A 4-Step Cure for Career Envy
Life is just better when you want to see others win
I began my morning feeling good. I had just finished getting my kids dressed and fed, and had no other tasks standing between me and the workday ahead. I was energized. I was ready to be productive.
And then I opened up Facebook.
The post jumped out at me immediately: Someone in my network had shared a story they’d written that had gone viral. They were being flooded with opportunities and getting all sorts of recognition. Scrolling through the comments, I felt my face turning red with envy. “I’m just as good as that!” I thought — and just like that, the flood of self-pitying thoughts came rushing forth. What was I doing wrong that I wasn’t enjoying the same attention as my (much younger, I noted bitterly) acquaintance?
Even in my own head, I knew how ridiculous I sounded. Heck, I’ve made it my life’s work to help others go after what they want in life through my coaching and writing — it’s my job to cheer for people’s wins. And I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in that quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
But I’ll also admit that it’s a hard quote to embody when you’re the one who seems to be falling behind. I closed out of Facebook, but I spent the rest of the day stewing.
That evening, when my wife finally got home from work, I skipped over asking how her day was and launched into a monologue about the unfairness of it all. But before I could really get going, she shut me down. “You’re saying you wasted an entire day complaining in your head about someone else reaching a goal?” she asked. “You suck.”
My wife’s words jolted me out of my own dumb head. That moment was a turning point for me: I realized that my jealousy was a self-destructive habit, one that prevented me from both improving my work and feeling proud of what I’ve already accomplished.
Here are the four strategies that worked for me as I got my envy under control. If you ever find yourself reacting to the success of others with frustration instead of happiness, you might want to try them yourself.
Instead of stewing over another person’s work, dissect it
Later that night, I calmed down enough to go back and revisit the article that made me so angry. This time, I approached it as a typical reader, not as a “competitor.” By the time I was halfway through, I could no longer deny it: The thing was damn good. It clearly resonated with people. So the question that I asked myself next was: What can I learn from it?
Sometimes people do get lucky with their successes. Flukes happen. But if the world is responding positively to something that you’re feeling overly critical about, it may be a sign that you’re letting your emotions cloud your judgment. Put yourself in the shoes of a complete outsider, and then analyze the person’s work. Ask yourself:
- What do you imagine other people find attractive about the work?
- How would you respond to it if it were created by a complete stranger?
- What similarities does it share with your own work? How is it different?
- What experiments can you try in your work based on what you’ve learned?
Get the real story behind the work
Every single week, no matter what else I have going on, I get on a call with someone who is doing work I admire. At times, these are the same people I envy.
I’ve realized that all of these people hold one thing in common: They have a story that most of us don’t see. Often, they’ve had to overcome extraordinary obstacles, or they’ve failed again and again on their way to success.
Sure, some of these people are privileged and start out with a closer view of the finish line, while others are born with a talent that takes most people years to develop. But when you take the time to learn about someone’s true story, it almost always becomes harder to root against them. They become a person, not a filtered snapshot.
Tell the world about their work
This one was the hardest for me to learn how to do, but it was also the most impactful: Whenever someone does something I am envious of, I congratulate them on their success, and then I share their work.
The reason this is so effective is simple: It takes a real asshole to continue being envious of someone whose work you just supported.
When you start feeling the pangs of envy, count backward from five and then tell the world about their achievement. Tweet it, share it on Facebook, or send it to a friend. Simply becoming a fan will help you focus on the thing you can control: the level of care and quality you put into your own work.
Six Habits of Generous, Successful People
What sets them apart are the simple acts we don’t see
Help the person you envy become even better
Helping people achieve long-term success is the mark of a life well lived. So ask yourself: How can I make the work of the person I envy even better?
If they’re in your same industry, you might share a book with them that impacted you, or offer to introduce them to someone in your network who they may benefit from getting to know. Over time, it’s possible that you’ll both start to feel that you’re on the same team.
Sometimes, you have to fake it until it becomes real. But eventually, it does — and we’re all better off becoming the type of people who want to see others win.