How Envy Impacts Anxiety and Leadership

Talking about Self-Awareness and Anxiety (with Hello Monday’s Jessi Hempel)

MORA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele and this is The Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders who have dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. How they fell down, how they picked themselves up, and how they hope workplaces can change.

Today, we begin a special two-part little miniseries on envy. Why envy? I’m a little obsessed with it. And I don’t think you can truly understand a lot of professional anxiety without considering the little jealous monster inside of you. So with today’s guest, we dive into what I call the Triangle of Doom. Three words: envy, shame, and scarcity. These feelings, shame, scarcity, envy can drive so many of us into a perpetually anxious state. Whether we’re self-employed and trying to make it or trying to make it big within an organization, envy is a natural human emotion. What’s worse, many of us operate in a digital and professional landscape that’s literally designed to drive jealousy and FOMO.

But, if you let it get out of control, you can really hamper your own work and productivity. I speak from experience. I’m a recovering envious person. I recently spent about five years being obsessed with two other small businesses in my space. We competed and we collaborated. Let’s say we were classic frenemies. But I let myself become consumed by envy about them. I stalked the owners’ whereabouts on social media, I imagined they never had cashflow issues and that they were rolling in money, and new clients, and accolades.

Well, it turns out everything I imagined about those other companies wasn’t even true. One of the firms went out of business and the other got acquired. And yes, I was happy for them. You know why? I realized I needed a new ethos in my life, a reframing. A way to forcibly get myself away from the cycle of feeling envy and scarcity. I call it “more pie.” Every time I’m consumed with envy and feeling like there isn’t enough to go around, I just say to myself, “There’s always more pie.”

Wherever you are, if you’re stuck in that triangle of doom I mentioned, I hope this episode helps you step outside the feelings and examine their sources. Remember, just because they’re feelings doesn’t mean they’re true. There’s always more pie.

My guest today, Nihar Chhaya, is a coach, founder, and president of PartnerExec. He was selected among the top coaches in the world as part of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches, and he’s a keynote speaker, writer, and thought leader, training thousands of coaches.

I first came across your work because you were writing about envy, a topic that I’m obsessed with. And you’re a coach, you work with a lot of high powered executives and entities. What is your general opinion of how envy affects leadership?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Well, I think envy, to start off, would be something that people don’t like to admit they feel, and I’m a firm believer that it’s kind of part of our human condition. And why wouldn’t it be? We are social animals, we are even more so aware of what is going on in other people’s lives these days and their careers through social media, and it’s very difficult to even know where you stand. Or are you actually going after enough goals in your career or your life? Without anchoring yourself to what other people are doing. So the byproduct, I think, of learning what other people are up to and gauging yourself is sometimes the feeling of, “Wow, I wish I was having the same things they had,” or, “I wish I wasn’t behind them.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: When you’re coaching people, how long does it take them to admit that they’re feeling envious?

NIHAR CHHAYA: It depends on whether that’s an issue that is really getting in the way of their success. Many of the leaders I work with aren’t really sure at the outset that their self-doubt or their insecurities are derailing them. I think that many of them will start off thinking, “You know, I just need my team to perform better. I need to figure out how to get all these things done with less time in the day.” They don’t often realize until we kind of unpack their personality, or their tendencies, or their habits that, in fact, they might be distracted by what other people are up to. They might be choosing to work and operate in a way that doesn’t feel authentic to them, but because they feel they should be doing it because that’s what other people did to get promoted, for instance. Or maybe as a leader, I might start treating my team the way that I was treated by a boss.

And all those kinds of expectations or perspectives on what good is can get them to really feel like, “I need to be doing something that I’m not doing,” and that’s when envy, I think, starts popping up.

