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How to handle career envy

US News & World Report -  Money logo US News & World Report - Money 8/8/2018 Rebecca Koenig
Businessman looking away concerned: "Most people envy the idea of the lifestyle they see and have no idea what the reality of that job is." © (Getty Images) "Most people envy the idea of the lifestyle they see and have no idea what the reality of that job is."

Before helping job seekers reach their goals, Nick Murphy achieved his own, playing parts of two seasons in the NFL. His job as a football player was often glamorous. It was also grueling.

"There are days where the last thing you want to do are work out and lift and go to the field and practice," he says, recalling his days as a punter with the Ravens, Chiefs and Eagles.

That reality doesn't stop people from envying professional athletes. Or, depending on their tastes, from admiring travel writers, social media influencers or corporate executives. Even jobs more mundane than these can inspire jealousy if they come with high salaries or generous benefits.

Sometimes, all it takes to summon the green-eyed monster is seeing how happy someone else is with their career.

Contemplating the professional success of a co-worker, friend or even a stranger can make you feel resentful about your own circumstances. Career envy doesn't have to drag you down, though. Instead, it can motivate you to improve your own work life.

"Those negative feelings can really hold you back and bar you from seeing opportunities when they're presented," says Anna Bray, an executive and career coach with Jody Michael Associates. "Flip it around and ask, 'What are some of the tactical things you can do to set yourself up to be ready?'"

Put It in Perspective

When scrolling through celebratory career updates on LinkedIn, it's hard to remember that most jobs come with ups and downs. But even the professions that look flashiest on social media don't offer "roses and rainbows" all the time, says Murphy, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and is now CEO at job-search platform Mid-America Careers and host of the podcast "Job Lab."

"People post highlight reels of the best parts of their lives, kids and careers," Murphy says. "Most people envy the idea of the lifestyle they see and have no idea what the reality of that job is."

The first step to managing career envy, then, is to remember that "a job is still a job," Murphy says, no matter how attractive it seems from afar.

The second step is to acknowledge the influence of luck and timing on career success, according to Amy Wolfgang, CEO of Wolfgang Career Coaching who is based in Austin, Texas.

For example, a client of Wolfgang's recently pitched herself as a consultant to a company, only to realize when she arrived for the interview that the organization happened to be looking for a full-time employee. Instead of getting only a temporary assignment, she ended up with a job. If she'd made her pitch just a week later, she probably wouldn't have gotten that offer.

Talent and effort contribute to professional accomplishments, of course. But there are plenty of skilled, hard-working people who, due to circumstances beyond their control, don't get big career breaks.

Look in the Mirror

If that rational way of thinking does little to alleviate your jealousy, take your negative feelings as a cue to reflect on your professional priorities.

Start by breaking the job you covet into its components to identify what specific characteristics attract you, Bray suggests. Does it offer chances to travel? A flexible schedule? Creative projects? Leadership opportunities?

"Having that really discerning understanding of what it is you admire about other people's careers can help you make those thoughtful steps" needed to head in a more satisfying professional direction, Bray says.

You may discover, however, that your envy is more personal than professional.

"So often, it's a limiting belief, an automatic negative thought we have about ourselves," Bray says. Bitterness is "always about you, it's not about the other person," she adds.

Seeing someone else thrive at work may trigger fears that you don't deserve success. Or you may be convinced that you can't achieve your career goals due to your age, experience or degree.

Pushing back on those thoughts, perhaps with the help of a mentor or coach, can help you move past envy. 

Control What You Can

Once you've named your goals and tamed your insecurities, figure out what changes you can make to shape your career more to your liking.

"We can stay in the envy, thinking, 'I'm not favored. I'm never going to wake up on Mondays and be happy,'" Wolfgang says. "Or we can say, 'What's in my control? What can I do?' That shifts you out of that envy into something I'd call empowerment."

If your jealousy centers on a co-worker's success, you may have to examine your assumptions about your office's culture. Maybe your manager plays favorites – or maybe you're missing opportunities.

"Is there something this other person is doing that you're not doing that maybe you could do?" Brays says. "The boss could be seeking and giving the exact same opportunities to both [of you]."

Consider volunteering for different projects, seeking support for your objectives from your boss, expressing interest in a promotion or even getting advice from the person whose success you admire.

If that doesn't work, you may need to move on to a different role, company or industry. The timing of your next great job offer may be beyond your control, Wolfgang says, but having reflected on your goals, "When an opportunity presents itself, you can say yes and be in the right space for it."

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