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Leveraging Envy: A Personal Journey to Success

Growing up in a male-dominated Korean environment, I was surrounded by feelings of envy from an early age. One vivid memory stands out from my childhood in Chicago: waking up to a room filled with blue baby shower gifts for my unborn brother, while I was excluded from the celebration. This disparity in treatment set the tone for my early years, where my brother seemed to accumulate more possessions in one evening than I had acquired in the first six years of my life.

The narrative shifted when we relocated to Seoul when I was ten. It was there, within the confines of a society that placed little value on the status of girls, that I grappled with a sense of insignificance. The late 1970s entrenched the notion of women as virtuous beings whose primary duty was to serve fathers, husbands, and sons. Despite recognizing the injustice of this societal structure, I found myself consumed by envy towards boys, particularly my brother Roger, who had effortlessly surpassed me as the favored child. Adding to the internal turmoil was the fact that my father, a professor of Christian ethics and a minister, had instilled in me the belief that envy was a sinful trait.

Surprisingly, envy played a pivotal role in propelling me towards success in my career, marriage, and parenting journey. Over the past 15 years as a certified life coach in New York, I’ve witnessed firsthand how envy, when channeled positively, can serve as a driving force to persevere through life’s challenges.

Envy, often stigmatized as a negative emotion, is frequently downplayed in casual conversations, despite its subtle presence in our interactions. In contrast, Korean culture openly acknowledges and discusses status differentials, evident in various forms of media that depict a mix of admiration and disdain towards the elite.

The interplay between envy and competition is a complex one, as highlighted by psychologist Susan Fiske from Princeton University. She distinguishes between benign envy, where one seeks to learn and emulate those slightly above them, and toxic envy, which arises when individuals perceive themselves as deserving of what others have attained. This distinction sheds light on the nuanced ways in which envy shapes our interactions and aspirations.

Psychologist Robert Leahy delves further into the impact of envy on relationships, noting its pervasive influence on individuals striving for advancement. The undercurrent of envy often leads to comparisons with immediate peers rather than those in higher positions, reflecting a deep-seated desire for personal progress.

My personal journey reflects a classic tale of sibling rivalry and societal expectations. Growing up, I grappled with the contrasting treatment I received compared to my brother, who was groomed for success while I struggled to find my place. The gender norms prevalent in Korean society further exacerbated these feelings of inadequacy, pushing me to confront my inner turmoil.

Seeking solace and guidance, I turned to New York Episcopal Bishop Allen Shin, who provided a reassuring perspective on the naturalness of envy. His insights into the cultural influences that shaped my experiences resonated deeply, highlighting the internal conflict between familial expectations and individual desires.

Despite the initial tumultuous relationship with envy, I gradually harnessed its power to fuel my personal growth and professional endeavors. The journey towards self-acceptance and fulfillment led me to embrace a new path as a life coach, empowering women to navigate the delicate balance between career aspirations and familial responsibilities.

In retrospect, the transformative journey from envy to empowerment has not only enriched my own life but has also enabled me to guide others in their pursuit of self-actualization. By acknowledging and leveraging the moral underpinnings of envy, I have found a sense of purpose in rectifying the injustices that once plagued me, paving the way for a more fulfilling and meaningful existence.