MORA AARONS-MELE: It’s funny because a definition of a great leader is someone who helps other people shine, right? And maybe even achieve more or sound smarter in the room than the leader. You always hear that a good leader hires people who are smarter than they are. But can a great leader who does that also feel envy at the same time?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Oh, absolutely. And I’ll give you an example. I wrote another article in Harvard Business Review called “What to Do If Your Employee Starts to Outshine You,” and it was actually related to a few leaders that I coached that were really high level in companies and they really had the best intentions for their direct reports. But what they found was that these days, talent comes in all shapes and sizes, ages, and I think the new generation coming into the workplace has lots of ambition and interest in getting out there and getting their brand going forward.

So a few of the leaders that I coached were in situations where they were like, “I don’t want to suppress the ambitions and the careers of the people that work for me, but I’m kind of surprised that they’re out there on speaking circuits and they’re doing these kinds of presentations out there on social media that kind of give the impression that they’re the boss in the company.” So you had these senior leaders actually feeling like, in the company, they had the authority in the sense of power, but in the bigger world that we live in, they were surprised that there was almost this image that was being sent that they were almost junior to the people that were reporting to them.

So I think it’s very often that you can find people with a certain level of power feeling a little bit in the shadow of those folks that maybe they are kind of moving up in a different venue or a different aspect of society.

MORA AARONS-MELE: How do you see the relationship between envy and anxiety, though?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Well, envy and anxiety are a little bit of a chicken-before-the-egg situation. I look at… and I’ve had this experience, I would say, myself, too. If I’m in an anxious state and I’m feeling a little bit down on myself, I’m probably more susceptible to the cues and signals of what other people are doing as a way of feeling like, “Man, am I keeping up with other folks?” Or in my situation, I remember I had some bouts with anxiety when I wasn’t envying what other people had, but it was this feeling of, “Am I going to lose the freedom and autonomy that I’ve worked so hard to have?” Which was to start my own company. For any reason. Whether it’s not enough clients, whether something maybe happens to me, like a health issue or an injury, anything. All of a sudden, I’m imagining in my mind that everybody has it perfect. Those who work in companies are happy, those who have their own businesses are happy, but I’m the one that’s not going to excel here, so then I’m susceptible to envy.

Well, also, if you start envying people, then you’re susceptible to feeling more anxious. And I think where the anxiety comes in is when you have issues that you want or covet that other people have with some level of urgency or scarcity associated with it. So if there’s an urgency, in other words, I need to actually make a certain amount of money by the next six months to break even, you’re going to start, I think, being a little bit more anxious about what you see other people doing. And if there’s a scarcity, for example, in my world of coaching, there’s a million coaches out there, and every year, more and more because people hang up a shingle and they say, “I want to start my own coaching practice,” and you start thinking, “How do I stand out? How do I actually make sure I’m differentiating in this saturated market?” And that’s where the scarcity element can play in your mind. So that’s where I think the envy and anxiety kind of play off of each other into a little bit of a circular loop.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Wow. Okay, so you just hit on something that I really want to focus on in this episode with you. It’s a topic I think about a lot, and I think there are three words that I want to tease out from what you just said. The first is definitely envy, the second is anxiety, and the third is scarcity because it can interplay in this horrible triangle. A spiral of doom triangle that I think a lot of us, especially during these times, and especially in a social media world.

When you eat what you kill, whether you’re a sole proprietor, whether you’re a small business owner, whether you are a brand, like us, to some extent, I find it difficult sometimes to get my head out of the place of, “Oh my gosh, that person got that contract, so I won’t get it,” which is scarcity. “That person is doing so much better and has 85 TED Talks, and God, why are they so much better than me,” which is envy, and, “I’m going to lose all my money and have to move back in with my parents,” which is anxiety.


MORA AARONS-MELE: And I hope listeners are not nodding their heads thinking, “That’s me,” but I have a feeling some might be.


MORA AARONS-MELE: I want you to talk us through your own relationship with anxiety and how you’ve been working through it as someone who was always high achieving, worked in corporate, and then decided to hang out your shingle many years ago.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yeah. So I would say that I’ve probably always had a little bit of low level anxiety in my life. In some ways, I look back and realize that it might’ve been a good contributor to where I’ve come in my career. But of course, it’s unpleasant. But there have been times where I can feel a pull to do something different and I can tell that my values are kind of being stepped on.

So for instance, for 20 years, I was working in the corporate world and reached leadership roles there, but there was always this part of me that wanted to get out of the rat race there and actually start helping people navigate the organizational politics out there, and start also helping to cultivate better bosses because I had been on the receiving end of some pretty bad boss relationships in my career. But the idea of going out on my own was not something that I actually was ever really confident about. I grew up in a family of doctors and engineers, we’re Indian-American, so there’s this huge push on academic excellence and, “Don’t ever take any risks out there.” But again, it got to the point where I knew that I had something to offer and I really had to make the move.

And what was interesting was when I left my company and started my practice several years ago, I started experiencing some panic attacks, and it was really interesting because the panic wasn’t really about, “Oh, I hope I can make enough money,” and, “What if I fail at this?” What was interesting was I actually had a lot of clients. I was doing quite well. It was surprising, maybe because I waited 20 years to build experience, but I actually had a pretty good book of business.

My panic was based on, “Oh my goodness, what if this stops and then I’m pulled back for some reason or catapulted back into that world that I don’t want to be in?” And all these types of things started going into my head, like, “What if things out of my control make me have to go back?” Like having a family, being able to pay the bills. “What if people think I’m being selfish because I’m not making enough money for my family?” Whatever it might be.

And the way I dealt with it was really… I mean, there’s a lot of different ways to deal with it, but I think I really am just the king of reframing. I really just am constantly thinking about ways to reframe what I’m feeling, and through lots of learning and studying about anxiety and things like that, I recognized some ways to, I guess, keep it at bay. But it’s always a little bit there, I think.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Can you tell about the story you told me about sitting in your car, then give an example of how you would reframe it now?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yeah. I loved your book, Hiding in the Bathroom, and one of the things that I remember telling you was that I am an introvert. I can put it on. I can get out there and speak and be socially active and stuff like that, but there is, at the very core of it, I need to recharge. And being in the corporate world, I even had my own office. I mean, I was doing quite good, but I couldn’t deal with the stimulation of being, as you said in some of your talks, under the fluorescent lights for nine hours a day.

So I would go back in my car and I’d say, “I’ve got to get out of here and just be with myself.” And in many ways what I found was this was also part of my desire to be more creative because I think being in the corporate world, in many ways, you’re being paid to just be a cog in a wheel and just kind of get things done and execute. I think you can inject some creativity and strategic thinking when you get to a certain level of authority, but even then, companies don’t want to move so fast. At least the ones that I work with.

And I’ve always had this desire to express myself, to write, to think broadly, divergently about things, and in some ways, the car was the only place I could do it, so that was the way to bring the sensations down. And even now, sometimes it’s funny, now that we’re dealing with COVID and we’re all working from home, and I still enjoy being in my car doing meetings because it’s like, at least I’m getting out in the sunshine. We can’t necessarily mingle because of social distancing, but at least I’m in my safe bubble while I’m also outside in the sunshine.

MORA AARONS-MELE: You and I are both from New Jersey and maybe that’s why we love our cars, but I also, I feel very safe in my car as well. But I think one of the things that’s really hard and you touched on it is that when you’re an anxious person and you want to run your own business and be your own boss and be creative and you actually make a go of it, which you did, how do you balance the fear of, “Oh, is this all too good to be true? It’s going to end tomorrow,” with stopping to enjoy for a minute what you’ve built?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Right. It’s a great point. I think we probably can agree that there never really seems to be a perfect end point, and I think that’s the biggest problem with envy is that it never really ends. And it depends on what your triggers are because some people might envy more money. I’ve never really been somebody that envies the money. For me, it’s always about security, it’s always about autonomy. I want to be able to keep having control over my time and my life. But what I envy more than the money, I think, is the ability to feel like I am contributing something without having to apologize for it or that feeling of, when you’re in your company and you have all these great ideas and your boss kind of stifles it and you’re just thinking, “Wow, man. I’m making a good salary, but this is no way to live. I mean, I’m just not able to express myself.” And I think when you start your own business and you go out on your own, there is an element that you have to play within the rules. Obviously, I coach corporate executives, so I still play by the rules with my corporate clients, but I think there is an element of enjoying the fact that you built something.

