A co-worker lands the promotion you were gunning for. Your very first thought is a twinge of jealousy: “Brian’s been promoted. I wanted that role.” From there, you may start to walk down a negative path. You feel like sulking. Brian is no longer a likable, competent colleague, but clearly, a conniving brown-noser. You might as well stop working so hard, since it’s going unnoticed anyhow.
Regardless of the specifics, odds are you’ve experienced workplace envy. (Everyone does at some point.) But, successful people don't become a green-eyed Grinch of a co-worker, and instead use the feeling to fuel their growth. You can, too.
Start by asking yourself these four questions:
1. Do I Really Want What He Has?
Margaret landed the promotion you wanted, and you’re really upset she got it instead of you. But, on second thought, do you really want the responsibilities of a manager—including the additional meetings and time spent supervising others, as opposed to working on your own projects?
If you drill into what you’re feeling, you may discover you don’t actually want the thing that triggered envy (a.k.a., the promotion). However, it can help you realize what you are looking for. Meaning: While you didn’t want the added responsibility of being project leader, you do want to be considered for new opportunities and be recognized and valued for your hard work. Take the time to get clear about what you’re really aiming for, and spend your energy working toward that goal.
2. What Changes Can I Make?
Once you’ve had time to figure out what you want more of in your professional life (more responsibility, more recognition, more leadership opportunities), focus on steps you can take right away to move in that direction.
Start with small steps like volunteering for different kinds of projects, speaking up when you have ideas, or signing up for a class to build out a new skill. It may be that you feel a bigger step is necessary. If you realize that every leader at your organization has an MBA, look into local programs—and see if your company has any resources for tuition reimbursement.
Taking any step toward your desired goal—whether it’s a baby step or a giant one—will move you out of envy and into a more positive mindset. If you stop dwelling and start doing, your focus and drive will return, and so will your more rational, sociable self.
3. What Does My Team Think?
Once you have a sense of what you’d like to accomplish, conduct your own informal 360 review with your boss, your peers, and your direct reports. They can help you identify both your strengths and your blind spots.
Ask questions like:
- “How do I add value?”
- “What do you want more of from me?”
- “What do you want less of?”
- “What new skills could I learn that would benefit the team?”
Listen for the areas where you need to grow and then thank people for sharing their thoughts with you. These conversations will also give you more ideas for changes you could make to qualify for new opportunities.
4. Who Can Help Me Improve?
Top performers work to recognize—and then eliminate—their weaknesses. If you learn others think you’re not handling conflict or holding others accountable, you have a starting point. From there, identify someone who excels at these skills and ask him or her to coach you. It could be a boss, co-worker, or mentor. Lacking technical skills? Find an expert who can teach you—or a class you can take. Need to work on your presentations? Seek out a coach to help you with your public speaking.
Everyone has blind spots. To achieve your career goal, work on those areas for improvement.
Paying attention to your emotions will, if channeled correctly, guide you in your personal growth. So the next time you feel envy, use that feeling to help you get clear on how you want to grow professionally and personally, and then take action.