Jealousy and Competition

There's a Reason They Say it's Lonely at the Top

We often assume that loneliness or a sense of social disconnection is for those people.  We picture some angry, hurt, unfriendly, socially awkward and un-lovable woman sitting in a dark house, with the curtains closed, alone. Maybe a dozen cats. We usually don't picture ourselves since we know how friendly and fun we are, how much we have to offer someone (we mistakenly equate loneliness with likability).  And we certainly don't picture the beautiful, networked, popular, powerful and inspiring women that we admire as the lonely ones. And yet that doesn't make it not true.

It's Lonely at the Top

One of the most poignant lines in the Oscar-winning movie, The King's Speech, came from

Kings Speech Poster

Colin Firth, playing King George VI, when he muttered "I wouldn't know" in response to his speech therapists nonchalant statement "That's what friends are for."

As king, everyone is forced to be friendly and adoring and respectful to him, but that doesn't mean he feels known, supported, liked or seen for who he is beyond his title.

On an obviously much smaller scale, many of us know what it feels like to be looked up to, but not seen.  Some of it is the fault of those who simply want to be near the popular andpowerful for what it does for them: making them feel more important, giving them greater access and using the friendship to their own gains.

But some of it is also the fault of those who are the adored. The desire to reveal the best image, to stay liked, to be a role model puts an inane amount of pressure to not really share honestly, be seen with our faults or risk getting hurt.

There's a reason they say it's lonely at the top. Whether the person at the top starts to feel too amazing to connect with those beneath them, or those beneath them begin to treat the top as though they are on a pedestal; a painful dynamic seems to isolate those who excel in other areas.  In my work as a life coach and pastor, I have seen first-hand the loneliness of those who are too beautiful, too talented, too powerful, too famous and too wealthy.

Befriending the Women at the Top

Since so many of my readers are business owners, amazing mothers, inspirational speakers, authors and change-makers, I want to remind you that even if difficult and awkward, you can create friendships around you that truly matter. Some of your best friends may be women who can keep you grounded and remind you that they love you beyond the image everyone else sees.

And I want to challenge those of you who dismiss potential friends because they intimidate you (too beautiful, too successful, too much money) to give yourself the gift of getting to know them without jealousy.  (Jealousy shows up in two forms- we either devalue the other in order to make ourselves feel better about what we don't have or we ogle over them making them feel guilty for what they do have.)

The numbers of loneliness are staggering.  And it's not because we have a world filled with little old ladies sitting in dark houses.  It's because we're intimidated by each other, scared of being used, fearful of feeling inadequate next to others.  As we love ourselves, holding our value and worth securely, we will be able to receive that from others.

In the movie The King's Speech, Lionel Logue, the speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush, lacked credentials, fame, a posh office, success in his own acting ambitions and a home that was sufficient for hosting royalty. What he had was the ability to both believe more in the King than the King did himself, while also creating an equal relationship, insisting on calling him Bertie and setting ground rules that he chose.

Rush & Firth at Oscars

Rush's character held his own, believing in his own worth and what he could offer (even in the midst of vast inequality).  He also never lost sight of how human the King really was, seeing him with his imperfections and wounds. He saw him--his amazingness and his insecurities. Isn't that what we all crave?

And the final line of The King's Speech came onto a black screen before the credits rolled, attesting that it can work: "Bertie and Lionel remained friends through out their entire life."

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Have you forged friendships with women in different economic, power, beauty statuses?  What was difficult about it? What did you gain from it? Was it easier or harder to hold those differences if the relationship started on equal footing and then changed?

How Friendships Can Contribute to the Power Vs. Likability Conundrum

"Women can be powerful. Women can be likable.  Being both is hard to do." says Fortune editor Patricia Sellers in her post this last week, "Facing Up to the Female Power Conundrum." My Own Power Struggle

I totally resonate with this battle. And it's not just a theoretical fear.  From experience, I know that as others perceive me in leadership, power or influence that my relationships more frequently have experienced jealousy, competition & criticism. As a people-pleaser, it's a temptation to choose popularity at the expense of my power.

On Friday, I spent part of the day in a coffee shop with a girlfriend of mine.  Part of our conversation centered around a workshop we had both attended last weekend where six of us participants went through a process of discovering our essence.  While hard to explain, it's basically stripping away all the titles, identities and things we do for others to land on a handful of phrases that captures who we truly are.  An acorn has the essence of an oak tree-- that which it is meant to become.

The hardest part of that workshop for me was owning how powerful my essence feels.  For me, standing in that group and stating my essence was really difficult (even though they all validated and pushed me to see what they saw.)  It felt presumptuous, vain, bold and big.

The little voice of my critic kept whispering "Who do you think you are to say those things about yourself?"

