Part of the work I love doing is coaching other speakers on their presentations. One time, my husband Tom overheard me sign off on a coaching call by saying, “Break a leg!” to my colleague who was about to give the first keynote of her career. Tom asked if I knew where that phrase came from, and I admitted I did not.
He told me centuries ago in England, musicians and actors were only allowed to perform at court dinners for background entertainment, usually not even soliciting a glance from the King. But if you were exceptionally good, he might look your way, and if he formally acknowledged you with a nod, then you would answer that honor with a deep, sweeping bow in gratitude for the recognition. That bow to the King required that you lean back on a straightened leg, bending the knee of the other one—in essence, “breaking a leg.” This became the sendoff to entertainers heading to court in the hopes their performance would be so good that the King would notice and favor them. If you “broke a leg,” then you had performed very well indeed.
Our ability to sincerely wish our colleagues well and genuinely hope for and rejoice in their achievements, good fortune, and success is an indicator of our own self-worth and true belief in an abundant world. However, I know there have been times in my life when I’ve congratulated people on something wonderful while internally and privately feeling slightly envious or threatened. Feelings of jealousy, envy, and resentment really have nothing to do with what another person actually has, does, makes, or looks like. They are always, always the result of our own personal feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and scarcity in comparison to them. And, they are big contributors to pettiness and gossip within the workplace.
The late Cavett Roberts, founder of the National Speaker’s Association, is famous for saying that instead of spending time and energy trying to figure out how to carve a bigger “piece of the pie,” you should spend your resources “baking a bigger pie.” The next time you feel jealous of a colleague’s promotion, pay scale, recognition or accomplishment, check yourself privately. Ask yourself why it’s important to compare yourself to others, what insecurity those feelings stem from, and how you can steer your attention to building a bigger pie for everyone. I find it helpful to remind myself that I do believe there is always enough to go around, that no one has to lose for me to win, and that when someone else wins, it takes away nothing from me but only adds to the whole of what is possible. I try to remember that when I feel true inner joy (not the kind you fake but rather real feelings of gladness for others’ success), it creates the kind of energy which attracts more of that very thing into my own life. When we truly honor someone else’s good fortune, in essence, we bless it, magnify it and, better yet, attract more of it for ourselves.
The surest route to breeding jealousy is to compare. Since jealousy comes from feeling less than another, comparisons only fan the fires.
~ Dorothy Corkville Briggs