I’ll give you an example. I have, just last week I got rejected from a client that I really had my heart set on coaching. And I think four or five years ago, that really would have disturbed me for many reasons. One, just because I would take it personally, and number two, I’d probably be like, “Well, how am I going to get the money I was hoping to get in that client deal?”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Scarcity coming.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Exactly. Now, having built enough of a track record and really believing that I have contributed something of value to enough people, I was able to at least reframe for myself, “Something else will come around.” Whether that means that in that particular company they know me better than they did before so they might refer me later, or I just have a more cultivated network that might pull on me. And what’s interesting is just this week, somebody came in, kind of a bluebird, like, “Hey, we heard about you and we need some help.” From a different company.

So the idea here is just telling yourself that there are things that you’ve built that you can say are yours and they’re going to save you in those times of scarcity, you just have to, I think, just believe it’s going to happen.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Talk us through a way that someone could reframe. Let’s take that example that anyone can relate to. They chose someone else, they didn’t choose me. I know the person they chose. Ugh. I hate that person right now. I am a failure. How do you reframe those feelings?

NIHAR CHHAYA: I’m going to use a model that actually I came across kind of accidentally, but he happens to be a professor at Penn, where I went, Martin Seligman, and he talks about emotional resilience and learned optimism, and he talks about the three P’s, which is personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.

And the idea here is to question whether the feeling that you have of being down or being behind, is it personal? In other words, is it just happening to you? Is it completely related only to you that you failed or could there be other factors? Is it pervasive? In other words, does it cover every aspect of your life or is it just one deal or even just one aspect of your being? In other words, your job and your coaching is only one part of it. And permanence. Is this going to be forever? Are you literally going to be losing out every coaching thing forever? And obviously, it’s hard. When you’re really in that deep anxious state, you can say to yourself, “Yeah, all three of those things don’t make any sense to me. I’m still feeling terrible.” But I think the more you try to break it down and challenge those thoughts and beliefs, I think it gets better.

Research shows that our envy dissipates about things after they’ve already happened. For instance, if you are looking at your friend who got the coaching engagement and you’re feeling so down on your luck and you’re comparing yourself, most likely, after about two or three weeks, you’ll have forgotten about it. And as much as that sounds a little bit like a cop out, I think that’s actually a relief, that our minds don’t really hold onto those things as much as we’re thinking about the next thing that we’re going to envy. And yes, that’s going to be another problem to deal with, but at least it gives you some sense of optimism that this isn’t going to be forever.

MORA AARONS-MELE: When should you listen to your envy? Or should you ever listen to it?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yes. I actually believe you should, and the reason why is because envy oftentimes will signal something that you deeply value. I’ll give you an example. When I was a kid, my mom subscribed to Reader’s Digest and they had this section where you could submit jokes. And I was, like, eight years old, and I’m like, “I really want to get published in Reader’s Digest because then they’ll be really proud of me, they’ll see my name in that magazine.” And I tried to construct jokes. I’m eight years old trying to really build a joke. I have no idea how to do it.

Of course, I sent it in and I didn’t get anything. Well, what happened was my parents started telling me, they’re like, “You seem to enjoy writing. You should write more.” And around that same year, the movie Gandhi came out, 1982, and I was really deeply moved by this movie and I started writing a little essay about it. And my dad was like, “You know what? This is really good. Let’s submit it to India Abroad,” which is the newspaper for the Indian diaspora around the world. And it got published. I was eight years old, and my parents still have it.

