Do you ever feel jealous of other people’s success or wish the world would recognize your talent and ambition for what it is? It’s natural to feel envious, put yourself down, and have negative thoughts, no matter how well your career is going. But “natural” doesn’t always mean “healthy” or “sustainable.” In “Life Without Envy,” Camille DeAngelis explains how ego has gone from an evolutionary necessity to a threat to your sanity, as well as how you can stop it from stealing your happiness.
How to stop being a slave to your ego so you can create more, live more, and give more.
READ THIS BOOK SUMMARY IF YOU:
- Struggle to balance your work-life balance
- Feel pressured to succeed
- Feel insecure when your friends seem to be doing better than you are
Table of Contents
Have you ever seen a friend’s self-congratulatory post on social media and felt a twinge of envy because you wished you were the one celebrating success? It can be easy to feel the need to prove yourself by keeping up with other people’s accomplishments or to feel down when you haven’t been recognized for your hard work or talent.
In this summary, author Camille DeAngelis shares a practical guide for navigating common feelings of jealousy, frustration, and inadequacy. The concept of “letting go” isn’t just for yogis and Buddhists; rather, it’s the key to beating your ego and achieving the satisfaction and fulfillment you are seeking in your career and in life.
Your Ego Makes You Miserable
One day, the mindfulness expert Eckhart Tolle rode the Tube in London. He found himself sitting next to a woman who was apparently mentally ill. During the ride, Tolle heard her mutter questions to herself: How could you treat me this way? How could you betray my trust? When Tolle got off the train, he thought to himself, “I hope I don’t end up like that woman on the Tube,” and then, after receiving a confused glance from someone near him, realized he had been thinking out loud. He was basically doing the same thing the woman on the train had been doing!
The truth is that every time you think, you’re talking to yourself. When you sulk over something that didn’t go your way, beat yourself up over a perceived failure, or think unproductively about a disagreement you had with someone, you’re behaving just like the woman on the train. You do this because many of your thoughts are controlled by your ego: your sense of self-importance that drives you to fixate obsessively on your life and your problems.
Ego is a product of evolution. Millions of years ago, it was the apes — and eventually, the cavemen — with the greatest sense of self-importance who fought the hardest for their survival and, as a result, lived longest and procreated the most. But a million years later, your ego fixates on issues that aren’t as critical to your survival. For instance, your ego makes you compare your experiences, accomplishments, and reputation to those of other people. When you get stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an interview, it’s not fair. When your friend gets a promotion and you don’t, you’re a failure.
Your ego thinks that you are in danger if you’re not number one, and as a result, it always finds things that are wrong with you or your life, which makes you miserable. The good news is that you don’t have to listen to your ego all the time: By understanding that many problems you think you’re experiencing are basically delusions that your ego has created, you can become detached from the constant stream of negative thoughts and move past them. But to do this, you need to embrace some hard truths about the world.
You Don’t Know What You Actually Want
Did you know that the public school system was designed to make you an obedient citizen, not a self-aware individual? Horace Mann, an American congressman who was credited with founding the modern public school system in the 19th century, did so with the objective of creating a more orderly society, not empowering the lower income citizens.
In Sir Ken Robison’s acclaimed 2006 TED Talk, he argued that most schools kill creativity because they teach you to adhere to the status quo and define success based on things like salary, title, or higher education rather than whether you do what you’re passionate about. Since you were young, outside of the classroom, you’ve been flooded with advertisements, commercials, and traditions that teach you to want things such as toys, pets, or Halloween costumes. Later in life, you’re taught to want things like a house, a car, or a spot on the Forbes “30 under 30” list. In other words, you’ve been brainwashed, and the things that you think will make you happy might actually make you miserable.
Corporations make a lot of money by teaching you these delusional associations between things you don’t need and happiness because you end up buying things you don’t need to impress others or prove to yourself that you are “somebody.” Your ego thrives on these delusions as well: Every time you indulge in the fantasy that you need to have certain possessions or status symbols to be happy, you strengthen your ego’s narrative that you’re engaged in a fight for survival. This gives your ego power over you and turns simple things — like not getting selected for an award or having a publisher reject your work — into existential threats that make your heart pound and keep you up at night.
