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The Green-Eyed Monster: Dealing with Envy at Work

“I’m so happy for you!”

How many of us have said those words to a colleague after a big win, yet beneath the surface, we feel less than unwavering joy for the other party?

I’m not the only one? Right?

When a peer lands a big account, receives public praise from the CEO, or gets a promotion, it’s natural to feel a mix of emotions. You want to be happy for them. You ARE happy for them . . . and you’re also a little (or a lot) jealous. Even the most well-intended amongst us can be caught off guard when the green-eyed monster makes appearance.

As a naturally competitive person myself, my drive to achieve has helped propel me forward in life. My competitiveness has also held me back, when it translates into constantly judging myself and setting unachievable goals in the quest to “measure up.”

Here are a few strategies I’ve developed to keep envy at bay:

1. Embrace Happy Jealousy
Jealously is normal, humans are called “the comparing creatures” for a reason. Telling yourself not to feel jealous pushes that emotion right into your subconscious. It will likely make an (unwanted) appearance later. Instead, make peace with what I call “happy jealousy.”

Happy jealousy is when you’re really happy that a positive thing happened to someone else, and you also want it to happen to you. I coined the phrase years ago when an author that I was working with hit a bestseller list that I had been coveting for years.

She worked hard, her book was great, and I was truly happy for her. And I desperately wanted to be on the list too.

You can allow yourself to feel both of those emotions at the same time.

In most cases, there are more best seller lists to be had, more promotions to won, more sales to be made, and more lives and businesses you can transform. In other words, there’s enough success to go around. Use your happy jealously to supportive and propel you forward at the same time.

2. Create a shared rallying cry.
Viewing other’s achievements through the lens of a common goal is another great way to mitigate envy. When another person does achieve, be it a big sale, a promotion, or public praise, look at it through the lens of your shared goals. Their success today, paves a path for your success tomorrow.

For example, if you work for an IT company, and your firm’s goal is to make small businesses more successful, when your peer lands a huge account, it contributes to the shared goal. That’s one more business you can use as a reference, and one more business that is more successful as a result of your firm’s work.

(In the second edition of Selling with Noble Purpose, I wrote an entire chapter on why ‘Kill the Competition’ is Not a Rallying Cry.)

3. Don’t compare your every day to someone else’s best day
Yes, you saw this person land a big promotion. They were absolutely beaming. But, did you see them crying in the bathroom last year after losing a huge customer account? Probably not.

Don’t compare your whole life to someone else’s highlight reel. Take a moment to remember that you, too, have had these peak moments. You will have more of them.

When you’re an ambitious person, tinges of envy are normal.  Letting those feelings take up permanent residence in your mind however, will bring your performance (and happiness) to a screeching halt.

Learning how to appreciate other’s accomplishments, knowing they very rarely diminish your own, is a lifelong practice of high achievers.

P.S. Need a little more help navigating competitiveness? Check out the replay of last week’s LinkedIn Live: Motivation, Competitiveness, and Envy at Work.