac, it is available in the App Store). It costs about $10, but by using it, I get less distracted by how many likes I get. And therefore less envious.
  2. Unfollow everyone on social media: A bit self-centered, but by not following anyone else, I feel less envy.
  3. Uninstall all social media apps from phone: I still keep in touch with close friends and family over Kakaotalk (the Korean version of WhatsApp), but as for all other social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, etc) are uninstalled from my phone. So I am less prone to checking my feeds, and getting envious of others.

Be creative today, and create the art you were designed to make.


How to conquer >

Ground Swell by Edward Hopper
Ground Swell by Edward Hopper

How to conquer: