In 2013, Salon’s Andrew Leonard revealed that novelist Robert Clark Young had been editing Wikipedia for years in a systematic campaign to downplay the achievements of other writers and make himself look better. Young deleted references to prizes that others had won, removed positive comments about their work, and reduced the length of their bibliographies. In several cases, it appears that Young had quarrelled with the targeted novelists in the past, and that he thought that he deserved the acclaim that they had received. None of this effort actually made his own writing better or changed the accomplishments of other novelists; it only made Young look better by comparison. In other words, Young’s work was motivated by envy.
This is hard to write, but I have struggled with envy for the past few years. Not with everything: seeing someone with a nicer car, a nicer house, or nicer clothes rarely makes me feel much of anything. And the accomplishments of strangers don’t effect me much. But if I see that someone I know has been published in a prestigious magazine, been appointed to a high-profile role, or received some sort of public recognition, I feel a stab of resentment.
That should have been me. What makes them so special? They don’t deserve that.
It’s an ugly, poisonous reaction. It has been included in the Seven Deadly Sins for good reason. Envy is the darker cousin of discontentment, because it’s accompanied by resentment toward others and a desire to have what belongs to them.
Why Envy Is So Destructive
Envy blinds us to our blessings. When we envy, we focus on what others have and what we lack, rather than taking stock of the many good things we have received. Envy may be a particularly easy sin to commit in the social media age, when we can so easily review the most post-worthy achievements of our network of friends and acquaintances. So far as I’m aware, there is no social network dedicated to reflecting on the good things that we already have in our lives. Envy, though, predates social media; it has always been more tempting to covet the possessions of others than to give thanks for our own. Continue reading When Envy Invades Your Vocation
A few years ago, I read The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. It has been described as the best book ever written by a US President. While I’ve not read every book by every president, it remains one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. Written as he was dying of cancer, Grant intended the book to provide for his family after his death. 
As I read them, I was struck by how little Grant wrote about his civilian life. Most of the book details Grant’s military career, first as a young West Point graduate in the Mexican-American War, then as a general in the US Civil War. Grant covers the seven years between the end of his first military commission and the start of the Civil War in just a couple of pages. Largely, I’m sure, it was a business decision: Grant and Twain knew that the reading public would be far more interested in Grant’s remarkable military career than in his unremarkable life outside the army or his disastrous presidency.
The contrast, though, between Grant’s descriptions of his Civil War campaigns and his civilian is so great that I wonder if there’s something more going on here. Continue reading What Will You Remember about This Chapter of Your Life?
Last week, I wrote about the first time that I left the perfect job. At the time, I left one perfect job for another one, to serve as Associate Director for InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network. I began working for an organization that I loved, on a cause that I personally believed in, using skills that I both had and enjoyed using. On top of all that, I regularly met fascinating people – for an overly curious generalist like myself, getting to ask academics about their research on a daily basis was like heaven – and got to work with a fantastic team. What could possibly go wrong?
The problem: the position required me to raise the funding for my salary and expenses.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s no problem with fundraising. It’s an important part of nonprofit work, and raising funds from a broad base of support provides stability and demonstrates that people other than the founders believe in the mission. In a ministry context, personal support raising also serves as a test, not only to see whether the mission is worth supporting, but whether the specific individual is the right fit for that mission.
For me, however, fundraising was a constant struggle. I had some success – one year, I raised over $50,000 – but that success was overshadowed by the even larger amount needed to meet my budget — usually $70,000 to $90,000. My supervisors came up with generous and creative ways to supplement my fundraising efforts – matching grants, bridge grants, part time and short term positions that provided additional funding. In the end, though, none of it was quite enough. Continue reading Leaving the Perfect Job – The Second Time