Career Envy: Embrace It!

As one of the seven deadly sins, envy has a bad rap. Envy makes us feel bad so we usually try to squelch it.


But what if instead of trying to stamp out feelings of envy, you used envy as a terrific source of information? If noticing someone else’s career success feels like a punch in the gut or a heaviness in your heart or even just a subtle wake up call, you can use those feelings to recognize that someone has something wonderful that you wish you had for yourself.

“When I was 28, I was a payroll services salesperson and I didn’t love my career. My roommate was an elementary school teacher and every night she would come home exhausted but happy and fulfilled with her job. I envied her job satisfaction and I started to wonder if I might like her job, too, so I job shadowed her. I immediately realized I wanted to teach children. I attained a temporary credential, then a permanent one, then a full-time position. Twenty-two years later, teaching is still my dream job.”
Carol Ashdown, Aliso Viejo, CA

If you feel something negative about someone else’s success, don’t judge yourself. Instead, put that energy to good use and explore the gap between what you have and what you want. Envy is a sign to take actions to narrow the gap.

“I was a 24-year-old dropout from a graduate program in sociology. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I took a job in a social service agency in Michigan. As new and untrained support staff, my job included things like physically subduing out-of-control patients and hauling donated refrigerators up narrow stairs in a Detroit tenement. By contrast, I noticed my colleague, Dr. Brickman, was a clinical psychologist who was nicely dressed and who seemed smart and kind and did meaningful and important work. I admired him and I envied his career. I decided to try to gain admittance to a Ph.D. program, and I was fortunate to be accepted at Michigan State. That was 24 years ago. For almost a quarter of a century, I’ve been happily employed as a clinical psychologist in private practice.”
Frank DeMarco, Seattle, WA

Carol and Frank used envy to propel their careers toward greater happiness. In their cases, they were able to pursue the exact same careers as the person they envied. In other situations, the career you envy may seem unattainable. Most of us aren’t going to become rock stars, professional athletes, or astronauts. No matter which career you envy, though, you can have MORE of what you want compared to what you have today.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver, Poet

You may find as you have new experiences that what you want changes. That’s OK. That’s part of life. If you find the grass isn’t greener and you no longer envy what you once did, that’s progress in deciding what you want to do.

Whose career do you envy?

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