Staying Positive When Career Envy Strikes

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Careers can deliver more than a few difficult moments. Goals can remain elusive. Opportunities may wither and fade. Clients and colleagues can disappoint. Reclaiming a positive mental state — so the next wave of opportunity is not overlooked is vital. However, this can prove to be quite challenging.

Often rest and time are often powerful healers. However a cycle of negative rumination can set in. One common emotion, which can erupt as we compare our paths to those who appear to be thriving, is envy — and it is particularly destructive.

Envy can literally tilt how we view situations, people and ourselves — causing what I call a “temporary blindness” and extreme bias. Researchers examining envy in the workplace have shown that envy can not only affect how we feel about people, but the ideas they bring forward, which is quite perilous. In fact, the closer the source of the idea to us, the less likely we are to feel positively toward it. (For example, an idea created within the organizations vs. brought to the organization.)

Envy can be a destructive career force. In fact, when envy exists a number of counter-productive elements can take hold:

  • Invalidating thoughts about your own gifts and potential.
  • A tendency to overlook or devalue your own opportunities.
  • A closed mindset — where we cannot learn from others who have been successful.
  • A lack of motivation to continue your journey (Networking, professional events, skill development, etc).
  • A tendency to back away from challenge for fear that outcomes will not weigh in your favor.
  • Undermining or devaluing the person who is the focus of your envy.

Handling your emotions can be tricky. Try to identify the particular “envy source” — the a single element that you might covet in another individual’s path. Is it respect? Financial success? Exposure or opportunities? Explore how can you bring more of these elements into your world with a mentor or career coach.

Also remind yourself of the following:

  • You are an individual — and your journey will also be unique.
  • Consider the skills that differentiate you from the pack in a positive way. Ask yourself: How would someone who thinks well of you describe you to others?
  • Create a list of the possible paths that would bring desired elements toward you. Identify 1 or 2 steps to bring this to fruition.
  • Bring positive people/situations into your career life to balance negative thoughts — and make this a habit. For example, seek team experiences that affirm the strengths of  all team members.

Has envy affected your career? How did you overcome the emotion?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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