What I say about that is only to say that years later, I never pursued writing as a career, never. In fact, I got really sometimes bad grades on writing in college because you know how they do, they’ll tell you, “This isn’t good. You’re going to get a C or a B on it,” and you’re thinking, “Oh, it was my best work.” But again, they’re trying to fit you in a hole.

Well, years later, after I was already a coach, when I started seeing people getting published in things like Harvard Business Review and Forbes and those kinds of outlets, it was a pang of envy. “Wow, I know that I can write. How come I can’t get in there?” And what it told me was that, “Hey, you actually need to start pursuing this because it’s always been a part of you and it’s something that you value, you really enjoy and you love, and you might even be good at it.”


NIHAR CHHAYA: I think when you start envying something, as long as you can keep it within reason and not necessarily judge the other person too harshly, they can actually teach you something about what you really want in life.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I think in our social media world, there are daily hits of envy, paper cuts of envy, FOMO, that we all feel a million times a day that are very different than the more profound situation that we might be talking to, where you see someone achieving something that you deeply feel wounded that you don’t have. But let’s talk a little bit about the world of FOMO and social media and brand because it’s something you touched on earlier. It’s super relevant I think for anybody trying to make a living on their own, right?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Absolutely.

MORA AARONS-MELE: You and I both are always going to see people in our field getting published more, having bigger stages, whatever. What have you learned over the years about managing that, I’m going to call it jealousy and FOMO. I think envy might even be too strong a word. How do you go about your day so that you don’t see it or how would you tell a client to?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yeah, I think it’s a great question and certainly something that I would say can become a little bit of a never-ending problem if you don’t manage it, so I’m glad you asked the question. Part of it is, can you take a sabbatical from that? I was talking to a friend of mine who said that she finally decided to simply just unfollow half of her network because it wasn’t their fault it was because it just kept popping up and she was just like, “I can’t even get on with my day because I keep seeing what other people are doing.” So that’s one thing. If that’s a trigger for you, I think it’s important.

I was reflecting on FOMO also, where a lot of times, there’s these superlative groups. You’ll see if you go into a city, they’ll say “Top Doctors in Dallas” or something like that. Well, in coaching, they’ll have things like “The Top 50 Coaches” or some gurus group and things like that. These companies do that because it helps them market. But of course, when you see people on that, you’re thinking, “Wow, they really must be amazing at what they do. I couldn’t be on that list.” What’s funny is when you really peel back the onion, you realize that just like anything else, the Top Doctors list, there’s a certain amount of paying for play.

I’m not taking away the talent of the people on the list, but I think there is a popularity contest involved there. It’s about, “Can you nominate me? Can I get enough votes?” And what I found in some of those lists was that I was feeling this FOMO, like, “I need to be on that.” And, “What if I’m not on that? I’m not going to be as successful.”

And the reality is that I’m not really against that model, I think that’s just life, but what it told me was that, “Wow, you know what it is? It’s something that I feel so icky about doing and that’s why I struggle with it.” In other words, I struggle with asking people to vote for me for things. I struggle to ask for testimonials. It’s one of those things where I just don’t like putting people on the spot like that for me, and I recognized that that’s what I envied. It wasn’t really that I envied being on the list, I envied the brazenness of the people on the list to say, “Hey, I’m not going to take myself so seriously. I’m going to go after these things and I’m going to ask people to vote for me.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Oh my gosh. And I think if you’re socially anxious or you’re a little bit more introverted, it’s natural that you would feel that way and want to hide your light under a bushel.


MORA AARONS-MELE: And I have people who I look at and I check their Twitter feeds and I see them on LinkedIn and I see how incredibly pervasive they get, and I admire the pluck, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it created a lot of anxiety for me.


MORA AARONS-MELE: Even fixating on a few people, it’s like I’m in sixth grade again.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Right. Exactly. It really is like a popularity thing.

