Are You Threatened By Other People’s Success?

Business Team LeaderMay 16, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

How do you feel when you see or hear about the success of others?  While it may depend on who it is, what they’ve accomplished, and how you’re feeling about your own life at the time – if you’re anything like me, you may have some mixed emotions.  I often find myself excited and inspired by the success of others, especially the people closest to me.  However, at the same time, I sometimes notice it can bring up feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and inferiority as well – especially when someone accomplishes or experiences something I personally want and/or worry that I can’t or won’t.

While this isn’t a new phenomenon or awareness for me and it’s not something I’m all that proud of, I’ve recently been taking a deeper and more honest look at it; seeing how it negatively impacts my life, my work, and my relationships.  It’s definitely something I’m ready to change, although I find it difficult to work through at the same time.

Growing up as a competitive athlete, I got lots of early experience and training about how to compete against others and try to beat them.  This wasn’t just about the other team, often the biggest and most intense competition was internal – with my friends and fellow teammates.  Whether it was in baseball, in school, or other areas of life, I often found myself directly or indirectly competing in a pretty intense way with those around me.

Although I’ve outgrown certain aspects of my childhood and adolescent comparison tendencies and it’s been over fifteen years since I played baseball competitively, I still find myself threatened by the success of others at times – as if we’re competing against one another or that their success takes something away from me, which in just about every case, it doesn’t.

Increased cultural obsession with comparison

While our cultural obsession with comparison and competition isn’t something new, it seems to have intensified in the past few years with the explosion of social media and how we share photos, highlights, achievements, adventures, milestones, and more with one another in such a public and prominent way.  I personally enjoy being able to celebrate in the exciting stuff happening in other people’s lives online and being able to share some of my own “good stuff” with others as well. At the same time, it can be a bit of a double edged sword, as depending on how I’m feeling about myself, my work, my body, my appearance, my relationships, my family, my future, my health, or anything else important at any given time, I can get easily “triggered” by the success of other people and end up feeling bad about myself and my life in relation to them.

On the flip side, I’ve also noticed at times when something goes really well in my life, while it may seem as though I’m simply excited about and grateful for the success, which I usually am, I also have a tendency, especially with certain people, to brag about it or to feel a sense of superiority, as if I’m somehow “better than” them.  This one is even harder to admit and confront.  And while it may seem like the opposite of insecurity, it’s actually just the opposite side of the same coin.  Heads we feel superior (better than) tails we feel inferior (less than).  Both sides of this coin are detrimental to our growth, our success, and ultimately our sense of peace, fulfillment, and joy in life.  This is a negative ego trap – and there are no true “winners” in this game.

Stopping the comparison game

What if we stopped the comparison game all together?  What if the success of others had nothing to do with us and our own success had nothing to do with anyone else?  What if we didn’t spend and waste so much of our precious time competing with the people around us (overtly or covertly) and focusing on how we “measure up” to them?

I’ve had glimpses of this in my own life at various times – although not as often as I’d like.  My own default position and a lot of the cultural training and reinforcement we get falls into the paradigm of competition/comparison.

Here are a few things to think about and practice, to step off this negative game board, and step more into your own authentic power:

1) Remember that it’s okay to feel jealous – Jealousy is one of a number of emotions we consider to be “bad.”  It’s not usually all that fun to feel or admit – it’s not sexy, cool, or exciting in the way that some other emotions are – like joy, gratitude, and love.  However, feeling jealous is part of the human experience.  There’s nothing wrong with us for feeling jealous at times, which we all do.  The biggest issue with jealousy, like with most “negative” emotions, is our denial of it.  When we pretend we don’t feel jealous (even though we actually do) it can have a negative impact on us in many ways.  As Carl Jung famously said, “What you resist persists.”  So the more we deny our feelings of jealousy, the more they end up running us.  When you notice yourself feeling jealous, admit it, feel it, and express it in some healthy and authentic way – in your journal, with a close friend, in a mediation or prayer, or just simply to yourself.  Your ability to honestly notice, feel, and express your own jealousy (or any emotion) is what gives you the power to move through it and transform its potentially negative impact, into a positive experience.

2) Look for the deeper message – When we get threatened by the success of others, there is usually a deeper message (or a number of messages) coming through that experience.  We tend to get focused on the person or accomplishment, and/or ourselves in relationship to them or it.  We tell stories in our head like, “Look at her, she always gets what she wants and it seems so easy for her – I’ll never be like that.”  Or, “Well, I know he makes a lot more money than I do, but he works so hard he’s never around for his kids.”  These types of “stories” (which are usually just damaging judgments of others or of ourselves), don’t serve us in any positive way and in fact keep us away from the deeper truth of what’s happening.  What if we looked beyond our reaction and beneath our judgment, and asked ourselves some deeper questions like, “What is it about this person’s success that has me feeling threatened?”  Or, “How can I learn from what I see in them or in what they’ve accomplished?”  Or, “What can I do to let go of my inferior (or superior) reaction to this, and more deeply trust and believe in myself and my own process?”  Asking deeper questions like this and looking for the deeper messages in our reactions to the success of others can lead us down a more real path of growth, discovery, and fulfillment.

