When Envy is Good

Seth Godin
Image via Wikipedia

A friend asked me if I was mad at Seth Godin. And I was surprised. And then he reminded me that I had said something like “God damn that Seth Godin for another brilliant remark” on Twitter. I vaguely remembered typing it, so I paused. Was I mad, I wondered?

I checked my soul. No, no. That wasn’t mad. No, uh-uh, that was envy.

Seth Godin, as many of you likely already know is unbelievably good at, well, everything. He writes prolifically, and not just drivel, but brilliant life-changing stuff. He’s able to still draw on his domain expertise of marketing, but his ideas are accessible across domains. He’s generous to every author. (I could tell you my story, but mine is just one of probably a 1000 stories of his good heart.) He writes back to every email. He’s innovating on both ideas, and companies. His Domino project is finally offering ideas a viable outlet that publishers have never been able to crack. He’s, well, just about perfect in my eyes. Almost, mythological.

And, yes, I am envious of him. There, I said it. Let this be an Ode to Seth Godin. He inspires.

Most people say that we shouldn’t be envious.  It’s considered one of the seven deadly sins in the Bible. Envy is often viewed as a competitive energy that shows an insecurity of one to the other.

Envy is awesome if used as fuel. Being envious of Seth, I know more:

I wish I was as focused as him in writing/editing/curating ideas.

I wish I had an editorial mind like his to write short and more meaningful content.

I wish I was bald like him. (Well, no, that part I could do without.)

Or to ask, how does he write back kindly to all his emails (when I can barely deal)?

In other words, it can provide insight to what I want for myself. I don’t want to copy Seth. I need to be inspired by many people like Seth to see for myself what I want for my life. I can acknowledge that I want to be a writer that can actually create amazing value, like Seth Godin.  I want to research ideas that really matter to people being their biggest and best self, and have those spread like Brene Brown has with her vulnerability work. I want to help entrepreneurs and leaders build companies that win their market, and be theirBill Campbell” Or “Esther Dyson”.

And that serves as some necessary fuel for creating my own vision. I create an editorial calendar for myself so I can be a better writer. Maybe I’ll never be as good as Seth, but I’ll be better at my own writing. Maybe I’ll never be as brilliantly researched as Brene Brown, but I’ll work at finding a way to understand (and then share) how each can be most kick-ass. Maybe I’ll never be like Esther Dyson, but I’ll advise/fund/help where I can.

I like what all this envy gives me: insight, fuel for envisioning my own future, and a nudge. From there, I can set an agenda for what to work on. Then, and this is the important part, I have to do the work necessary. Envy is the signal and perhaps even a fuel source, but then…each of us has still gotta do the work to be the best we each can be.

So, who are you envious of? And Why? And how will you change what you do to do your own work…

17 Replies

  1. Thank you, Nilofer, for this ode to Godin. Indeed, how does he do it? He inspired me to start blogging, and when I dared to begin, was one of the first to find it and comment. Thank you, Seth.

    1. That’s great to hear, Todd. I don’t envy people unless I want something (love, joy, creativity) that they are exhibiting that I want to then incorporate into my life. It’s a signal.

  2. You’re way too kind, Nilofer. After reading the mythology, even I’m envious of me…

    I’m just a guy, focusing the best I can and sharing when I’m able.

    This revolution we’re in, the insane leap in connection and information and respect–it’s opening a lot of doors.

    Thanks for sharing and for leading.

    1. Even when you were my canoe tripper at Arowhon, you were kind and generous. I think i was the only kid who went 5 years without making my thirds – until you helped me. Glad to see you are still leading people Seth!

    2. Seth, Nilofer –

      Yes, it truly IS an “insane leap in connection”. Like Nilofer, I can ‘barely deal’ with the surge, but the alternative is worse – not connecting, not finding out what’s possible with the new paradigm.

      When you’ve solved for social overload, let us know 🙂

      Maybe its not envy so much as profound respect for all the connectors and catalysts out there: the 2 of you guys, Jenn Sertl, Marion, Bernd, June, and .. well, it’s a long list .. the usual suspects!

      Thanks again.


  3. Nilofer,

    See how much you envy Seth! I envy you as much 🙂

    I’ve been following you for a while on twitter and I’m really inspired by your blogs!

    In fact you were one of the motives that pushed me to write my first article on cloud computing which is going to be published next month (in the periodical that is published quarterly in my wife’s organization).

    You made me do this because I envy you 🙂

    Thanks for the +ve envy feeling that you injected me with

    Your follower from Bahrain,

  4. Nilofer,

    I think it’s the sharing that we are right to be envious about – the good envy! A capability to create memes, expand, carry, connect, pass on… There are a few people with this talent that I follow with an envious energy such as you describe… An envy because I find everything is spot on, an envy to be part of and accelerate the flow (and probably Twitter is a great medium to enable this)… Seth is one… Umair is another, with an amazing interactivity/reactivity on twitter… I admit all I read from Umair hits home… I wrote it on my review of his New Capitalist Manifesto, so he knows :)… I could read, retweet, reply to, comment on everything… so much so that I try to restrain myself… There is a very fine limit I find between having this powerful connection to someone’s ideas and the expression of these ideas, wanting to discuss them and share them with the whole world, a communion of thought, and coming across as “a fan” “old style”, you know with some kind of “crush”… soon you are a stalker….

    The other day someone tweeted an “I think I’m in love” with a link to Hans Rosling’s latest talk -the washing machine. And I really connected with that! I loooved the talk… And I looove to see Hans talk… Twitter makes this so easy…

    Are we allowed to love?

  5. Great post, Nilofer.

    There has been a twitter buzz when I posted “you are the 10 people you spend the most time with.’ a while back. There is an exercise I do with my clients. I ask them to list 18 people at a Global level they hope to meet in their lifetime. I ask them to include people they admire and envy. The only way we really know who we are is through other people. And envy is a great indicator of skill or attribute you have inside that is not fully leveraged. Let your envy light a fire in the mirror and may seek to become more of the things you admire in others.

    May we continue to carve out who we are in the mirror in reflection of those who inspire us!

    1. Most people envy with the idea of “copy” but I think of envy as you do, as a signal. I think your 18 people list is interesting. By the people I shared, you already know a lot about my aspirations, which is to be an Investor/advisor/board member + igniter of cultures that work though speaking/writing. I couldn’t see that until I could see parts of the puzzle in the world. Your clients are lucky.

      And Swathy Prithivi on twitter shared @ConanOBrien’s quote: “Failure to become our perceived ideal ultimately defines us & makes us unique”

  6. Igniting cultures of innovation. It’s what I do. I think about it as this.. igniting all of us human-ites to be more innovative (creative, passionate, alive) and illuminating how people can do better work together (rather than, in spite of each other). Yes, that’s big. But systems are. Culture is the ultimate OS for business.

    You might not know, Chris, that I write management stuff at Harvard Business Reviwe? There’s several good posts there (I’ll integrate them over here over time) on cultures of innovation. Some I’ve written. Here’s one:


    Thanks for asking. Culture IS powerful. It’s the exponential value that drives performance. Invisible in many ways, but powerful.

  7. I really like envy as a type of fuel. It’s a respect that motivates at such a deep level. You and Seth both inspire and ask questions that motivate.

    “This revolution we’re in, the insane leap in connection and information and respect–it’s opening a lot of doors.”

    The questions you keep asking are so extremely helpful in building a bridge over this “insane leap” we’re all experiencing.

  8. Pingback: Not just busy poking, but poking the right box. | Amrit Pal's Weblog
Leave a reply

Leave a Reply