This piece was written by freelancer Rachel Michaella Finn
Jealousy gets the better of everyone at times. We’ve all been guilty of feeling that twinge of envy when someone else gets the job you wanted, or a friend’s career seems to be going better than your own, especially if you believe you’ve put in the same amount of effort. Research by the Harvard Business Review found that career envy – the discomfort you feel when someone else gets something you want professionally – affects people of all levels in their careers, right from entry-level roles up to big time CEOs.
Small amounts of jealousy can be motivating, giving you goals to strive for and people to look up to as you advance your career. But too much of the green-eyed monster may cloud your self-belief and have you thinking that you’re doing way worse than everyone else around you. When that happens, your self-esteem suffers and you can become distracted from what you need to do for yourself. Sound familiar? If so, here are a few ways you can deal with career envy and use it to your advantage…
Know that envy can be a good thing
We all assume that jealousy isn’t a good feeling and feel guilty when it comes up. But according to psychologists Sarah Hill and David Buss in their essay ‘The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy’, envy is something we’ve evolved to do in order to evaluate our position in the competition for resources. This means that it helps us evaluate our position in life and it’s useful for adjusting our outlook and lifestyle. So, one of the first steps to using career envy to your advantage is admitting you have it and accepting that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Pinpoint exactly what makes you envious
Once you’ve figured out you’ve got career envy and made moves to accept it, you can now pinpoint exactly what it is that causes someone else’s success to turn into a bad feeling about your own. What is it that you envy in others? Maybe it’s that they’re working on a certain kind of project or that they get to travel the world with their job? Or maybe they just seem to be more confident in their work or are given more responsibility than you? Whatever it is, write down these things and be as specific as possible. Then, for each point, come up with one idea you can initiate in your own life to start working towards that goal. By narrowing it down into a few things, you can then start to think how you can work towards specific things that you want to achieve rather than just having an unhelpful general sense that other people have it way better than you (which, remember, they probably don’t).
Change your mindset
One reason that many people feel career envy is that they think of reaching their goals in the context of trying to prove themselves. In other words, they see reaching their goals as a test of their abilities – to prove that they were really as smart, talented or creative as others all along. But according to social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, this often proves the exact mindset that can cause you to do worse at achieving your goals. In her research, Halvorson found that those who are able to frame their goals more often in terms of ‘getting better’ at something as opposed to ‘being good’ at it, actually perform better at achieving those goals over time. This is because these people are focusing on their own skills more and are comparing themselves to other less, which means they are actually able to do better. It can take time, but the good news is that it’s possible to obtain this ‘get better’ mindset. Start by stopping yourself next time you have a thought that comes from envy (i.e. I want to be well-connected like my colleague so I could get more opportunities…), and reframe your language to take into account more words that stress personal improvement (i.e. I want to grow and develop my network so I can get more opportunities). You can find out more about this ‘get better’ mindset in Halvorson’s talk on YouTube.
Focus on your own path
Sometimes we can get so caught up in what everyone else is doing that we forget that our career won’t exactly follow the same path as anyone else’s – nor would we want it too. Finn, 23, who works as an artist and producer, says that in the course of his own career envy, he sometimes found himself feeling jealous of other’s success, before realising that often, he didn’t even want the same type of success for himself. “It’s important to focus on yourself and take in the bigger picture of success. One thing I’ve learned is that other people’s appearance of success isn’t everything,” he says. “There are other aspects to success than just having a great job.” Learning about other people’s career paths is a great thing to do to inspire your own, but trying to align your career too closely to one particular path will make you disappointed if things don’t go the way you want. Try to focus on following your interests, skills and hobbies as opposed to trying to follow a particular career path of someone else and this will likely to lead you to career satisfaction in the long term.
Reach out to people in your industry
Though it’s important not to define yourself by other people’s success, meeting more people in your industry can be a crucial step in building support networks to help progress your career forward. Next time you feel envious of someone’s else’s success, instead of feeling bad about it, try reaching out to them and ask if they’d have any spare time to get a coffee with you. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t have time, but if they do, think of the meeting as mutually beneficial. Make sure to come armed with questions about their career and any way you can offer your skills to help them. Are they looking for an intern? Do you have any ideas for projects you can pitch to them? Networking opportunities are more likely to be successful when both people have something to offer each other.
Be smart with your socials
Social media can be an amazing tool for following news and job openings relating to your industry, but it can also make you hyper-aware of other’s successes. That sinking feeling you sometimes get when you see someone else having a great time on social media has been backed up by various studies – with one 2017 study suggesting that their negative feelings have caused 78% of people to consider quitting social media altogether. Instead of doing this, download a ‘newsfeed eradicator’ for Twitter or Facebook, which allows you to still post to your own pages or look up basic information about others, but blocks your news feed. Then you can still join in the conversation without getting distracted by everyone else; a win-win situation.
According to psychologist Abraham Tesser, people are indeed unhappier when a close friend succeeds in a personally relevant domain than when a stranger does. Strangers are an abstraction, and their achievements are merely statistics. The successes of your close friends are vivid and seem attainable to you, too. As Sarah Hill and David Buss explain in their research, The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy, we experience envy because it’s enabled us to evaluate our position in the competition for resources. Social comparison is the way we determine where we stand, and how to adjust. And we’re most envious of those who are similar to us.
Pretty much everyone at some time or another has felt at least a little envious of someone else’s perceived success. But if you’re feeling unhappy about where you’re at in your career and feeling jealous of other people’s achievements rather than focusing on your own, your career envy could be holding you back. Try and follow the steps above next time you feel envy creeping in and clouding your mindset, and hopefully you’ll come out the other side stronger and more motivated.
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