By Suvi Honkanen
How to let go of destructive thought patterns and turn feelings of envy into motivation
Jealousy is an all-familiar feeling, one I remember more than well. It used to be something I felt completely engulfed by. I remember constantly seeking validation for what I am like as a dancer by comparing myself to others. I looked for any sign to confirm reasons for my insecurities. I told myself a story about a dancer who isn’t good enough, thin enough, strong enough, successful enough and used comparison to validate that story. I’m already 23 and she danced her mainrole when she was 20. The choreographer put her in the front row and me behind her. I’m dancing the same roles in Nutcracker this year and she gets to learn soloist roles. Naturally, this constant inner dialogue led to strong feelings of jealousy about other dancers. I felt less-than, even though I didn’t actually know anything about their lives or inner struggles.
When I learned how to deal with these emotions and channel envy into motivation, it was much easier to enjoy the successes of my peers and focus on myself. Jealousy is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is important to acknowledge and process. There is a fine line with harnessing jealousy to motivate oneself and letting it become your worst enemy.
Letting go of the things you can’t control
Jealousy is often a result of aiming to gain control of our life and its narration. When it comes to dancing, I found it sometimes hard to trust the process and hard to trust myself that I am good enough and deserving. This lack of trust creates insecurity, which in turn results in jealousy.
Similarly like in life, ballet is full of aspects one cannot control. You cannot control the fact that a choreographer likes short dancers and you are tall. You cannot control the fact that your teacher is best friends with a students’ parents and therefore gives her attention. You cannot control what roles other dancers are given, how their career goes, what triumphs they enjoy and what difficulties they face.
We never know what will happen next week, next month, next year. There are surprising paths that may come our way and our fellow dancers’ way. Someone who you thought would have the most amazing career might be injured at the age of 25. Aiming to control our narrative by comparison and envy is based on our own insecurities and in most cases, simply a waste of time and energy.
What we can control is identifying our own goals and ambitions and aiming to enjoy the process of reaching them. being gentle with our and that is in identifying our own goals and capabilities in the beauty and success of our fellow dancers.
Awareness of focus
Saying “focus on yourself” is a vague statement to make. Focusing only on yourself won’t necessarily help you let go of comparison, insecurity, or jealousy. In some instances, it might even fuel it. I found that what was most helpful in dealing with my mindset during dancing was gaining awareness of not only what I focus on but how. Focusing on yourself can mean many different things: it can mean obsessing over your progress, goals, image in the mirror or relationship with others. But it can also mean gently reminding yourself of the bigger picture and of being gentle and kind to yourself in the process of reaching your goals. In the end, we are not striving to be the teacher’s pet or the best in class. We are striving for a long career in dance, for wonderful moments onstage, or just for the feeling of freedom while moving our bodies. Reminding ourselves of the true intention behind our dance practice can be very helpful when dealing with feelings of envy.
Tying into the previous point, when we are experiencing intense feelings of jealousy, it often feels like the most formidable thing in our life. Sometimes it’s helpful to step outside the box and look at the bigger picture: this is perhaps just one teacher whose approval you are seeking, one dancer who you meet along your path, one choreographer who likes someone else.
Turning jealousy into motivation and inspiration
It can seem impossible to try to find anything positive from intense feelings of envy, because it feels so overwhelming and draining. But it is worth the try. It is possible to use the successes of other people to become better versions of ourselves. Allowing yourself to respect and be inspired by other dancers will make you feel lighter, happier, and more optimistic. Instead of seeing other dancers as your competition, view observing them as practice, an opportunity to gain insight.
Comparison becomes destructive when we use it to pinpoint the things we feel we are not good at rather than using it as inspiration and motivation to become better. Next time you feel jealous, attempt to repackage this feeling into the desire to improve. Instead of thinking: “I will never be as good as her”, try switching your mindset to “I will work hard to reach her level”. This slight switch in how you talk to yourself might be very helpful and create a more positive approach.
At the end of the day, basing our sense of self-worth on one thing is always dangerous and unsustainable. A person’s value is not determined by their successes. The dance world is a wonderful, interconnected community which has space for everyone. Being able to feel joy for other people’s accomplishments and let ourselves be inspired by others will only make that community stronger and more beautiful. A community in which everyone can flourish and develop artistically.