My oldest saw a performance of the Nutcracker last Friday at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Before we all declare our willingness to trade lives with her, rest assured that I am already first in line for that privilege should the opportunity arise. I can think of no better way to spend a December morning, and neither could she! As an aspiring actress, she was delighted with both her good fortune and the generosity of her teachers and the Fine Arts Committee at her school.
It was all just grand…except for one thing. That morning she fretted that she might feel envious of the performers’ capability and that it would dampen the experience for her – that she’d spend too much time wishing she could perform at that level instead of just taking in the show. My sweet girl is so self aware that she sees this coming before it even occurs, and then worry begins to creep in.
Since we were standing in front of the bathroom mirror together when this came up, I was literally staring at an analogy that I thought she might find helpful.
“Ummm…myself?” she said.
“And what’s on the other side of the mirror – behind it?”
“Well something is behind it, right?”
“I guess so, but I can’t see anything because of the mirror. All I see is myself.”
Exactly! But what if it didn’t have to be that way? Think about a two-way mirror, the kind you might find in a marketing research focus group room or even an interrogation room.
Scientifically speaking, a two way mirror is partially reflective and partially transparent. When one side of the mirror is brightly lit and the other is dark, you can see through from the darkened side to the illuminated side….but not vice versa. From the brightly lit side, all you can see is yourself.
I offered up that the key to avoiding envy might be for us to take care to situate ourselves on the dark side of the glass, shining the light on others instead of on ourselves. Might this allow us to simply appreciate them without considering how we compare?
Think about it.
If we could just stay focused on that, grounded in humble admiration, we wouldn’t need to slide into envy. It’s only when we allow the light to shine back on ourselves, illuminating our own perceived shortcomings in that proverbial mirror, that our initial admiration gets twisted into something ugly.
What if we could just stop at the admiration and appreciation phase and skip the next step? Could we be inspired by what we see instead of jealous of it? I think so.
We do this so well when we’re admiring someone with talent or success in an arena we don’t care much about. I never envy a 6’5″ basketball star, but I’ll bet a lot of 5’10” 17 year old boys do. It’s far trickier when we’re on the same path and feel like someone else is pulling ahead of us.
So what’s a girl to do? I had an idea.
I encouraged my daughter to go into the performance looking for excellence…shining her light on the stage instead of on herself. I challenged her to find the most amazing performer on the stage and then after the show to send a letter of admiration and encouragement to that young person, giving specifics about how the performance had inspired her. She could shine a very bright light on that aspiring star, providing heartfelt praise and expressing genuine appreciation for her talent. She could address it to “The Sugar Plum Fairy” or “Clara” or whomever and send it to the school. I was sure it would reach its intended recipient and that it would provide a moment of joy she wouldn’t soon forget.
Envy is normal, and human, and prevalent. But if we can remember that it always, always begins with admiration, we just might be able to stop it in its tracks.
Whom could you lift up today with a word of heartfelt praise or appreciation? That woman with the great haircut in line at Starbucks? The colleague who just killed it on your last project? The neighbor whose holiday lights took three days to put up? The Facebook friend with the most creative Elf on a Shelf antics you’ve ever seen? Can you redirect your energy toward making their day instead of ruining your own?