Productive Jealousy – Is There is Enough Sun for Everyone to Tan?

By Christopher Hawkins •  Updated: 06/05/23 •  2 min read

One of my all-time favorite articles is Productive Jealousy on Signal vs. Noise.  David Heinemeier Hansson insists that jealousy need not be an angry or destructive emotion.  I tend to agree with him – in fact, negative emotions are a primary motivator for many.  I suspect that there is a conception out there that in order to be productive and successful you have to be all sunshine & rainbows, hoping to make the world a better place.  In truth, just as much productivity is fueled by “I’ll show you!” as it is by “Gee, guys, isn’t this spiffy?”

David is right – for a lot of people jealousy, envy, etc. is a very powerful motivator to improve, to excel, to do more.  There is no reason why, upon seeing others achieve success by some metric, that you can’t do something similar yourself.  And if negative emotions will fuel you on the way, there’s nothing wrong with that – so long as you don’t take that negativity out on anyone!  In response to the question posed by the title of this post, I am reminded of an old saying – “there is enough sun for everyone to get a tan”.  Many people don’t agree with this, but I do.

I can honestly say that in my own professional career, negative emotion has been a tremendous driver of productivity and improvement.  I’m more of an “I’ll show you!” than I am a “Gee, isn’t this spiffy?, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Rather than letting anger, jealousy, etc. fester and eat you alive, or drive you to do negative things, use it for fuel.  Use it for growth.  Use it for improvement.  Use it for excellence.  Use it to make yourself strong.

Try to be happy for the folks who are more successful than you are. At the same time, don’t tolerate anyone who treats you badly out of jealousy or envy. It takes a surprisingly small “success differential” for some people to start acting weird, abusive, or outright treacherous. I’ve been there, and I hope you never have to tolerate anything like it.

Don’t put up with any of that; turn your boundaries up to 11 and keep doing what made you successful to start with.