MORA AARONS-MELE: They’re more popular than me, yes.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yes. Absolutely right. And there’s so many different metrics we put on ourselves for success. For so long when I started my practice, all I cared about was getting clients. I didn’t care about anything but getting clients and being able to pay my bills. Then, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh no, I need to be on those lists and I need to be asked to be on this podcast.” And those are important, I think. But there’s a feeling of never-ending chase for validation. And of course, what’s funny is, once you get it, you look back and you’re like, “Oh, that wasn’t too hard to do.” But it’s like, “The next thing is going to be the scary thing.”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. You’re never done with it. I will say that. It’s not like once you get that article in HBR, you’re done feeling bad or nervous or FOMO about the next thing.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Oh no. I’ll tell you what. When I first got my article, first article on HBR, it was a huge day, but literally the next day I was like, “Oh no, I’ve got to get my second one in there because otherwise, it’s going to be like a one hit wonder.” So it’s never enough. And then, of course, you’re thinking, “Well, gosh. There’s other people that are so prolific, I need to have more in there.” There was actually a great HBR article that Adam Grant talked about, “Having Worthy Rivals.”

Simon Sinek in his book Infinite Game talked about it, and I will say, I give him some credit for being quite vulnerable here. He actually said that Adam Grant was one of those people that just made him sick with envy. He liked him, he admired him, but everything about him, from what’s his ranking on the next book list and who else has he talked to, that would just really trigger him. And they happened to be at a conference where they had to introduce each other, and Simon Sinek actually said that, “Adam Grant is the one that makes me so envious because all of his strengths are my weaknesses.” And to Adam Grant’s credit, he said, “The insecurity is mutual.”

And what you realize in that situation as they started writing about it was, as I said with the lists, the superlative lists. What I’ve found was there was a weakness that was being, I think, shown. Being exposed in my envy about those lists, which was, I don’t want to self-promote myself in that way, but I kind of want the result. I’d rather my work speaks for itself, but it doesn’t everywhere. And what I realized was in some ways, you can actually find a way to transform that envy to say, “What is it saying about me that I’m resisting doing, is there a way for me to actually just start practicing doing that?”

MORA AARONS-MELE: Okay. So in our last couple of minutes here, let’s get tactical for listeners who are thinking about, maybe, we’re heading up on a new year, a lot of people like to set goals. “I want to grow my business by X percent, and here’s what I want this year in terms of media exposure or recognition in my field.” My experience being an extremely anxious and envious person is that if I don’t put limits almost around my envy, it gets out of control and I can’t do anything. Then I just freeze.


MORA AARONS-MELE: And sit in bed and watch Netflix all day and eat. Do you have any recommendations about almost setting your own expectations about what you’re going to achieve and how to manage your own feelings of FOMO and jealousy and envy?

NIHAR CHHAYA: Yeah, absolutely. I look at it from two lenses and I think both are critical. One is a reductionist perspective and one is being more expansive. So reductionist, by that I mean take a diet from the triggers. And that requires some discipline, but we know that habits are built by knowing when the trigger happens and doing something different at that time to get the–

MORA AARONS-MELE: So you have to know your triggers, though. You have to know your envy triggers to do that.

NIHAR CHHAYA: You do. For sure. So for instance, if there’s a certain set of people that you know every time you talk to them, there’s some humble bragging going on and you’re like, “Ugh, God. I hate listening to them about this stuff.” Maybe you take a little bit of a break from that conversation or that person.


NIHAR CHHAYA: Right. Exactly. Or you say to yourself, “I’m only going to scroll or look at Facebook or LinkedIn once a week,” or what have you. To the extent that it’s necessary for you to do your job, that’s a different story, but I think these things are somewhat of a luxury that you can probably do without. And again, once you start replacing that with a behavior or an action that gives you a similar reward, maybe you decide to express a strength of yours. Like if you’re a writer, go ahead and write instead of scrolling. Give yourself that time to not measure yourself before you’ve even done the work because we almost tell ourselves, “This thing is not going to get published,” before I’ve even written it.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Okay, I need to have an Oprah moment because I want to repeat that. Give yourself the time to not measure it before you’ve done the work or don’t edit yourself and doubt yourself before it’s even out, before you’ve created the work.


