A good friend of mine recently had the opportunity to apply to a job that is an actual dream –great pay, laid-back culture, a loyal following and the potential to travel abroad…on the company’s dime. Like I said, a dream!
Now, I am not in the position to apply and to give myself a pat on the back, I wholeheartedly put her name into the mix (she would crush this opportunity!). Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny pang from my ego saying, “but what about me?” This, my friends, is job envy. Mind you a mild case, but nonetheless, it’s the undesirable trait that rears its ugly head when a friend or co-worker gets a job or promotion that you want or believe you deserve. See also: jealousy.
With job envy at an all-time high due to the onslaught of highlight reels consumed at a rapid rate via social media, namely Instagram, it can be easy to get caught up in the woe-is-me-game. (ugh #joblove) Susanna Fogel, writer and director, told ELLE that she too falls victim to this socially distorting habit and when it happens she feels “existential panic and shame.” Shame being the focus of that all too familiar feeling. It’s shameful to feel like a jealous person. No one wants to talk about it, so instead, we talk about others or use phrases like “I’m a loser who will amount to nothing.” Both not great emotions or reactions, but human reactions all the same.
Harvard Business Review talks about these powerful human emotions, envy and shame in particular. As anyone who has experienced these feelings you know that is you repress them, it gets worse. What started with a little self-worth issue can turn into a full-on self-loathing episode that is not made for TV appropriate. The smart folks over at Harvard Business Review advise to harness any career envy you may experience because it’s not just better for your physical and emotional health, but your professional wellbeing too.
So before you say “hell with it!” and quit your job after the third glass of celebratory wine for your friend’s promotion, I encourage you to lean into your envy, as uncomfortable as it may be and give yourself a push to learn from it. You may be surprised to learn more about yourself and your desires, and perhaps you may discover that your current career path is not heading in the direction you actually want to go.
Alain de Botton, speaker and author of Status Anxiety, gave a TED talk on the topic of envy in society, specifically envy in the workplace. In it, he explains the origination of envy is in comparison. Not dissimilar to the aforementioned fear of the Instagram scroll and seeing that girl from high school crushing it as an editor in New York City, the comparison game only is played, he explains, between yourself and someone who you view as a rival or a threat.
Using myself and my earlier example, career envy popped up for me because I viewed my friend, who is of similar age, background, skill level and portfolio as a threat. She is relatively equal to me across the board; she is not, for instance, Mark Zuckerberg (of whom I am not envious).
Keeping that in mind, my first point of advice when job envy creeps up is to remember that you are just as worthy and capable. Your emotions, in an effort of protecting your ego, act in resentment or envy toward your friend. Instead, recognize in yourself that you are also deserving and capable of success.
The next step in using it for your own benefit is to take stock at what it is that is triggering your envy. Is it the salary? Is it the location? Is it the title? Taking note of what sparks an envious reaction will help you make better career choices. If you are envious of the increased salary, maybe it is time for you to write out your strengths and list the data points you’ve accomplished in the last year and march into your boss’ office to ask for a raise. Or, if you don’t know if you’re quite deserving of a raise just yet, use that same list to honestly assess where you need to improve or which KPIs you need to focus on.
With that list in hand, it is easy to give yourself credit for all of the wonderful things you have done. That too is true for your co-worker. Remember that. Your co-worker did not get the promotion without merit nor did your friend get that awesome new job without effort. You can’t be too sure what their story is (unless you do know like in my case and which she totally deserves it!) and how long it took them to get where they are going.
Envy has an ugly tendency to manifest into verbal punches like, “oh, she just got lucky!” When you know and I know that’s not how the story goes. The old saying about making your own luck is true. Maybe your friend got the job because she knew someone from attending a networking event. That is not lucky, she went out and braved the awkwardness of a professional networking event. She earned it.
Be aware of when we say or think things out of envy and remember that you’re only doing it to deflect the threat and battle a rival who doesn’t even know she’s playing. Rather, note how she made her luck. Is she great at following up? Does she always have her business cards on her? Is she helpful and friendly around the office? Instead of seeing her as a threat, learn from her!
Taking ownership of your envy is the best way to use it to your advantage. Find your true calling by recognizing where the emotion comes from, learn your own tendencies and find ways to improve upon them, and if at the end you are still unhappy, make some moves. Don’t be afraid to empower your own professional choices through the lens of others. It is your resume, your portfolio, your trajectory, own it. And if seeing someone else succeed is the way you get there, then everyone wins!