My husband, Tom, is a recently retired 5th grade school teacher. He spent most of his time teaching at an elementary school with a high percentage of ESL (English as Second Language) students and therefore found himself explaining the meaning of English idioms quite often. Luckily, he’s always been fascinated by the origin of phrases such as “catch a cold,” “tie one on,” or “costs an arm and a leg” and so he could often explain how they came to be part of our common language. If he didn’t know, he always enjoyed researching and reporting back on the always enlightening and sometimes comical historical context.
Even though he is now retired, I’ve discovered you can never actually take the classroom out of the teacher. Part of the work I love doing is coaching other speakers and trainers on their presentations. Last week, 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 their career. He 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 where 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, 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, the King would notice and favor them. If you “broke a leg”… 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. I know this and yet there have been times in my life when I’ve congratulated people on something wonderful while internally and privately feeling slightly envious or even threatened. But that’s not the person I want to be. Self-examination of those feelings has brought me to this realization: Our feelings of jealousy, envy, and resentment 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 energy and time trying to figure out how to carve a bigger “piece of the pie,” 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, from what insecurity those feelings stem, 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 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