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An explainer on professional jealousy and how to overcome it

The green-eyed monster.

When I graduated from high school, I thought I had left my feelings of competitiveness and envy behind. Long gone were the days of obsessing over crushes that didn’t pay me attention or worrying that my best friend would ditch me for her cooler pals.

Unfortunately, I was sorely mistaken, because my twenties welcomed a new foe into my life: professional jealousy. Negative feelings creep in on me most days, telling me how shitty I am and how I will never be fulfilled because I don’t have what somebody else has.

Professional jealousy is the constant envy of goal-oriented people or others’ prosperity. It’s a universal experience and within the bounds of human nature. It’s a feeling that’s rarely spoken about because we worry that sharing our envious thoughts will make us seem petty or selfish. We behave this way because we find it easier to stoke the flames than confront them.

Unfortunately, professional jealousy is thriving thanks to the world’s growing social media dependence. Apps like Instagram have amplified the problem, encouraging us green-eyed monsters to curate our own personal hell: a showroom of people who are perpetually more successful and enriched than we will ever be.

These feelings can intensify in times of economic crisis (cough, cough, COVID-19) because as losses mount, so does resentment. In search of some advice, I spoke with an organisational psychologist, Dr Amanda Ferguson, to figure out how we can stop equating professional achievement with self-worth.

“Feelings come from thoughts, so it’s [professional jealousy] typically related to negative self-talk and self-thinking that is either causing you insecurity or because you are insecure. Take this as an indicator for your professional development rather than just a negative feeling. It’s all about how we reframe these jealousies into opportunities to advance ourselves and understand ourselves,” she explains.

Dr Amanda tells me she has spoken with clients who have professional jealousy when it comes to not receiving a pay rise or resenting their peer’s relationships with their boss. She goes on to explain that these feelings could be precipitated by earlier traumas with money.

“Trauma with money can stem from a multitude of experiences, [such as] not being able to get a job as a child or Dad couldn’t afford to give you pocket money and other children got pocket money. If you feel traumatised because other people are receiving a pay rise and you’re not, you need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to learn how to get pay rises and promotions and work through that trauma.”

But don’t start guilt-tripping yourself yet; the onus isn’t all on you. Dr Amanda tells me that to keep feelings of envy at bay, managers should be focused on facilitating a well-balanced workspace, one that is encouraging and accommodating to all staff members.

“Coworkers that don’t relate well to each other can cause jealousy. Managers must design their teams with this in mind. If they can avoid favouring people by being fair and civil and just, this can help members relate to each other a lot better.”

Before talking with Dr Amanda, I’d let my bitterness get the better of me by allowing negative thoughts to snowball and race out of control. She made me realise that this pattern can be stopped by regaining control of my inner voice and putting left-of-field thoughts into perspective.

“If you feel insecure about your skills, learn how to do it – teach yourself, get help from an organisational psychologist. If you feel as though you’re not talented enough for your job, you’re not the right judge. You didn’t recruit yourself; your employer did, and they’re the only person whose decision matters here.

“Self-perception is never as accurate as others’ perceptions of us. So try not to second-guess that other person’s perception of you. Saying that you’re ‘not good enough’ is a fantastic phrase that you can never grapple with because you can’t quantify it. It’s not concrete.”

And while there is no quick vaccine jab to cure your deeply rooted feelings of professional inadequacy, your emotions are controllable. I’ve learnt that success is different for everybody; maybe it’s climbing the corporate ladder or having a solid following on Instagram, or perhaps it’s working a four day week and having more time for your hobbies – only you can make that decision. So, be reflective and critical of your jealousy because you can turn once ugly feelings into a means for improvement. And remember that progress is everything, baby.


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