I was raised being told that I could be anything I wanted, but somewhere along the way I received messages that it wasn't acceptable to look like I wanted it. Rather, I felt like others celebrated false modesty, encouraged giving all credit to others, expected me to undersell my contributions and wanted me to pretend I didn't care for ambition and accomplishment.

To be truthful, I know I have a greater power and force than I am currently owning. My fear? As the article nailed on the head: losing likability.

The Role of Friendship in the Power Conundrum

There is still a huge difference between how we perceive men in power versus women in power.  And it would be easy to point to men as the obstacle to us owning our power, but in my experience it is definitely more my relationships with other women that will influence whether I step into my ambition.  Apparently, both genders have a harder time liking women in power as much as we like men in power.  But I'll argue that women have a stronger influence in empowering or preventing other women from having to choose one or the other.

Two years ago, sitting in the living room of a girlfriends home, she read us all the famous Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

And we sat in a circle, vowing to each other that we would rise to the occasion of being women who would contribute to all of us being our best.  It was powerful, to say the least. And now for two years they have proven that to be true. We have all chosen repeatedly, and it's not always our first impulse, to cheer for each other even if it makes us jealous and taps our own desires. But we hold to the belief that when she wins it will inspire my own wins.  It's not an either-or where only one of us gets what we hope.

The role of a friend is to remind us that we will both applaud each others happiness, not just our own.

Choose Both & Let your Friends Choose Both.

I can only hope that in the GirlFriendCircles.com community that we will continue to try to be women who show up in ways that prove that the choice doesn't have to be between likability and accomplishment. We may not be able to solve the media bias or bring equality per se, but in our own small way, we can offer each other friendship that can be sustained through whatever ambitions we each choose to chase. If we cheer for each other, we will at least know we are liked among those who know us.

On Friday, my girlfriend modeled this.  She is pushing me to trust that whatever I step into, she is going to be there. So while I totally understand the power struggle that women feel, here is one girl who isn't being forced to choose only one.

I will choose to own both my power and keep my friends.

Oprah's Tears Encourage Our Friendships

While Oprah Winfrey is generally the one asking the questions, we've long known she's also wise in answering them. In Barbara Walters "Ten Most Fascinating People" special last Thursday, Oprah reflected on her life, her 25 years hosting the national Oprah show, her relationships and her legacy. The segment from that interview that seems to be garnering the headlines is the fact that Oprah teared up, requesting a tissue. And while teasers mentioning the lesbian rumors are effective for causing viewers to stay tuned, that would be missing the point of the tears.

Oprah Cries in Talking About BFF, Gayle Oprah's most emotional moment in the one-hour special came when asked to talk about her friendship with Gayle King. Barbara acknowledged how all women want, but few seem to have, the kind of friendship these two women share.

And in typical Oprah fashion, her reflections revealed three poignant lessons about womens friendship that must be fostered if we want friendships to mature.

  1. To Want Her Happiness: According to Oprah, Gayle has cheered for her success from the very beginning, celebrating Oprah's achievements with joy. "She was even happier than I was in those moments," said an awed Oprah. All of us want our friends to be happy, few of us want them to be happier than us.

    It is far too tempting for most of us to live from a place of jealousy, envy or competition. When we are discontent with our own lives, it is far easier to devalue others or begrudge them their joy than to take responsibility in finding our own contentment. Therefore, all too often the voice of fear we listen to says: If I'm overweight, I don't want you to become thin. If I'm single, I will feel worse if you find the love of your life. If my kids are causing heartache, it is simply too much to be happy for you that yours are making straight A's. If I hate my job, it becomes more difficult to cheer for you when you start your dream company.

    To live with a worldview that believes there is enough goodness in this world for both of us fosters friendship.

  2. To Log the Hours: A classic line in the interview was "For all the therapy I didn't have. For all the therapy I don't need, it is because of the thousands of hours in talking with Gayle." Both women could be amazing, healthy, joy-full women but if they weren't putting in the time, sharing their lives with one another then an intimate friendship they would never have.

    Only familiarity breeds friendship. It's why friendship felt easier in school or work--the regularity with which we saw the same people helped us feel closer. Now, with so many of us working from home, devoting our attention to our children and moving frequently, we have to be diligent to carve out the time to put in the hours for that friendship to develop.

    To live in such a way that we schedule consistent time to share life together in meaningful ways ensures intimacy in our friendships.

  3. To Affirm the Role: Oprah loves Gayle, no doubt about it: "She is the mother I never had. She is the sister every person would want. She is the friend everyone deserves. I don't know a better person." But when asked what provoked the tears after this statement, it was because Oprah questioned whether she had really told Gayle how much she meant.

