The week before I left for vacation in Australia (and more on this in future posts), I came across a long article about Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!. She’s in the news a lot as she tries to turn Yahoo! around, with many articles noting that she’s a woman, that she was employee number 20 at Google, and that she’s prettier than some people would expect a software engineer to be. (You’ve probably seen all the brouhaha about her posing in Vogue.) The “unauthorized biography” I read went into detail about what Mayer was like in high school and college, and how she’s chosen to spend some of the $300M she is reportedly worth.
According to this article, instead of living a quiet, simple life, the way rich Google engineers are supposed to, she took some of her Google IPO millions and bought herself the penthouse on the top floor of the Four Seasons in San Francisco. She also bought herself a house in Palo Alto to be closer to the Google HQ campus in Mountain View. She started out pre-med at Stanford, thinking that she wanted to be a doctor, but found that the rote memorization involved wasn’t
enough of a challenge, so she switched her major to computer science and chose a specialization that requires, from what I could understand, the intensive use of both halves of the brain to be successful. She was involved in everything in high school – cheerleading, dance, several sports, other brainy after school activities. Her husband is smart and handsome and rich, and she’s finding motherhood to be a breeze. This article left me with a vague, queasy feeling that went beyond self-disgust for reading what amounts to eight pages of gossip. It took a comment on a friend’s Facebook status update for me to figure out why.
My friend’s husband works for the Foreign Service. After he completed his training, they were posted to Algeria for several years, and then they came back to the U.S. and requested a posting in Michigan so they could be close to their families. They’ve just started his new assignment, and it’s in Sofia, Bulgaria. My friend announced their move on Facebook, and there were a couple of people who said, “You’re so lucky. I wish I could live overseas.” As I got irritated, thinking about all of the work that my friends have put in for years and about how luck had nothing to do with them living overseas, the penny dropped. That queasy feeling I have about Marissa Mayer is envy.
I had to look up the difference between “envy” and “jealousy.” (Given how persnickety I am about language, I probably should have known this already.) “Jealousy” is the emotion related to the fear that something you have will be taken away (like the affections of another); “envy” is the emotion related to coveting what someone else has. And oh, how I covet Marissa Mayer’s lifestyle and brainpower. I would love to live on the top floor of the Four Seasons (although my preference would be for a Starwood property) in San Francisco and have the means to take a limo everywhere I wanted to go, especially in the Bay Area where the traffic facilitates rage. I would love to have a standing appointment every week at an exclusive salon. I would love to have a seemingly perfect husband and baby. I would love to be athletic. I would love to be able to take over the world on only four hours of sleep a night.
And at the same time, I recognize several things. I don’t work as hard as Marissa Mayer does. I never have. I did the minimum amount of work necessary to satisfy my parents’ expectations of me in high school. I did the minimum amount of work necessary to graduate from college and law school – I did not excel. I have to force myself to swim on a regular basis, and this is a development of the most recent kind. I have always been like water, gravitating to the easiest path. I think this is the opposite of Mayer’s life philosophy.
It’s hard to break out of an envy spiral. I want what she has, I can’t have it, I’ve never worked that hard, I don’t want to work that hard, my life sucks. It was those last two bits that pulled me up out of my tailspin. My life doesn’t suck, and I do want to work that hard. My life may not be as materially rich as Mayer’s, but things don’t lead to happiness. She’s achieved what she has because she works harder than anyone else at work she reputedly loves. I also have work that I love, some that I get paid for, and some that I don’t, but I do it all with a specific goal in mind and with deep satisfaction when I do it right.
I have family who love me and support me and kick my ass when necessary. I have friends who clamor for me to visit or even move to where they are. (I don’t know where I’ll go after my time in Dallas is done, but it touches me beyond measure that I have so many friends who openly want me to live near them.) I have an excellent brain that thinks about things in ways that nobody else does and that finally understands how and when to incorporate the information and feelings coming from my heart (y’all – it’s always). I have health, maybe not perfect health, but enough health to be able to work and travel to faraway places and enjoy the life that I have.
It’s no wonder that envy is one of the deadly sins. It’s corrosive, and the corrosion happens internally, eating the structures that should give us strength. It can also be a gift, providing the opportunity to remember what we value, what’s important to us, what we want to achieve to be happy, and illuminating the paths to get there. The paths will have obstacles, and it will take backbreaking, heartbreaking work to overcome some of them. It’s up to us to decide whether it’s worth it. We lead the lives that we choose to lead. We choose to be happy. I choose to be happy. (Although I still wish that I could magically be athletic.)
The last paragraph of this post is pure PERFECTION!