A few months back, I wrote a piece and posted it to this site titled “Work Envy: From the Ditch of My Discontent.” In it, I told a story of two very different kinds of work that a buddy of mine out west in the High Plains, and I, here in the Southeast, were doing on the same day and how that made me feel, and view myself. I went on to consider how often we sometimes wish we could do someone else’s job instead of our own, speculated on some of the reasons why we do this, and ultimately asked the question “ . . . what, or better yet, where is the answer for the WEQ (work envy quagmire)?”
At the very end of the original post on Work Envy (WE), I hinted that I wanted to flesh out some of the more “practical” (“So what do I do now?”) sides of the concepts raised in my very real account of dealing with my experience and view of my work and how it stacks up—i.e., compares. Also in the original post, I gave an inkling that the answer to a riddle posed therein may be forthcoming later. Well, this is that “later” post.
If you have not read it, I would suggest that you first go back to the original story and musings to get the context and assumptions made in “Part I” before diving straightway in here.
A Review From Last Time
- We compare ourselves to others.
This almost always produces a not-good result, and very often is not done with the best of motives, or at least not with an admission to ourselves that the mindset from which these kind of comparisons come is often skewed against us from the outset.
- Another standard is required with which to judge the differences we notice when we do observe other individuals’ work and lives.
We desperately need a higher, wiser, less self-centered and self-destructive standard.
- This is hard to believe, but we are all eligible to be given the gift of a radically different, much healthier perspective and way to live, and then empowered—little by little, for the rest of our lives—to live life in this new and different way.
We can stop looping through the comparison cycle (compare ourselves to others, strive, fail, compare, strive, fail, compare . . . ), and stop the negative fallout in our heads. How? It is only if we seek the gift in which the new standard is embodied, abandon the age-old, worn out and unsuccessful way of getting lasting satisfaction, receive, open and embrace this new, “higher standard” life and then enjoy an entirely different, and fully complete, deep and abiding satisfaction.
So now that we have both reviewed, and pointed toward the solution, let’s wrap up my our examination. Then we can prepare to dismiss WE’s mostly-cunningly-hidden rotten cousins Miss Discontentment, Mr. Pride, and the sniveling, grabbing, dirty one in the corner Wan Tin Moore that—for me anyway—drop in for unexpected visits in my head all too frequently [that rotten-to-the-core crew that I’d like to evict from my consciousness permanently!].
The Hint: A Really Higher Standard
I brought the first installment on this topic to a close with “steps which I hope you find helpful in lessening your stress and discomfort as you fight the battle against WE in your own world.” My intent was to start us thinking about how apparently unsuccessful the average one of us is in rising above the negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors that we struggle with (envy, along with discontentment and pride being particularly relevant in the present discussion) in everyday, routine things.
I’m finding that simply adopting, and then thinking or saying a personal mantra or affirmation statement like “Whenever I realize that I am comparing myself to others, I’m going to stop and replace comparison with thankful thoughts for the unique person God made me to be,” turns out to be easier to say, than to actually do during intense times of stress and insecurity. And this is because learned or prescribed mantras are frankly pitifully powerless unless they are deeply integrated into the core of one’s deeply-held beliefs (even better, substitute the word “soul,” or the phrase “the bottom of your heart” for “core of one’s beliefs”).
If you were to say, “So let’s get to the bottom line here. How do I rid myself of WE and the other negatives that seem to cling to me so doggedly?” I would say this: I firmly believe what each of us needs to get out from under the crushing oppression of not just the comparison trap that so defeats us, but all of the negative patterns of thought and behavior in every realm of our existence is a complete shift of mind and heart. Actually to be specific, humanity—we, each one of us—needs an intervention and not from some super, supposedly all-wise human guru, but from someone superhuman; in fact, way way beyond human.
- “Hold it,” you may be thinking, “Nobody said this was going to be a God thing!” If that is what is top of mind for you right now, and that thought is causing you to want to stop reading, turn away, and forego the story’s ending, I ask, please, would you read on? You may never pass this way again. And this may not be the story you think it is.