You Aren’t Special
Not too long ago, a well-known novelist live-tweeted an emotional meltdown when her book didn’t make The New York Times best-of-the-year list. She wrote that she was upset because there were many books on the notable list that year with reviews that were nowhere as good as the reviews her work had received. This public display of bitterness and self-pity might seem a bit extreme — but honestly, how often have you felt sorry for yourself because you didn’t get the recognition and success you thought you deserved for your talent and hard work?
When many kids are young, their parents teach them that they’re special and unique. If you were taught this, you were probably too smart to believe that everyone can be special, and as a result, you probably subconsciously started to believe that you needed to be “more” special than other kids. As you grew up, you saw more examples of how only some people can win approval, wealth, and fame, which likely translated into a subconscious belief that some people matter, and others don’t.
The truth is, however, that the life of a poor woman living in a slum on the other side of the world is worth just as much as yours. The only factors separating you from less successful people are things like your nationality, ethnicity, parents, socioeconomic background, appearance, and natural abilities. You didn’t choose any of those things, so you have no right to be so proud of them that you think you deserve a special outcome in life solely based on them.
If you really think about it, people are just glorified blobs coming out of a cosmic Play-Doh container. You’re made of the same material as everyone else — just molded into a different shape and placed into different circumstances. Regardless of what you do in this life or how much fame and wealth you accumulate, one day, you will die and eventually be forgotten, just like everyone else. Since embracing this mentality, DeAngelis has felt a sense of oneness with other people. As a result, she feels happy for people when good things happen to them rather than threatened or diminished by their success or luck. She also feels that, while she may have worthwhile contributions to make to the world, she shouldn’t overestimate the value of her contributions or feel that she is owed success simply because she tried her best.
Your Ideas and Accomplishments Don’t Belong to You
What is the greatest thing you have achieved so far in life? Maybe you made a stunning painting or website design. Maybe you invented something incredibly innovative. Maybe you starred in a big theater or cinema production. Or maybe you just made a big impact by managing a project really well.
Whatever it is that you’re proud of, think of all the memories you have of making it — all the moments of ecstasy and frustration as you brainstormed ideas, gathered the necessary materials, and turned them into something that could help or inspire other people. Now, say out loud to yourself, “This work was not mine.”
Although this notion may make you feel indignant, it is a truth that has been recognized for thousands of years. According to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconsciousness, whenever you create something, you’re just skimming from the top of a cosmic stew of collective memory and experience. According to Plato, ideas are basically free agents hanging out in the ether that sometimes — if you’re lucky — tap you on the shoulder.
If these arguments are too theoretical for you, think back to how you accomplished whatever it was that you accomplished. Where did you get the information that you needed to do whatever it is you did? Probably from books, papers, or other work by experts that made major contributions before you came along. What about the materials? If you’re a digital artist, you probably didn’t write the software that you used; if you’re a traditional artist, you probably didn’t make the brushes, clay, or other materials that you used. You might take pride in the fact that you assembled the information or materials into something unprecedented and useful or beautiful. But you didn’t “earn” the right to have a brain capable of that synthesis. The fact is that creativity and innovation are the result of you combining collectively owned ideas, beliefs, and facts and using cognitive capabilities that you were born with.
DeAngelis gets great pleasure from the writing process. But when she is performing at her peak, she realizes that she’s not some genius coming up with brilliant ideas; rather, she’s tapping into an endless reserve of collective knowledge and creativity. She can’t claim ownership for her work any more than someone going to the beach and scooping water out of the ocean with a bucket can claim ownership for “their” cup of ocean.
If you don’t like the idea of releasing the idea of ownership over your work, just ask yourself, “What if this didn’t belong to me?” Do this each time you get stressed about the outcome of a project you’re focused on, and you’ll be shocked by how freeing this perspective is. When you’re detached from ownership of an endeavor, you’ll be much more prepared to embrace whatever comes next.
Abandoning Your Quest for Greatness
Eckhart Tolle once wrote that the notion of “greatness” is a mental abstraction and one of your ego’s favorite fantasies. As you have learned, you’re actually indistinguishable from other people, and ultimately, one day, you will be forgotten — just like everyone else.
This might sound depressing to you, but when you think about it, it can be pretty liberating to know that the idea of greatness is a delusion. When you’re freed from the notion that you need to be the best, you’re given total artistic freedom to do whatever you want and define success in a way that resonates with you. Most importantly, you can stop fretting about how other people analyze or receive your work. Of course, abandoning the futile quest for greatness doesn’t mean you can’t get recognition for your work, but it does keep you from being held prisoner to your status and your need to maintain it.
