By Sam Berry
It’s that uncomfortable feeling of desiring something that someone else has; a resentful longing, an emotion that we associate with a destructive green-eyed monster. It’s something we’ve learned we shouldn’t admit to. But envy is something we have all felt, and it has the power to help move us in a positive direction if we choose to examine it. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, and in the context of our work life, wanting what someone else has can give us important information about what might be missing from our own careers and what we could strive towards. So how can you turn the seemingly negative feeling of career envy, into a positive?
1. Examine your feelings
Whilst it’s tempting to try to bury envious feelings, you could be missing an opportunity. Instead of pushing the feelings away, try writing down all the things about that person or their career that you are envious of.
- Is it their abilities, or talents, or knack for interacting with others that you desire?
- Is it their apparent luck, wealth, or connections that you want?
- Are there any common themes that you can find?
- Can you summarise in a few key words what it is that they represent for you?
Rather than allowing the uncomfortable feelings of envy to attach to this person in a negative way, try instead to articulate what it is that makes this person shine.
2. Get a reality check
Now take off your green-tinted glasses and look a little more closely at this person’s career through a clear lens. Researching what lies under the surface of successful careers can be very enlightening.
- Have they always been in this apparently desirable career, or were there steps that came earlier that were not so illustrious?
- Could there be aspects of their job that would be undesirable?
- Are there elements of their career that don’t get described or shared as often, but make up the ground work of the visible successes?
There’s no doubt that chance plays a role in our careers, but our readiness to grasp opportunities can determine whether or not we triumph. Many people who have been heralded as high achievers will tell you that what often appears as overnight success or the result of pure luck is in fact the consequence of learning from previous stumbles, and devoting considerable blood, sweat and tears to their pursuits. If you have access to the person you envy, why not ask them about their career to find out how they got to where they are, and hear more about the reality of their day-to-day. You’ll likely discover that the career you envy is not perfect, and you may be able to add to the list of what has indeed helped this person shine.
3. Assess your own situation
Feelings of envy can give us clues about what we’re not paying enough attention to in our own lives and can motivate us to make positive change. What is currently working well for you in your career? Noting down the positives you have achieved or are grateful for is the first step to getting a balanced view of your current situation. Next, be real about what isn’t working or what’s missing – there are probably some alignments between this list and what it is that you envy in someone else. But the important thing to focus on is what you can change.
You might never have the athleticism of Naomi Osaka or the mathematical gift of Terry Tao, but you could still learn something from them about resilience or meaningful collaboration or following your strengths and interests – all of these things are within your influence. This type of reflection can be instrumental in helping you to imagine future possibilities. If you are drawn to the career achievements of another, visualise a realistic version of that success for yourself.
4. Do something productive
After taking an honest look at where you’re currently at and considering what’s within your control, you’re ready to take positive action. Here are some simple ideas for channelling emotional energy from envy into motivation to make productive steps for your career development:
- Look for opportunities to observe, shadow, or have a conversation with those that you envy and then listen and watch carefully in order to learn from them.
- Attend a training course, complete some online learning, or attend a conference on a topic that interests you but is currently missing from your career – it’s a good way to test out whether you want to steer in that direction.
- Take a look at LinkedIn profiles that represent careers of interest, and explore them further by asking for an information interview or looking for similar vacancies – if you don’t currently have the skill set required, research whether you could build those skills.
- Make a conscious effort to try new activities or meet new people in any context – whether it be work or pleasure – just for the reason of stepping out of your comfort zone, and inviting chance to play a role in your career.
- Adopt some effective self-development habits that are easy to complete most days without too much extra effort, such as reading on your commute, listening to a podcast while you cook dinner, or taking 10 minutes every Friday to write down your achievements and challenges from that week.
- Ask for feedback on your behaviour from those that know you well and you trust to tell the truth – perhaps you are unconsciously restricting yourself or deflecting opportunities, or maybe you are not seeing the positives that already exist.
Sam Berry is the Career Development Manager at UTS Careers, and has a background in career consulting, recruitment and education. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages to find fulfilling careers through developing self-awareness and employability skills.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash