For some, watching another person shine is uplifting – it’s a sign of what’s possible, of how stunning human beings can be.
For others, watching someone else shine feels absolutely horrible – it’s threatening, it makes them feel small, feel jealous, even feel angry or depressed.
I’ve often heard people explain this feeling of threat by saying something like “I’m just naturally a jealous person.” But what does that mean?
I don’t think it’s just about the characteristic of jealousy. The more I read Carol Dweck‘s work, I think it’s about something deeper than that: fixed vs. growth mindset.
The people who find watching someone else shine uplifting are the people who are in growth mindset: they believe that we can all continually improve and become better, that one person’s success is in no way a threat to their own.
The people who find watching someone else shine threatening are the people in fixed mindset: they believe that we are born with a fixed amount of intelligence or talent or natural ability and therefore that everyone is ranked on a hierarchical scale (I’m smarter than you, I’m more talented than you).
Everything then becomes about protecting their rank. When someone else shines, it threatens where they see themselves on the hierarchy. And because they believe that effort is something that you only exert if you don’t have natural talent (and that effort doesn’t really change the natural talent you have that much), they don’t react to that threat by feeling motivated to work harder. They just get angry and depressed.
It’s not a pleasant way to experience the world. And it can lead to things like lying and corruption (see Enron), as those who are in fixed mindset try more and more desperately to protect the world’s view of them.
But for many people in fixed mindset, they begin to see that there is something harmful about their way of viewing the world – they aren’t growing as much as they’d like to or they’re tired of feeling jealous all the time – and the good news is that those who find themselves in fixed mindset can shift to growth mindset. It just takes a little effort.