must be nice…

The other day, while waiting in line at the grocery store, I overheard a comment about a TV show host that caught my attention.

“Must be nice,” the person said. “Getting paid that much to just work a couple hours a day.”

I am obviously not a TV host, but still this comment made me bristle. Because I recognized the inherent criticism in these words: the idea that the value of one’s work is dependent on the amount of time one puts in, and furthermore that all the behind-the-scenes work somehow doesn’t “count.”

All of our jobs have behind-the-scenes work; but I think we as a society tend to recognize this work more in some jobs than we do others. When we watch a Broadway play, we understand that the actors don’t just come onstage and perform and that is their entire job—we know that there are many, many hours of rehearsal behind each glittery performance. When we hire someone to remodel our kitchen, we “count” the work it takes them to draw up the plans. When someone clocks into work, especially a 9-5 job with traditional hours, we generally think of their behind-the-scenes work—all the emails and meetings and billing and drudgery—as part of that work time. We measure it and count it and value it. All of it.

But what about when someone’s job has less clearly defined parameters? Someone whose “working hours” in the public eye might not include the entire scope of their job? One example that springs immediately to my mind are teachers. “Must be nice,” I have heard people say about the teaching profession. “Get off work at 3pm and then have the entire summer off.” I think statements like these are ludicrous. My friends who are teachers, including my aunt and my sister-in-law, are some of the hardest-working people I know who care immensely about their jobs. My sister-in-law might leave school property at 4pm, but more often than not she goes home and plans lessons until late at night. She is there for her students before school, after school, during lunch, and she regularly goes above-and-beyond planning field trips and interactive learning events for them.

Plus, beyond all the hours great teachers put in “behind the scenes,” they are such treasures because they make such a difference! I have been so fortunate that I can point to a dozen teachers who have had a profound impact on my life, who I still think of often to this day. Teachers are educating our future. Why do we, as a society, not value their work more? Why do we write them off with, “Must be nice…”?

Let’s stop doing this. Let’s stop writing each other off. 

Perhaps it’s a grass-is-always greener situation. Just as we should not compare our insides to other people’s outsides, we should be careful not to compare the insides of our jobs with the outsides of other people’s jobs. For example, my dad was a sports columnist for many years {he is now a general interest columnist and also writes books and magazine articles} and people often remarked to him how lucky he was to “get paid for watching sports.” While he was fortunate to have a job he was passionate about, watching a sports event in order to write about it for the newspaper is entirely different from watching a sports event as a fan. He was working. Taking notes, conducting interviews, shaping and writing his column during the game, having to go back and erase and change it based on the outcome, and then having to bang it out and file in time for the next day’s paper to be printed. Dad used to joke that the best type of game as a fan—the nail-biting, triple-overtime, down-to-the-wire thriller—was the worst type of game as a sports columnist, because you had no idea until the final buzzer what the outcome would be. You pretty much had to write TWO columns, one for each outcome, because there would never be enough time to write the entire thing after the game ended before your deadline. It would be easy for people to look at my dad’s career and think, “Must be nice…” But they had no idea all of the “behind the scenes” work his job entailed.

The reason that I think this “must be nice” mindset is dangerous is because it isn’t just fair to the people we are undervaluing: it also isn’t fair to ourselves. This mindset puts us in the realm of “victim” and ignores the drudgery and busywork and unglamorous parts that are present in pretty much every job. Susan Hyatt writes about this very eloquently in her blog post/podcast “The Parts You Don’t See.”

Furthermore, this mindset takes away our power rather than empowering us. It pretends that other people have it better than we do, easier than we do, cushier than we do. It does not acknowledge all the hard work they put in to get where they are, and also undermines our own efforts to work hard and advance in our careers. When you accomplish your big career goals, do you want someone looking at you and saying that you are so lucky to be where you are? No! It’s not darn luck—it took years of busting your butt!