3) Celebrate their success – A coach of mine recently said to me, “Mike, be careful about how harshly you judge other people and their paths to success.  The more judgmental you are about them and how they create their success, the more difficult you’ll make it for you to create the success you want, out of your own fear of being judged.”  Man, she hit the nail on the head with this feedback for me.  We tend to judge the success of others (and/or their process of creating success) as a smokescreen for not dealing with our own feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and/or inferiority.  What if instead of doing that (or anything else in a similarly negative, critical, or arrogant vain) we simply celebrated their success and rejoiced in it.  We often take personal offense to stuff that has nothing to do with us.  If we want something in life and someone close to us gets it, we could celebrate for them (knowing how exciting it can be when something good happens).  We could also rejoice in the fact that by being so close to people who are creating success in their lives (maybe even the same success we want) might actually be a positive sign and influence for us.  I know with certain things and certain people, this can be more challenging than others.  However, at the deepest level, when we live from a place of abundance (with the faith that there is more than enough to go around), we free ourselves from the constant stress, worry, fear, and pressure associated with living from that place of scarcity (as if their success somehow diminishes us).

Like most things in life, this is a choice.  How do you want to live?

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Comment on This Post


  1. Hi Mike, I always enjoy reading your articles. This one especially resonated with me. When I read the title of your blog it made me stop and realize that yeah, I guess in a way I do feel threatened by others’ successes. Being a pianist I often compare myself to other pianists. When I see another artist who’s more successful, depending on the situation I notice a feeling of my energy being drained. Maybe a sense of, they beat me to it so I might as well stop here. But when I look back and see just how far I have come, I just have to remind myself that this is just part of the journey and there’s a lot more to come. Thanks for bringing light to this topic!


  2. Rahn,

    Thanks so much for your comments, kind words, and insights…I appreciate your honest sharing of your own experience of this as a pianist (and in general). Amazing how we often tend to have similar experiences with this phenomenon, regardless of our background, skills, personality, and more.

    Be well…


  3. Mike – you’re so amazing the way you continually nail a universal problem that we can all relate to. Ouch! This whole piece is painfully familiar – especially the line that someone else’s success somehow takes away something from me.
    Thank you for sharing these wise, insightful issues and ways we can become more aware of them so hopefully we can change.

  4. Mike,

    After hearing you speak, I’ve been following your blogs and posts and have to say that your insight and ability to express it are incredible. Once again, you have hit the nail on the head. I have and still have a problem with feelings of inferiority when hearing about others’ successes. This article helped to bring some perspective.

    • Derek,

      Thanks so much for your comment, kind words, and honesty. The more aware we are of this phenomenon (and anything else), the more ability we have to transform it. Be well…

  5. This definitely seem like a family terrain for me and nothing else has brought to me a better awareness of this than this article and so whether its inferiority or superiority they all fall within the Complex Coin.Thanks on the insight

  6. This is one of the most thoughtful approaches to coping with jealousy that I’ve heard. Too often I envy another person’s success and then get angry at myself for experiencing that emotion. I’m going to try to work more on accepting the emotion, but I’m still wrapping my mind around how to do something positive about it. I’m a writer and I recently saw a friend on Twitter posting about how she got published somewhere I’d love to get published one day but always considered it too far off. I still feel really jealous about it but I’m hoping to turn it into a positive experience by congratulating her and asking her how she got started working with the publication. Hopefully that approach will allow me to learn from her accomplishment.

    These moments of jealously should be taken as time to reexamine myself- why do I feel this way? What can I do to accomplish similar success? What have I already accomplished that I can feel proud of?
    Thanks again!

  7. Dear Mike thank you,

    You know what about deeper understanding and the message, I think it’s related with some sort of rejection and humiliation which again induce and reinforce inferiority, which comes and starts more from family and parenting and goes along with repeating experiences. People can remind you your past experiences and trigger your wounds, so those things like being rich and so on contribute more as a symbol to a real cause. Consciously you can’t grasp it cause you ‘see what you see’, but unconscious knows why are you so envy, when other rich and successful people are not every time triggering you. Some successful can trigger you and some other way can be neutral, which again confirms something is more deeper.

  8. Hi
    I operate in two states
    1. I always count my chickens before
    They hatch.when any small thing I achieve.
    2. I feel low When I hear someone of
    my age is Successful

  9. Hi Mike,
    Your post is extremely relate-able. Just like you i have a sports history which makes me easy insecure of others success. That competitive spirit still persists and your words have motivated me to utilize this energy in positive manner.

    Thanks a lot 🙂

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