Do you go through your work day with a little green monster on your shoulder? You know the one—it’s constantly whispering in your ear about how much you want the accomplishments, accolades, and recognition of others in your field. It’s the creature that kills you whenever someone publishes a book, goes on TV, or seems to be more successful than you. It’s envy, and you’re not the only one who’s susceptible to its deceptive charms.
The dictionary definition of envy is “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck” or the “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to someone else.” It’s that resentful longing that can eat away at your self-esteem, turn you into an embittered curmudgeon, or simply erode your creative life…one little moment at a time.
You might think that given the dangers of envy, it’s something you must shield yourself against at all costs. But since envy operates in the realm of fantasy—your fabulous imaginings of how great another person’s life or career must feel—it doesn’t quite work that way. In fact, crushing your own natural feelings of envy can crush your competitive spirit and fuel self-criticism in a way that’s unhealthy, too.
Luckily, there are ways to use envy as a positive force. Envy is like the canary in the coal mine, the little harbinger that tells you something’s wrong. It can help you tune into your deepest desires, even the ones that seem too transgressive, petty, or dangerous to acknowledge. The trick, though, is not letting your professional jealousy carry you away.
The next time you hear envy whispering in your ear, stop. Don’t talk, don’t act, don’t do anything but listen. What does your envy say about your misgivings, your shortcomings, your fears? Tell envy you’ll give it your ear—for a finite time only. Then, cut it off in its tracks by vowing to set aside those feelings for a minute, an hour, or a day…and refocus on yourself, better attuned to what you really need and how you really feel.
It takes practice, but putting the kibosh on professional envy is good for the soul and the career. Just don’t get carried away with your uncharitable feelings. That little green monster is okay for a while…until it becomes you.