MORA AARONS-MELE: I love that. I love that.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Exactly. And the expansion part of it, so you’re kind of giving yourself that grace to get away from the triggers. The expansion part of it also is to say to yourself, “Don’t forget the gifts you’re bringing to the world that you’re diminishing because of having a reactive nature to the world around you.” And what I mean by that is, who says you can’t create a new field of play? Who says you can’t create a new set of peers to compare yourself to? We all outgrow certain groups of people and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve coached many leaders who have felt stumped about how to get promoted and they’re like, “There’s nothing I can do, they’re just not going to move me up,” or, “There’s not enough roles ahead of me.”

Well, you’re just going to go into more depression thinking that there’s nothing you can do. Why don’t you start at least spending time with other networks of people that do the things you enjoy? And what you’ll find, and I’ve seen this with many leaders I’ve coached, that just doing that enables their new network to call on them for a new job or a new role or a new leadership opportunity that wouldn’t have come if they’d just kind of sat still where they are. And I would also say that in the next year, also do a little bit of an inventory of your own internalized expectations. Are you doing things because you feel like you should be doing it? A lot of times we’ll get envious about people that are doing the things that we feel that we should do, but we don’t really want to do.

I’ve coached a lot of leaders who are thinking that they need to be a CEO but don’t really want to have the job. They just feel weird if they said they didn’t want the job, but they don’t really want it. So they spend a lot of time envying that person in that role that really, if they got it, they’d be miserable. So are there internalized expectations that you’re playing into right now that you can let go of and instead spend your time on honoring the deeper values? For instance, maybe even make a list of the two or three things that you want to achieve, whether it’s writing an article or getting on a podcast or something like that, and don’t worry about anything until you get that before you start looking into what other people have.

MORA AARONS-MELE: I really like that, staying focused on the goal. And I just want to add one more that really works for me because I’m a wallower and I will get stuck, almost in a ruminative spin of my own lack of achievement, and I always come back to Shine Theory, which is that we all rise when we let other people shine. We don’t always have to shine. I always come back to Dr. Alice Boyes, who I had on the show in the first season. She said, “Why do you always have to be so special?”


MORA AARONS-MELE: There’s a sort of narcissism in all of this and it’s wonderful when people you know are awesome.

NIHAR CHHAYA: That’s right.

MORA AARONS-MELE: So amplify that LinkedIn post maybe instead of ignoring it and see how you feel as an experiment.

NIHAR CHHAYA: That is an excellent point. Absolutely. I mean, I think there’s such value in giving, while you’re also looking for the things you can get because it does really bounce back to you in a way that feels awesome. And in fact, there’s even studies that have said that people who are more prone to envy are the ones that maybe have a little bit lower self-esteem, but also struggle with what they call deprivation tolerance. The idea of really, if you don’t get what you want, are you able to still move forward? And I think what you touched on is so powerful, which is, we’re not always going to get what we want, but in fact, we can be happy for what other people have. And guess what? Most likely, they’re going to reciprocate for us as well.

MORA AARONS-MELE: Oh my gosh, I’m excited about that. Well, thank you so much, Nihar.

NIHAR CHHAYA: Thank you, Morra. It’s been so great talking to you.

MORA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe, and thanks to Liz Sanchez for her help producing. Thanks to the team at HBR and the studio team who made the audio happen. I’m grateful to our guests for sharing their experiences and their truths, for you, our listeners, and for our advertisers. Please send me feedback. You can email or tweet me @morraam. And if you love the show, tell your friends or subscribe and leave a review.

From HBR Presents, this is Morra Aarons-Mele.

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