When you feel yourself slipping into the defeatist perspective that other people have it easier than you do, I challenge you to take a step back and think about all the hard work it took for them to get where they are. Then challenge yourself to focus on your own hard work to accomplishing your own goals. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Cultivate a mindset of gratitude. Think about it. What makes you more motivated: feeling jealous of other people’s lives, or feeling grateful for all the beauty and blessings in your own life? I know for me, the answer is easy. Gratitude wins by a landslide every time.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some free-writing:

  • What are the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of your job that other people might not recognize?
  • Write about a time you felt valued, or undervalued. What was your reaction?
  • What is your “dream job”? Why?
  • Are there any professions you envy? What do you envy about them? What hard or unglamorous work might also be wrapped up in these jobs?
  • What do you love about your current job, right now, in this moment?

turning envy into gratitude

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that green-eyed monster, jealousy. About how it’s easy to be there for people when they’re down. What’s harder is being happy when something great happens for somebody else.

Why is that? Why are we so inclined to compare ourselves to others? When someone else accomplishes something amazing, why does it have the potential to make us feel bad about ourselves?

Life isn’t a race. Life isn’t a checklist or a report card or a beauty contest. And when we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, it leaves less mental energy to focus on all the good things happening in our own lives — and all the great things we want to do in the future! For me, nothing saps motivation quicker than that green-eyed monster does.

I’ve heard it said that envy can be a motivating factor, and maybe it is for some people. Maybe there is a good kind of envy: “You just did something amazing, and I want to do it, too!” That’s envy integrated with a nice dose of inspiration. When you don’t want to take away someone’s good fortune — you want to share in it.

That’s what I’ve been trying to focus on lately. Not just being surface-level happy for my friends when things go well — taking it a step further and truly basking in others’ happiness. Jumping up and down with excitement for them. Sharing the good news with everyone I meet. Feeling my heart swell with giddy joy.

Because you know what? When you celebrate the good news of others as if it is your own, it sort of does start to feel like it’s happening to you, too. The good feelings are yours. The celebration is yours. And the sense of accomplishment? That’s yours, too.

building people up
When you build others up, you build yourself up.

It’s also true in business. Here’s an article I read yesterday about the #1 secret to success in the workplace. Can you guess what it is? Making others successful.

Another thing about being happy for others is that happiness is contagious. And being joyful about the successes of others isn’t even limited to people you know. Being happy for strangers is an unbelievably freeing feeling. Once upon a time, whenever I used to read about an author getting an agent or book deal or selling a bajillion copies of her new book, I would feel jealous. I would think, “Why that person and not me?”

It’s one thing to be happy for my writer friends when they get a book deal {go Tera!}; or a story accepted to a phenomenal literary journal {I’m looking at you, Leigh!}; or are awarded a prestigious writing fellowship {woo-hoo, Jan Jan!} These are people I’ve been “in the trenches” with. We’ve read and commented on each other’s work, encouraged each other through the dry spells, sat together over coffee or fro-yo and commiserated over rejection letters. I know how hard they work. I know how much they deserve these good things.

But when good news happened to a writer I didn’t know? I was much more likely to let my heart slip into that jealous place. To feel like I didn’t get something because someone else got it instead.

But that type of thinking only breeds more bad thoughts and discouragement. A stranger to me is someone else’s Tera or Leigh or Janet. All of us are working hard. All of us are out there pursuing these big beautiful dreams of ours. I don’t like to think of the world as a pie with a limited number of pieces. When we’re happy for each other — even for people we’ve never met — the world begins to seem like a brighter, warmer, more inviting place. A place where good things happen.

When I celebrate a stranger’s publishing deal, it rejuvenates me. It makes me feel like maybe my good news is just around the corner. And it makes me feel fortunate and grateful for all the great things that have happened in my life so far.

I love this meditation from Heather at For the Love of Kale: “Gratitude turns what I have into enough. Thank you, Universe, for giving me everything I need. I am willing to see the light and love in this situation.”

You know one of the top things I feel grateful for? That I’m surrounded by people who genuinely care about me, who are there to pick me up when I feel down, and — perhaps even more importantly — who are unabashedly happy with me when good things happen. What a blessing. What a gift we can all give each other.

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you quash that green-eyed monster? Who are you celebrating today? Give them a shout out in the comments section so we can all send happy vibes their way!