I propose that often when we compare ourselves to others, it is because we are restlessly discontent. Simply put, hordes and hordes of humans are truly, deeply dissatisfied, and not just with work. It goes far beyond that. “And with what are we not satisfied?” you may ask. Frankly, we aren’t truly satisfied with ourselves or anyone around us if we are still operating with the same old, plain old, flawed human standard for, and way of thinking about, what is really most important in life and in death.
Who Are Those Beautiful People on the Screen, And Why Can’t I Be Like Them?
Every day, most of us see thousands of images, video footage, ads, news broadcasters, commentators, and professional play acting in huge variety; all depicting or depending on really attractive, smart, successful, “together” people. When did we forget that they are make believe. They’re not real. Even if they are telling us about real things, remember, they have a team of thought leaders, directors, producers, makeup artists, editors, personal trainers, coaches, et al behind them to make sure that we think they are completely believable, and trustworthy to tell us the truth, and to perform at 100%, all the time. And they often get “retakes” or other after-the-camera-stops-rolling/mic-stops-recording fixes.
And then we look at ourselves in the mirror. Ouch.
Or we go to a movie and watch usually-other-worldly plots unfold wherein the characters we have come to respect as somehow righteous or noble—by human standards —do what we think is the right and noble thing, and consequently, they really do live happily ever after. (Of course let us not forget that films, TV, novels, videos all portray as convincingly as possible what the author or screenwriter wants us to believe whether it is real, or possible, or true, or not.) And after we have tossed the empty popcorn and drink containers into the waste bin in the lobby, we need to (but often don’t) discipline ourselves to remember that those people were roles—some of which we would like to see filled in reality, but many of which should be conspicuously labeled CAUTION: Not possible to exist in real life; for fantastical imaginings only!
Probably not coincidentally, by the time we’ve started the car in the parking lot to go home, something out of somewhere kicks off a replay of snippets of our own personal video or audio in our heads of that all-too-real scene or conversation we engaged in that, frankly, we are really ashamed of. We glance in the rearview mirror. And a lot of us ask ourselves things like, “Am I good enough? Am I as much of a mess as I strongly suspect that I am? Is planet Earth in the twenty-first century as much of a shambles as I’m pretty sure it is—as much of a picking-up-speed meltdown that all those videos in my twitter, and Facebook, [and fill-in-your-social-media-substance-of-choice] feeds would suggest?”
And so I have observed in my own life and in the lives of many others a resulting, increasing, anxious restlessness and co-joined frustration with our inability to fix things (ultimately, to fix ourselves so that we stay fixed).
Fundamentally, I have concluded that a lot of us have trouble seeing the possibility—either today or in the future—of ourselves (of us) as beautiful and amazing people that a right-now-living, supreme being (I’ll just call him God for now) created us to be. A further stretch would be for us to believe that this God made each one of us in such a way that every one of our minds, spirits, and bodies could know, and feel, and express, and do all things in such a way as to reflect the utter magnificence, excellence and goodness of this creator God, and that left us fulfilled and mutually fulfilling other humans’ needs all around us in the process. Now that would be amazing!
And probably the ultimate, least believable idea of all would be as follows. Let us assume just for a moment that a) there is such a right-now-living supreme God who creates each human being uniquely and with loving care, and that b) God does the creating in such a way as to reflect how awesome he is, while at the same time in a way that leaves us with the possibility of being completely fulfilled, and fulfilling others. If these things were true, and we lived every day being actively empowered by and engaged with the personally-accessible God of all things seen and unseen, might it be possible that we would be and think and do everything with the most peace, and fulfillment, and satisfaction to ourselves and others around us that is possible during life on Earth?1
Such a life of creator-provided peace and fulfillment . . . that would be a miracle. And finally, this leads us back to the riddle.
The Answer to the Riddle in Work Envy “Part I”: Paradoxes Sometimes Contain Hidden Beauty (that seems “upside down”) Until We Ourselves are Turned Upside Down So That We Can See Their Truth and Beauty Rightly
One definition of the word paradox from funkandwagnalls.com is . . .
A statement seemingly absurd or self-contradictory in its terms, but really true.
