Envy, the least fun mistake

Maxim 17 from Richard Zeckhauser is “Strive hard not to be envious – see your friend’s success as your gain”. Envy is an obstacle to be recognized early in the decision making process warned Charlie Munger in his Psychology of Human Misjudgment speech.

A 2021 Sports Illustrated profile of Pete Sampras addressed his envy, or lack of. When Roger Federer broke his record of fourteen major wins. A friend recalled this conversation:

‘“I said, ‘It’s getting close. What do you think?’ ” recalls (Paul)Annacone.
“It’s pretty amazing!” Sampras replied.
“What do you mean?” pressed Annacone who, ironically, would go on to coach Federer.
“Well,” said Sampras, “I just know how hard it was for me. If anyone else can do it, that’s just too good. That’s amazing!”

Zeckhauser, Munger, and Sampras all express an idea seen every weekend at the local 5k race. There’s little envy because every runner is running their own race. The couch to 5k crowd is happy to finish and the elite runners are happy to see them finish too. Toward the front of the pack the attitude is that each person competes against the clock.

If envy is uninvited should it, like spam emails, be blocked and never surface in the mental inbox? Maybe not. Denise Shull advises her clients to accept and understand their emotions because emotions are information. But what kind of information? Shull said:

“Put your feelings into buckets. Which feelings are childhood repetition? Which ones are because the other guy is doing better? Which one is your market recognition? Which one is your intuition? People can learn this, but most men have been told to put all that stuff aside.”

When Hank Aaron was asked if he was going to give Barry Bonds the home run record, Aaron replied that he wasn’t giving anything, that records were made to be broken.

There’s this snarky idea that if you’re one in a million there’s still 8,000 people like you in the world. That’s true. But it only takes thirty-three binary variables to get to 8 billion unique answers. Do you like licorice? Y/N. Have you seen Star Wars? Y/N. And so on.

In that sense everyone is running their own race and envy is irrelevant. I think Shull is right about envy as information, the winning move is to play it like Munger, Aaron, and Sampras.