Inertia — Nº143
Mimetic desires: turning longing into learning
Life is like an elaborate tide that carries incredible memories over its time crossing in the open ocean. And within this tide, mimetic desires act like the force of the moon's gravitational pull on the sea as well as us, the tide that sits within it, bidding us to match other people’s tides surrounding us.
One shade of our memetic desire that many of us tend to carry among our tide is envy. We've all felt it — whether it’s the twinge when a friend lands their dream job, meets the perfect partner, or travels more than we can afford. Envy rears its head when we compare our behind-the-scenes struggles to someone else’s highlight reel.
Envy is very difficult to clear entirely from your life. Because how you think and who you surround yourself with matters. It’s easy to resent the success of our peers and retreat into self-pity. But envy is not all bad. We can turn it into inspiration and new goals if we embrace mimetic desire and our innate tendency to imitate what we admire in others.
I read this tweet saying:
If you surround yourself with a phenomenal peer set, mimetic desire can provide a very strong motivation to accomplish incredible things.
The talents, drive, and grit we see in others often resonate with the latent potential we have within ourselves. When properly channelled, longing can become learning. Comparisons can shift into roadmaps that reveal the direction we were looking for all along.
Seeing someone else accomplish something incredible ignites a spark of self-belief. I’ve spent years gazing upon friends who do great things and feeling the aching need to bloom and ride the same style of wave that they do. Because if they can do it, so can I.
I’m lucky to have great relationships with great people, which have spanned to the point I no longer remember meeting them. On the other side, I also know what it’s like, where the peer set I chose was nothing short of debilitating and deprecating. The real key is surrounding ourselves with people who embody our aspirations. People with the energy, intelligence, and integrity that will make us better people.
Envy stems from comparing ourselves to those who are happier or more successful. But if we turn that into learning how to be genuinely happy for people, and we select our peers with care, it can have the opposite effect. Watching those we respect make progress and tap into their talents can mirror back to us.
Their example can compel us forward, awaken ambitions and bring out capabilities we didn’t know we had. Long-lasting relationships are about investing in each other’s success rather than feeling threatened. Let the rising tide lift all boats.
Traps abound if envy turns toxic. The line between inspiration and obsession can blur all too easily when mimetic desires run rampant. Unchecked comparison and the need to compete can turn you against everyone, including yourself.
Done right, and longing can shepherd latent dreams into reality. C.S. Lewis called it “The Good Envy” — allowing the success of others to reveal new pathways carved out before us by fellow travellers.
Behind envy lies untapped possibilities trying to break through. Reframe feelings of deficiency into opportunities for growth. Surround yourself with those whose example resonates. Draw from their talents to unlock and write your own.