What was our riddle in “Part I?” It was as follows: “Up is down, and down is up.” Would you say that this little sentence is a paradox? At the end last time I said, “If you get the correct answer to the riddle, you will understand the hint . . .” So now that we have uncovered what I only hinted at (God-seeking thinking vs. human-solution thinking) in the first post about the adoption of a really higher standard from which to “do” all of life, let’s untangle the riddle.
A simple reading of the riddle (Up is down, and down is up) should produce a response something like, “That doesn’t make sense! You’re contradicting yourself. But why you would spend so much time writing and publishing this post if you weren’t confident you were speaking accurately of a sure solution, and that it was important to think about?”
Having just refreshed our memories on the meaning of the word “paradox,” a bell should be ringing in fast succession in your head’s built in theater system, with the following spelled out in flashing neon on its screen, “Ladies and gentlemen, WE HAVE A PARADOX!” What did Messrs. Funk and Wagnalls say about it in the definition above? Their dictionary says that it is a “A statement seemingly absurd or self-contradictory . . . but really true .” Well, our paradox definitely passes the test for seemingly absurd or self-contradictory, but in what (if any) sense is it “really true” (that Up is down, and down is up)? And furthermore, how does knowing that explain the hint we were promised that will finally get us out of this Work Envy Quagmire?
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”2
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.3
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.4
The answers (yes, plural) to the WEQ come from these three quotes—and a host of others—and not from a place where I (nor anyone else) store mere, human-generated, philosophical or religious musings and meandering. The book from which the quotes above came—in case you didn’t look at the footnotes—is the one known in English simply as The Bible or sometimes The Holy Bible.
THE END of the Beginning
So if you now conclude that the key to understanding our hint (we need a “higher standard” in order to deal with this whole work envy thing) somehow has something to do with maybe this specific paradox—Up is down, and down is up—I have good news. You’re right! And if it is your further conclusion that maybe paradoxical thinking (and being) would be required to find, lay claim to, and live this higher standard, then I would say that you are right again. And thus, twice right, you would be ready for the only sustainable, permanent answer to the problem of not only WE, but the other six of The Seven Deadly Sins as well—and more.
- What if the key to being contented and at peace and (while not “happy” every waking and sleeping moment of every day) having a deeply-rooted, joyful outlook on the remaining messes in us and around us, were as simple as being gifted with an upside down way of looking at things? And what if this gift, by its very nature, caused you to begin to live your life in a way that someone who had not received the gift would likely view as pretty upside down?Would you be willing to risk it?
We will consider this strange path again at this virtual stop along the way, and by different ways and means: visually, audibly, fictionally, factually, musically, allegorically, and who knows . . . maybe even poetically.
If you’d like to talk one-on-one about this post, email me.
- Yes, I do believe that there is a God (incomprehensibly complex, powerful beyond what we can begin to imagine, and perfectly good and ever beneficent to all that he has made), and that this one and only, true and living God existed in eternity past, exists now, and will exist always in eternity future—all in the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Further, I believe that God is personally involved in the lives of every boy, girl, man, and woman who has ever been born or ever will be born. Also I believe that human biology and anatomy notwithstanding—and accordingly, even though men’s and women’s combined role in making human life come into the world is an undeniable fact—only God personally and carefully creates (individually and absolutely uniquely) each soul and spirit associated with each human body. I believe that although each human body will die, our unique spirits and souls will live in a conscious state even after our bodies return to dust. I believe that there never has been, nor will there ever be any other of God’s creations in all of time and space (or any hitherto-unknown, now-suspected, or in-the-future-discovered dimension(s)), just like you or me. And I believe—because God took away my spiritual blindness so that I could believe—that there is reason, purpose, and the ultimate fulfillment of a Master Plan for every human who has been born (and every human who has ever died by whatever means in their mother’s wombs) from the beginning of time, up to now and beyond. ↩︎
- From the Bible, the book of Isaiah, the 55th chapter, and the 8th and 9th verses (New Living Translation) ↩︎
- From the Bible, the Gospel According to Luke, the 9th chapter, and the 24th verse (New Living Translation) ↩︎
- From the Bible, the book of Philippians, the 2nd chapter, and the 3rd and 4th verses (English Standard Version) ↩︎