She had it all. A successful business, lawyers who called her and kept her pipeline full, and all "the best" cases. I was so jealous that she was “so much further ahead” than me, and that I would just never get there.
But then, a funny thing happened: I got close enough to see how she worked, and how she treated other people. Simply put: she’s not a nice person. And it turns out, I really don’t want to be “just like her.”
Jealousy. It’s a funny thing. It’s crept up on most of us at some point in our personal life. But career jealousy feels a little different. In some respects, it feels as if we are fighting for our financial and professional well-being, and want to make sure we “get ahead” for self-preservation's sake. I have watched others, including the person in this story, tear others down in order to build themselves up. Jealousy is often caustic to the person holding onto it.
So how can we make sure that career jealousy doesn’t get the best of us? Here are 5 tips.
1. Earn your way.
More often than not, jealousy in the workplace is related to time. You might say something like: “I want to be farther ahead in my career, like her” or “Why was she promoted more quickly than I have been?” As a young person, one of the most difficult things for me to learn was the fact that some things just take time. Professional experience, cultivating relationships and proving our work ethic and tenacity does not happen overnight. And that’s okay. We appreciate those things we work for more than those that come easy.
2. Be careful what you wish for.
There are many people in my professional field who look to me and say, “I want to own a business just like you.” When I start talking to them about their whys, they will often list the perks of “being your own boss," “making more money," and “having an exciting job.” When I ask them if they are prepared to be the last person who takes a paycheck home or sometimes not take a paycheck at all — or if they would be willing to be lambasted on the witness stand or give up planned vacations because of a client emergency — I often hear back, “Well, I never thought of that.” Sometimes the title or the promotion or the place you want to be comes with much higher levels of time commitment, expectations and other difficulties you did not foresee. Think through what you really want, and whether your jealousy is misguided.
3. Remember that life isn’t always fair.
In a world where kids get trophies for participating and can now take exams multiple times in order to “get the grade," many people are not set up for the realities of a professional environment. Things are not always fair. With time and perspective, it is my hope that you will see that even when things are not fair, they typically happen for a reason. When life gives you lemons, try to find ways to make lemonade. It’s much better than letting jealousy eat you up.
4. Just do you.
As much as I wanted to be that other person (or so I thought!), I now shake my head and think “I’m so glad I’m not her!” I have forged my own path with my specific set of skills, my great personality, and my own brand of “me." You have the same qualities. If you are focused on what the other person has that you don’t — or are fixated on the unfairness of the situation — you are not spending the time allowing your own gifts and talents to shine through. When you just do you, you will find that doors will open and there will be no time or space for jealousy.
5. Be polite.
No matter the professional situation — fair or not — always be polite. Others are measuring you up, and you never know when doors may open for you. One thing is for certain: jealous people are often not polite, may gossip at work and may cause difficulty for others. Don’t be that person. If the situation is so unjust that you feel that your jealousy is harming you, take some time off to get to a better place of mind or find another place to work (you don’t want to work for unscrupulous people, anyway!). A winning attitude, especially in the face of adversity, says a lot about your character.
Just think about the peace and clarity of mind you will have by letting that jealousy go. Don’t let that burden weigh you and your career down. Let it go, spread your wings and find the path that was meant just for you.
Tiffany Couch is the CEO and founder of Acuity Forensics, a forensic accounting and fraud investigation firm that helps unravel complex financial crimes.