For a long time, my typical Friday night began with happy hour. I’d meet up with a few friends, and I’m guessing just like it is with your friends, conversation always somehow turned to work. And even though I like what I do, we’d talk about something that made it seem like everyone else was crushing the game—and that I was falling behind. Way behind.
But over time, I learned two things that stopped me from constantly feeling like I was running an unwinnable race. One: I came to the conclusion that I’m too old and too cheap to spend all my Fridays drinking cheap mixed drinks. And more importantly, plenty of us compare our careers to our friends’ in ways that not only don’t matter, but upset us for no reason.
So with that in mind, you can stop caring about the following right now:
1. That Your Friends Make More Money Than You
I remember the first time a friend’s salary made me gasp.
“You make what?” I asked.
Then, like the adult I am, I spent the rest of the night calculating how much more he was taking home than I was. And this was after tax!
What I didn’t realize in that moment though was that I had plenty of money to live my life. Sure, I wasn’t in a position to buy an apartment in Manhattan, but I was paying my rent pretty comfortably, contributing to my savings, and had enough left over to enjoy myself (within reason).
Before you freak out about how much less you make than your friends, ask yourself if you like your current job. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if you’re comfortable living on your current salary. And if the answer to both these questions is yes, stop worrying about everyone else’s paychecks. You’re doing just fine.
If not, though, check out this article and accompanying worksheet (!) on how to ask for more money.
2. That Your Friends Have Never Heard of Your Company
Some of my friends work for well-known companies. I won’t name names, but let’s just say that I know my share of people who work for a certain search engine that, well, sort of powers the entire internet.
Me? Well, my career until now has been with much smaller companies. And in many cases, I’ve had to explain what they do to people I was meeting for the first time. It used to bother me that I didn’t work for a brand-name company.
But I liked what I was doing, and even though we didn’t have free lunch or dog sitting at the office, we did some pretty cool things as a team. So, it really did not matter that I didn’t work for The Big Internet Company.
If you’re having trouble (or getting tired of) explaining where you work, try this script:
I work for a [industry type] company that’s working on [something you’re working on]. It’s a pretty cool place to work because [name a perk or a project you’re working on].
For years, this is what I used to tell people:
I work for an ad-tech company that’s working on optimizing the user experience for customers after they submit a form. It’s a cool place to work because everyone’s really collaborative—and we sometimes get free lunch on Fridays!
3. That Your Friends Don’t Really Get What You Do
Until now, my jobs were kind of difficult to explain. I was obviously never able to say, “I’m a doctor.” And because plenty of my friends did have one-word job titles that were universally recognized, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Why was my gig so much more abstract?
Here’s the thing: You’d probably be hard-pressed to find someone whose job isn’t a little tough to describe. The more people I network with, the more I realize that I’m not alone in this plight. And at one point in my career, I got a bit of advice on how to respond when someone asks you what you do.
It looks a little like this:
I work with [a certain type of client or team you collaborate with]. I help [one thing you’re responsible for] and I’m hoping to [insert role you want to grow into or skill you want to learn].
Some people still might not get it. And that’s OK. If you’re happy at work, does it really matter?
Work is hard enough when you’re comparing yourself to your friends. But when you’re constantly keeping score, it’s always a losing battle. Someone will always have a higher salary, or work for a bigger company, or have a more prestigious (or, at least clearer) job title.
So take a step back and think about your overall happiness at work. When you’re lucky enough to be content with your work, and have enough in the bank for an occasional happy hour, the truth is that you’re way ahead of more people than you realize.
Photo of friends courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author