How to Use Professional Envy as a Motivator

To keep moving forward after experiencing professional envy, try these strategies and learn to constructively deal with your jealousy as a motivator.

Perhaps no other business, other than professional sports, so vocally celebrates the anointment of winners, whether it’s the winning of a pitch, a promotion, an award at any one of the dozens of award shows, a fancy title, or other public announcements that one person did something better than everyone else. With this type of celebration culture, some degree of professional envy is inevitable.

However, not all envy is created equal. There are some people who feel a twang of jealousy, give themselves a moment, and then go on with their business. Others have a hard time letting it go, and if this sounds like you, enjoying a long and fulfilling career in this industry is going to be tough.

The Different Types of Envy

First, there’s the kind you get when you’re looking through an awards annual or checking out someone’s portfolio, and you see an ad, a logo, a tagline, whatever, that’s so freakin’ brilliant that you smack yourself on the head and think, “ARRRRGGGH, why didn’t I think of that?” Experts call this benign envy, and there’s most definitely a place for it.

Then there’s the other kind, the “not-so-benign” envy. You know what I’m talking about:  the visceral feeling that your heart has been pushed out of an elevator shaft coupled with the flush of anger mixed with shame burning your cheeks. Over the course of my career, I’ve had friends who ended up with some really impressive bullets on their resumes, one in particular who’s star rose much faster than my own. He was humble and appreciative of his success, but a white-hot anger — not at him, but the unfairness of the world! — began consuming me.  I just couldn’t shake it, so I consciously chose to disconnect from the friendship — a friendship that had enriched me personally, and could have led to professional recommendations.

That kind of jealousy is a zero-sum game: There’s never a winner, and the only person who loses is you.

What To Do

To keep moving forward after what seems like a professional setback, try these strategies and learn to constructively deal with your own jealousy.

  1. Own it. Being honest with yourself and acknowledging your jealousy is the first step to releasing it. To break through, it may also be helpful to acknowledge it with the object of your envy. You can simply praise their accomplishment, or you might add, in a positive and non-threatening way, that you’re even a little bit jealous of what they’ve done and that it’s a motivation for you.
  2. Work on your confidence. If you think about it, jealousy is basically a lack of self-esteem. Hobbies and side-hustles can help, even if they’re not 100% relevant to your job. Do something you love and you’re good at. But also, don’t be afraid to try something new. Not only is the challenge good for your brain, it will also get you more comfortable with not being the best at something.
  3. Believe that there’s more than enough success to go around. Some psychologists believe that jealousy is a natural reaction to a “scarcity mindset” – that is, if you think there’s a limited number of accolades to go around, you will naturally be threatened when someone gets one.
  4. Use it to your advantage. Benign envy can be hugely useful to you. In a 2011 psychology study called Why envy outperforms admiration, psychologists found that, as a motivating force, envy outperforms admiration! The distinction between admiration and envy is that envy contains a shred of belief that you could be that good, too. For example, you might admire Elon Musk or Usain Bolt, but you envy your friend who just landed a job at Wieden+Kennedy. It’s that envy that will inspire you to grow.
  5. Make your own success. It really does sound like a Catch-22, but the best way to deal with jealousy is to not let it keep you from attaining your own success. Remind yourself that success in this business depends on many factors. Hard work and talent are part of it, for sure, but a lot of it is…well, maybe not luck, but there’s definitely some chance involved. There’s the chance that a company is hiring someone with your experience at the same time you’re looking for a job, or the possibility that someone you know thinks of your name at the exact moment one of their colleagues asks for a recommendation.

The great thing is that these are all things that you can influence.  Do everything you can to improve your own skills now (which, again, happens by observing the great people around you). Network and market the hell out of yourself. Keep it up and sooner or later, you’ll find your own success.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.