It sometimes feels as if all the women in my life—whether real friends or social media influencers—are achieving all the successes in life I could ever hope for, and then some. I open up my Instagram app to announcements of job promotions, books published, and new businesses started. And while I wish I could say that my initial reaction is always one of pride and excitement for them, I’ll admit that it is often one of envy, resentment, and disappointment in my own seeming lack of accomplishments.
I know that I’m not the only woman who struggles to be happy for a friend when she is experiencing success, even though I truly do want to be happy for her. The problem lies less in how I am thinking about my friend and more in how I am thinking about myself—specifically, that I’m thinking too much about myself. Why can’t I do that? How do I experience success like that? What is wrong with me?
In fact, my friend’s successes have nothing to do with me. How I feel in the face of a friend’s success is not her problem—it’s mine. The problem, plain and simple, is that I need to work on not comparing myself to other people. I need to turn my feelings of inadequacy into feelings of contentment with my own successes and stage in life.
Thankfully, I’ve intentionally worked on this problem of judging my own worth by the accomplishments of other women in my life, which has led to genuine feelings of happiness for them and acceptance of—even pride in—where I am on my own life’s journey. In cultivating these feelings, I’ve come to realize what occurs when we celebrate each other’s successes.
01. Congratulating our friends freely helps us to fight competitiveness and envy.
There is nothing wrong with a little bit of competition. In fact, a competitive spirit can even be a good thing, bringing out the best in people, when used as a motivating factor to better oneself. However, too often women start to measure themselves against the successes of others and harbor feelings of competitiveness that can breed discontent.
The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell discussed eight different sources of unhappiness in his book The Conquest of Happiness, published in 1930. Unsurprisingly, “competition” was near the top of that list, followed closely by “envy.” Unhealthy competitiveness does not just keep us from feeling happy for others’ successes, it keeps us from feeling happiness for our own successes and can damage our sense of worth. Studies show that competition among women often takes the form of indirect aggression, which can manifest itself as “self-promotion” or “the derogation of rivals.”
We live in a time where it is all too easy to compare ourselves to each other. As I swipe through one woman’s Instagram Stories, I wonder how she was able to sell an original painting in her Etsy shop, train for a marathon, repaint her kitchen, and probably still be a perfect mother who probably cooked an incredible dinner for her family and also is probably caught up on all her laundry and dishes and has a sparkling clean home.
In reality, though, I know that this woman does not do it all, and does not do it all perfectly. I’ve had to adjust my thinking from jealousy over her accomplishments to recognizing her endurance and talent, admiring her for it, and even learning from her. Essentially, I’ve had to transform my default reaction to another woman’s success from competition and jealousy to one of admiration and positivity. Changing one thing in my life helped me to transform that attitude: I congratulate and praise the women I admire.
I congratulated one friend for hitting a tough fitness goal and another friend for achieving a major financial goal. I shared my regard and pride for a friend who got through a rough season of mothering and came out all the better and stronger from her experience. And, as embarrassingly obvious as it seems now to write this, I have been shocked by the true joy I’ve experienced from overcoming my own resentment by sharing in my friends’ successes—both large and small.
It is human nature to want to care for and about others; as research suggests, self-interest rarely leads to true happiness. I admire different women for certain talents they have that I do not, and a great way of preventing that admiration from becoming envy has been telling these women that I admire them.
02. Accepting encouragement from those who are succeeding helps us to become successful in our turn.
I recently came across a line in an article from The Guardian that pretty well encapsulates what I’ve realized in associating with women who are experiencing success: “Our success as a society directly depends on the extent to which we see each other as a source of support rather than a source of threat.” My friend who has started a successful business has encouraged me to find what I’m passionate about and cultivate my own dreams.
Mothers in my life who have discovered small successes with their children have shared their sage advice and listened to my own hardships without judgment or criticism, offering me their support and friendship. Not surprisingly, these friendships have flourished. It’s amazing what women can accomplish when we throw the competition aside and simply support each other.
03. We can choose to let other women’s successes motivate our own.
I am surrounded by some pretty accomplished women in my life—a fact that I couldn’t be more proud of. Just this morning, I was driving home from the grocery store listening to a friend’s newly-released first album (check it out!) on my Toyota’s ancient CD player, reflecting on the many wonderful talents given to my friends and acquaintances . . . but also to me.
I realized I was sporting a goofy grin, beaming with pride for the way these women are using their talents to make the world just a bit more beautiful. I have talents of my own, and seeing these women’s accomplishments gives me the motivation to unearth my own talents and decide how to use them to their fullest potential.
There is something to the old saying that “success breeds success,” and I’ve found that this saying is also two-fold. We are motivated by our own small successes to achieve even larger successes. But we are also motivated by the successes of others to reach success in our own lives.
I’m pretty sure I’ve bought a dozen books in the last year that were newly published by fledgling women writers whom I either know personally or follow on social media—in part because I truly want to support them and am eager to read their work, but also because reading books by other young writers inspires me to write. There is no greater motivation to me than seeing another woman use a talent that I have as well; it gives me hope for my future.
I believe that women can do truly unbelievable things with the support of other women. Celebrating each other’s accomplishments is what we were made to do, it’s what we are good at doing, and it’s our best bet for experiencing success.