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How to Get Over Career Envy

Have you ever felt envious of another person’s success? Perhaps you’ve felt jealous of a friend’s accomplishments and wished you achieved the same things. Or maybe you felt they didn’t deserve it and resented them for that. Or perhaps you're already successful yourself, but feel like your friend’s triumph will take the spotlight away from you and make you less special in the eyes of your peers.

Envy is a natural part of the human existence and can be triggered by many things. We also experience envy more intensely with people who are close to us – people are unhappier when a close friend succeeds than when a stranger does. This is because people determine their own social and personal worth by comparing themselves to others who are similar to them. Therefore, the success of a close friend can threaten our own identity, self-esteem, and self-worth, which can bring up a lot of negative feelings.

Although a natural part of life, envy can be very unhealthy if it leads to intense feelings of resentment, longing, and inferiority. If left unchecked, it can destroy your self-esteem, happiness, and important relationships in life.

Side note: In this article, I use the terms “envy” and “jealousy” interchangeably because that's typically how they’re used in everyday language. But scientifically speaking, jealousy and envy are two different (but highly interrelated) concepts. You can learn about that here.

So the question is: How do we get over career envy and start feeling happy for the success of others? Here are a few tips that can help you:

1. Recognize all the hard work, effort, and struggles the person had to overcome in order to become successful.

Sometimes, we envy another person’s success because we feel like they didn’t earn it, or that we deserve it more than they do. Maybe we feel like we’re more talented, intelligent, or hardworking than them. But the truth is, we don’t fully see what happens behind the curtains of success. When we focus too much on another person’s triumph, we fail to consider all the sweat and tears that person probably had to go through to get to where they are today. So the next time you feel envious of someone, acknowledge that they may have worked really hard for it. This can help you appreciate their success and feel inspired and impressed by what they achieved.

2. Remember that being jealous of another person’s success only blocks your own chance at success and happiness.

Being jealous will not make you any happier or more successful in life. In fact, envy can actually prevent you from achieving success and happiness. For one, envy is such a mentally draining emotion - it will eat up your time, energy, and mental resources. It can leave you tired, bitter, and miserable. Second, envy can be unproductive and a waste of your time: Every minute you spend being jealous is another minute you could have spent doing something that can actually contribute to your own happiness and success. Also, being jealous gets you nowhere because it’s not like it will make your friend less successful or happy. So why not spend that time focusing own your own happiness instead? This brings me to tip number three:

3. Reflect deeply on why you’re jealous – and what this jealousy says about you and your life.

Feeling jealous of someone actually says a lot about you and your current life situation. So when jealousy strikes, see it as a wake-up call to re-evaluate your life: What exactly are you jealous about? What is it about this person’s success that makes you feel jealous? If you are jealous that they did better than you, then learn from their success and use it as inspiration to work harder. If you are jealous that they’re happy and enjoying life, then ask yourself how happy and satisfied you are with your life. Jealousy can sometimes be a symptom that something else is missing in your life. For example, studies show that people with lower levels of self-esteem are more likely to experience jealousy. So if someone else’s happiness is making you unhappy, then it’s time to reflect on what’s missing in your life- and focus on filling that need instead.

4. Realize that most people don't really spend their time comparing you to others.

Jealousy can strike when we feel like we are being negatively compared to others. For example, you might feel jealous if you think your friend will be seen as “more successful” than you, or that you will no longer be seen as the “most successful” one in your group. But here’s a harsh reality: People aren’t talking about you as much as you think they are. You might feel like everyone is judging you – but it’s all in your head. Studies show that people tend to overestimate how much their actions and appearances are noticed by others. This is called the spotlight effect, or the tendency for people to believe that they’re being noticed more than they really are. So yes, your friend will probably be glorified after they announce their big success. A few people might even compare their success to yours. But make no mistake: after a few short days, people will move on – and no one will care about how you stack up against your friend. People have more important things to do.

5. Remember that there is plenty of success to go around – and that another person’s triumph will not rob you of your own chance at success.

We can experience jealousy strongly if we view success as a scarce, limited resource that is in very short supply. But that’s not the case. As the saying goes, success is like the ocean – it is abundant, free, and big enough for everyone to take a sip. Think about it: Would you be jealous if your friend took a sip of water from the ocean? Even if they took 10 big buckets of water, it wouldn’t matter – because there will still be more than enough water for you to drink! The same logic applies to success: If someone close to you gets their share of success, it doesn't mean that you can’t continue to have your share too. So if you're jealous, remind yourself that there is an unlimited supply of success: If someone takes a sip, it doesn’t mean that there is less success for you now (or in the future). So don’t waste your time on jealousy. Instead, use that time to determine what kind of success will truly give you meaning, joy, peace, and fulfillment - then focus on what you can do to achieve that version of success.

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