Tis the season. Meet the new Managing Directors. Welcome the new Partners. Shout out to the Forbes 30 under 30 list. And yes you’re overjoyed when this happens to one of your friends. But then for a split second, you somehow find yourself rooting against them. Or creating an excuse in your head such as “They got lucky.” Envy kicks in.
Envy’s been a ubiquitous presence during my career. Career arcs can feel a lot like marathons. At the start of the race (my twenties) it’s hard to separate from the pack: the highest rated analyst earned at most 15% more than the lowest rated. As the race goes on (my thirties) the pack separates: those who opted out of business school leap-frogged up the org chart and startups started getting acquired. Yet the race still felt winnable. And in the home stretch (approaching forty) the pack no longer exists: the leader is trailed by his or her own camera crew. Here’s my most encounter with envy: realizing that I’d jump all over a speaking gig at a rate that’s lower than the wine consumed at one of these celebratory promotion dinners!
Envy is universal. We’re social beings who instinctively seek to understand our place in the hierarchy. I haven’t shaken my envy, but here’s how I’ve learned to manage it over the years.
1. Recognize envy (in a non-judgmental way)
The signs may be subtle. Reading the Forbes list may life your heart rate or make your hands sweaty. Not appearing on the Goldman Sachs partner list may make you stay late in the office. Or the internal character assassination starts rolling in: “Right place at the right time” or “Yeah, but I bet they’re not happy.” Everybody feels envy, but ditch the shame or embarrassment. Honor the feeling and move on.
2. Investigate the source of the envy
Envy typically strikes at the heart of our feelings of inadequacy. Instead of lingering there, try activating your curiosity. Is your envy driven by feeling trapped in an unhealthy job or relationship? If so, envy may be a distraction from decisiveness. Is your envy driven by competition and status anxiety? If so, try shifting try shifting away from external sources of motivation (promotions, money, and recognition) to internal ones (joy in your craft and a deeper sense of meaning).
For me, the envy comes from the professional uncertainty that I’ve purposefully injected into my life. 95% of the time I’m overjoyed by the purpose, dynamism and flexibility in my work. Yet in the remaining 5%, I’m racked with feelings of self-doubt, fear (combined with “lost status”) – all ripe conditions for envy to rear its head.
3. Flip the envy into love
Here’s the jujitsu move that can totally flip the feelings of envy: double-down on your love for the target of your envy. Activate your empathy such that you’re overjoyed for their accomplishments, the work that went into them, and what it means for them and their families going forward. Throw them a party, write them a letter, tell them how damn proud you are of their accomplishments.
After all, what’s more fun than celebrating the wins of the people we care about the most?