For instance, a lot of artists and musicians suffer from anxiety and depression when they realize that they’re “past their prime,” and their best accomplishments are behind them. But in his 2008 TED Talk, Benjamin Zander, a seventy-something conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, shared why he doesn’t feel that way. For Zander, success is not about wealth, fame, or power; instead, it’s about the joy he can create for others. By offering the best that is in him, he finds great satisfaction in his work and doesn’t worry about the fact that his career is coming to an end. Instead, he celebrates that he can share the talent that he’s accumulated over the years with others, and as long as he has tried his best, he will feel good about what he’s doing.
In this summary, you’ve learned that a series of evolutionary and social factors have instilled in most people a tendency to envy others and beat themselves up for not achieving what they want in life. However, you’ve also learned that by embracing certain truths, you can set yourself free from negative thought patterns that make you miserable and stunt your potential.
Fully accepting these realities may feel unpleasant and scary at first. You’ve been conditioned your whole life to believe that greatness and specialness are as vital to your survival as water and air. But by letting go of the need to be successful and impress others, you can stop focusing on things that you can’t control — like how people respond to your work or whether everything will line up to allow your efforts to bear fruit. Once you do that, you are free to focus on tapping into the collective knowledge and creativity of the universe and enjoying the twists and turns in your journey in work and life.
About Camille DeAngelis
Camille DeAngelis is the award-winning author of the novels Immaculate Heart, Bones & All, Mary Modern, and Petty Magic. She is also the author of the firstedition guidebook Moon Ireland. A graduate of NYU and the National University of Ireland, Galway, DeAngelis currently lives in Boston.
“Life Without Envy” by Camille DeAngelis is a self-help book tailored specifically for creative individuals, such as writers, artists, and musicians. DeAngelis explores the concept of envy within creative communities and provides insights and strategies to help creative people manage their egos, overcome envy, and thrive in their artistic pursuits.
The book acknowledges that envy is a common and natural emotion among creative individuals, often driven by comparisons to peers’ successes. DeAngelis argues that managing envy is essential for maintaining one’s own creativity and well-being. She offers practical advice on topics such as setting healthy boundaries, finding a supportive creative community, and shifting focus away from competition toward personal growth.
- Envy Awareness: “Life Without Envy” encourages creative individuals to acknowledge and confront their feelings of envy and recognize how it can hinder personal growth and artistic development.
- Ego Management: The book provides strategies for managing one’s ego, such as setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, and finding fulfillment in the creative process rather than external validation.
- Supportive Communities: DeAngelis emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with a supportive and nurturing creative community to combat the negative effects of envy.
- Collaboration Over Competition: The book advocates for a shift from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one, fostering creativity and mutual growth.
- Personal Fulfillment: Ultimately, “Life Without Envy” encourages creative individuals to find joy and satisfaction in their artistic pursuits for their sake, rather than seeking validation from external sources.
“Life Without Envy” by Camille DeAngelis is a thoughtful and empathetic guide for creative individuals grappling with envy and ego-related challenges. DeAngelis’s writing is compassionate and relatable, making it accessible to a wide range of artists and creators.
One of the book’s strengths is its focus on self-awareness and introspection. DeAngelis encourages readers to confront their envy and ego issues, providing practical exercises and reflections to help them navigate these emotions constructively. The book promotes self-compassion and self-acceptance as crucial tools for personal growth.
Additionally, the book’s emphasis on collaboration over competition and the importance of nurturing a supportive creative community aligns with modern trends in creative industries. It offers a refreshing perspective that can help individuals thrive in their artistic endeavors.
However, some readers may find that the book’s content is somewhat repetitive, with similar themes and advice reiterated throughout the chapters. Additionally, while the book is highly relevant for creative individuals, its applicability to individuals in other professions may be limited.
In conclusion, “Life Without Envy” is a valuable resource for creative people looking to manage their egos, confront envy, and find fulfillment in their artistic pursuits. Camille DeAngelis’s empathetic approach and practical guidance make it a worthwhile read for anyone seeking to navigate the emotional and competitive challenges of the creative world.