    Amazing how easy it is to go through life assuming people know what an impact they have on us. And yet, as is true for most any worthwhile thing in life, it's not the attaining of something that is as hard as the keeping of it. Affirming people for their contributions, influence and inspiration in our lives bonds us more to the people we admire.

    To live with gratitude for the people who choose to journey with us shows that we see them for who they are in our lives.

Oprah has made her billions, given her millions and arguably changed the lives of just as many, but we'd be remiss to not notice that her tears were reserved for those she loved: Stedman and Gayle. May she inspire you to find your voice, live your best self and contribute to the world. But may her tears also inspire you to foster the friendships that matter along the way.

Gratitude, Not Jealousy

Expressing gratitude, which all of November is always that for me, is a powerful practice when it comes to fostering new friendships. When we're not grateful, we tend to be much more susceptible to jealousy, envy and competition. It doesn't take an expert to see how those characteristics might not contribute to healthy friendships! I notice that when I'm grateful and have a sense of my own well-being, I show up in relationship better. It has something to do with self-esteem, but also simply holding a peace about my own life, that invites me to not feel threatened by theirs. I watch over-and-over in others, and myself, how easy it is to project my own insecurities on them.

And wow are holidays a breeding ground for jealousy and discontent! None of our families are perfect. Most of us will experience some form of loneliness. Our expectations go up. Our stress goes up. Our desire to project the perfect, happy, festive smile increase. Our finances won't be enough. Nor will our time feel adequate. Our energy will feel threatened many times over. We will feel losses acutely at this time of year. And regret the gap between where we thought we'd be this year and where we really are. And it will be easy to think that everyone else has the perfect life and that you are the only one lacking.

The Effects of Jealousy If I'm not happy with being single then it's harder to want to be at holidays parties with couples. If I struggle with my weight then it will annoy me to have my skinny friends complain about not fitting into their little black dress this season. If I'm exhausted by being up every night with a teething toddler then it's easier for me to judge others who seemingly have an easier life. If my husband and I are going through a rough patch then I tend to feel more frustrated with other couples expressing public displays of affection. If I don't have kids, I get more annoyed by others who aren't willing to get a baby-sitter to come to a party I am throwing. If I am working overtime this season, I'll feel anger at the women who seem to have all the time in the world to be baking and crafting all month. You get the idea.

Jealousy. It's one of those tricky and counter-intuitive feelings. For it's easy to mistake the feeling as something that someone else is doing wrong and be frustrated with them. But really, it's reminding us that we have an issue that matters to us. It's not about them. It's our own stuff. How we react says more about our story than it does about theirs.

Certainly their action might trigger the feeling. But we'd be wrong to assume that they did something wrong, when in fact, the moment serves as an opportunity to me that I need to look at my own life and ask "What is it that I want?" And just as important, "can I be around people who have that without holding it against them?"

The Opportunity to Respond to Jealousy The real question comes down to whether someone else's happiness threatens my own. In other words, can I figure out a way to not only show up with gratitude for what I have and hope to have, but can I also show up with with gratitude for what they have?

This season, I invite you to step into awareness in two areas:

  1. First, increase your gratitude. Keep a daily journal if you can, where you write five things down every day. Or, make one long list today where you force yourself to list up to 50 things. Look back over the year and identify milestones you're glad you reached, moments that mattered, growth in your life that you witnessed. You may not have what you want yet, but what little glimpses gave you hope that you might reach your goal? For example, with friends, you may not yet have that circle of local friends that nurture your life, but you can celebrate that you joined GirlFriendCircles to do something about it!
  2. Second, increase your awareness around your jealousy. When you feel jealous, use the moment to ask yourself why you feel so judgmental. What do you feel is missing in your life? As you take more responsibility for your feelings, you'll gain awareness about who you are and have more opportunity to respond to that desire in positive ways. Don't beat yourself up! Just gently hold those moments as touchstones that remind you of who you want to become and what you want to invite into your life this upcoming year. And own it for yourself. No need to punish others. Their joy will not diminish or steal from mine. There is enough joy in this world for all of us.

May I invite you to expand your gratitude this season where you hold your life with hope and contentment? May I invite to pay attention to your stuff and not risk it bleeding onto potential friends? May I invite you to not rule out spending time with people because you feel threatened around them from your jealousy? May I invite you to be generous to the mistakes that others will undoubtedly make this time of year out of their own insecurities? May I invite you to forgive quickly when others say things unknowingly that trigger your own fears and insecurities? May I invite you to show up with the best of you this holiday season-- celebrating the best in others and yourself?

Above all, trusting that the promise of Thanksgiving, if nothing else, is one of abundance. There is enough. Enough joy for all of us. May we want the happiness of others as much as we want it for ourselves. That's my wish for us all this month!