How To Turn Your Career Envy Into Motivation

Hating on someone else’s success gets you nowhere fast. So why don’t your turn that jealousy into something productive?

How To Turn Your Career Envy Into Motivation
[Two young girls: Kseniia Perminova via Shutterstock]

Social media has always been a virtual trophy case of acquaintances’ participation awards.


They’re updating their Facebook status with 12 coworkers from your dream job’s rooftop happy hour, Instagramming amazing brunches every weekend, live-tweeting from their own wedding reception how “blessed” they are to have Pinterest-perfect table settings. They #WokeUpLikeThis: Flawless.

These over-sharers get ruthlessly blocked, muted, and otherwise quelled from my own feeds. I don’t need to compare my personal life of outtakes to someone else’s highlight reel.

The kind of comparison I catch myself actively seeking out, however, is in the professional sphere. Our peers are our competition. Wanting to know what they’re up to is an obvious temptation–and when they’re doing bigger, better things than you, it’s hard not to be discouraged.



Entrepreneur and business coach Lauren Bacon and leadership coach Tanya Geisler researched how comparison works. Bacon sums up the social media comparison trap perfectly:

In our comparison-soaked culture, it’s hard to avoid looking around at what other people are doing with their short time on earth, and slipping (often unconsciously) into “How am I stacking up?” mode.

Here are fives ways these experts suggest reshaping your career envy into something good.

1. Never Assume Luck

Everyone’s acting as their own best public relations specialist. Just because their star seems to rise effortlessly, doesn’t mean their path was devoid of sacrifices.

Reaching out to someone you admire–and yes, envy a little–is empowering and enlightening for both sides (and chances are, they never saw themselves as someone to envy!). Find out their process, and what unique challenges they had to face on their way to where they are. They likely made their own luck, or had a mentor that changed everything.

2. Ask Yourself Why You’re Envious

The obvious answers are knee-jerk responses to the success of others: “Because I’ve been working toward a promotion for a year, and she got one within six months!” “Because I’m not making the money I think my work deserves,” or “Because I stay in the background, while she’s getting all of this acclaim.”


Digging deeper, those reactions are only tips of a bigger ego-iceberg. Bacon writes:

This isn’t a social media problem. It’s a comparison problem. There isn’t a single thing about Twitter–or any of the other social media platforms I use–that’s designed to make me ask how I’m measuring up. That’s all me – an automatic, internal mechanism. It’s part ego (“But what does this say about me?”), part creative drive (“What more am I capable of?”), and part deep soul yearning (“How can I make an impact, leave a legacy, and matter?”).

3. Use Envy As A Mirror

After you’ve asked why you’re jealous, go the extra step: What part of that envy-worthy quality can you work on in your own life? If staying behind the scenes is eating at your sense of worth, find ways to increase your own visibility. If you’re halfheartedly celebrating a colleague’s raise, find the courage to ask for your own promotion.

A heart surgeon isn’t likely to feel envious of an architect’s latest award. We envy each other within our own spheres–career industry, age, peer group, our own closest friends. Find parts of that person you’d like to work on in your own career, and then get to work.

4. Turn “Me First” Into “One Small Step”

Sometimes, especially in STEM and startup fields where the landscape is shifting constantly and a new job title is invented every day, a peer’s success is foreshadowing for your own big break. Those soul-yearning, creativity-craving forces are motivation for a bigger step.


When I see others meeting goals that I’m also after, I feel like they’re more attainable: If she can do it, so can I.

5. Compete Only With Yourself

Feeling the pressure of envy leads us to do and say some ugly things–true or false, about others and to ourselves. “She’s not good enough” is just as harmful as “I’m not good enough.”

Company-internal competition is especially bad for women. “As soon as you introduce competition, forcing teams to compete with one another for resources or a prize, women perform worse,” researcher Markus Baer told Fast Company in August. “When you crank up the heat, women somehow stop doing the behaviors that help them succeed when they are working in a team.”

Compete for your own personal bests, and find ways to include others in the process.


[h/t: 99u]

About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.