I spent every summer of my childhood at my grandmother’s beach house in North Florida, cavorting with my cousins in the waters of the bay that served as our back yard. We always had crab traps and it was a grand adventure every day to haul them up from the edge of the dock to check for a catch. Cinco Bayou had a healthy crab population and most often, our trap had worked. I didn’t want to touch those crabs and had no desire to learn how to properly handle them. I didn’t want to eat them – I just wanted to observe from a safe distance.
There’s an old parable about crabs in a bucket that describes how people act toward one another when one person starts to achieve and move up to a new level. If you put one crab in a bucket, it’s likely it will manage to climb out. But if you put more than one crab in a bucket, none of them will be able to get out. When one starts to make it out, the rest pull it back down. Sadly, that can describe people too.
Anyone who has ever accomplished anything of significance has felt the pinch of others who are jealous of your success. Sometimes jealously wears masks and isn’t easily recognized for what it is. It often comes in the form of criticism, unjustified anger, distance in previously close relationships or a breakdown in communication. Not as hard to miss are clues like people spreading lies about you, rejection or outright hostility.
What do you do when the jealousy and envy is coming from you? When someone else achieves something you’ve worked hard for and missed? When you’re the one still scrambling? Gary Topchik, author of Managing Workplace Negativity says, “If you let envy impact you in a negative way – like getting angry or feeling worse about yourself – it will affect your productivity and your quality of work.” Envy eats nothing but its own heart. That’s a dangerous thing. Jealousy is a form of feeling sorry for yourself. You can either be pitiful or powerful. Your choice.
You can’t fix the attitude of someone else or provoke them to change. Regardless of the cause for jealousy – a promotion or special favor, gifts, talents, abilities, relationships and connections that others don’t have – you don’t want to go down into the crab bucket to try to pacify others – it’s a trap.
When dealing with envy and jealousy, the only response is to take the high road. Walk in love, wish the best for others and forgive them when they act like crabs. The only way to build the tallest building in town is to continuously work on your building, not by throwing bricks at your competitors. It is completely possible to be competitive without the negativity of jealousy. The only person that we need to be ‘better than’ today is the person we were yesterday.
Comparison is the thief of joy and crabs are always going to act like crabs. Rise above the envy. It’s impossible to be both envious and grateful at the same time. Leave the crabs in the bucket and get on with it.