On a work trip away from the daily routine of our jobs, and possibly emboldened by the glass of wine, I finally acknowledged to Tara that I had spent the few years knowing her actively despising her.
She wasn’t taken aback as I feared, and in fact leaned in to learn more.
My heart pounded as I explained that I had been so envious of the success and opportunities that she was experiencing at that time, that I couldn’t see beyond my own agitation to even get to know her. I was blinded by the competitiveness I was feeling.
It was fortunate that Tara was understanding, compassionate, and spent the next twenty minutes acknowledging how she had experienced the same thing plenty of times. It was unfortunate that these feelings had taken years off of a potential friendship. I had missed out on time feeling close to a really amazing woman.
This piece isn’t actually about getting down on myself for feeling envy or jealousy. In fact, those are healthy human emotions, like all the others we experience.
It’s actually about recognizing that our cultural systems thrive on breeding those feelings and disconnecting us.
Sometimes that breeding is explicit. Take for example that Tara and I had both been in positions of leadership at our workplace, and we had heard on several occasions that a little bit of competitiveness was good for us. The top leader thought that feeling envious would drive us each to push harder and succeed in our respective roles, and so systems were designed to regularly compare our work, compete for opportunities, and hold distrust.
Sometimes that breeding is less explicit, but just as powerful. It’s the marketing messages that pit women against one another. It’s the cattiness that is assumed and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the implicit pressure to secure the limited number of spots available (for positions of power, for funding, for recognition or influence) by undercutting others rather than directly challenging the structures that allow for this scarcity.
It’s also the fact that we aren’t taught to or reinforced for celebrating the achievements of other women.
When other women succeed, our default response is to look inward. We take a comparative stance, evaluating how we compare to them, and then keep our attention inward while we swim in our own self-critical talk.
An important step in training ourselves to celebrate other women is to practice turning and keeping our attention outward, staying present with the joy and excitement that we might actually feel before we go inward to compare and despair.
This isn’t easy when we’ve been trained so well in what Kasia Urbaniak calls the “Good Girl Conditioning:” centuries old learning that tells us to stay safe by focusing our energy on ourselves to ensure we keep ourselves in check.
As we begin practicing keeping our attention tuned outward when we learn of something accomplished by a fellow woman, our bodies begin to practice what it’s like to truly feel the thrill of celebration for someone. As we repeat this embodiment practice again and again, our bodies, hearts, and minds sync into alignment and celebrating other women doesn’t feel like faking it or a suppressing our jealousy. Those feelings transform into genuine joy.
I’m also a huge believer in developing practices that reflect the person we want to be, even if we aren’t yet fully feeling that’s who we are. So if we want to be the type of person who celebrates other women, we create routines and habits of specifically looking out for opportunities to celebrate them. That could look like promoting someone else’s work (even when you’re afraid it could take attention or business away from yours; p.s. it won’t!), texting at least one person a week to congratulate them on something, or making a point to make an introduction of two amazing women you know at least once per month.
It’s unfortunate that it’s up to us to overcome this conditioning, but we have the responsibility – and privilege – of learning to celebrate one another.
One of the most powerful ways to do this work is by connecting with a safe, supportive circle of women with whom to practice these new skills and ways of engaging. If you are seeking this kind of community, consider if one of our Thrive Circles might be right for you.