When Your Friends Have A Fire Career – And You Don’t

How we see our careers and professional success is always changing. Some days, we might allow ourselves to feel excited, proud and satisfied with our jobs and the way we spend almost half of our waking hours. But there are times when it seems everyone else is experiencing a level of career success that we can only aspire to.

We look at our friends, acquaintances and uni peers with a tinge of vocational rivalry. It seems like so many people our age are living out a dream career. They have impressive CVs. Large Twitter followings. Success in the very industry we can’t get a foot in. It’s a struggle not to feel despondent, perhaps jealous, and at the very least, envious of the x factor they must have to attract the right people and get hired.

But the grass is not always greener. Here’s a few important things to remember when you’re in a career comparison spiral.

Realise you don’t know the details  

Have a think about the friends and peers you are comparing yourself to. Perhaps there’s a vital ingredient in the initial stages of their career success that you don’t know about. Did that friend with the corner office and three-figure salary get her start from a hook up by a family friend? Does that guy you went to uni with have family in the industry, or a last name that throws weight?

While having connections doesn’t mean these folk don’t also have the skills to make the most of their leg up, it does mean that they’ve got a foot in the door via external means that are impossible to replicate, and that don’t have much to do with their training or perceived x factor. Always remind yourself that you may not know the full picture.

Believe it or not, others might feel the same way about you

It is a part of human nature to compare ourselves to others around us, especially those in our age group or whose lives we aspire to. Such is the ubiquity of the human tendency to compare, there’s a very real chance that someone is feeling envious of you.

Perhaps they are a freelancer you perceive as living the dream life, but they desire the financial stability of your job. Maybe they are constantly under the pump at work and would sacrifice some of their salary to have the work/life balance that you have. Perhaps their day-to-day seems entirely glamorous but it is anything but, and you have no idea how classy you make your 9-5 look. We’ll probably never know how others really feel about our career. After all, we’d never own up to feeling jealous ourselves, right?

Keep social media in perspective

We live in a unique period in human history. Never before has it been so easy to manufacture and maintain the image of a perfect life and career. There are a tonne of great things about social media such as Twitter and Instagram, but one of the downsides is that it can, after a while, create feelings of jealousy and poor self-worth.

You only have to know one person with a flashy Instagram page which features regular career win updates to realise there is probably a great divide between who they are and the persona they are trying to promote.

There’s nothing wrong with social media. It is an important networking and information sharing tool. However, if it’s causing you to examine your own career with a less than positive mindset, then have a break. In his hard-earned wisdom, Frank Ocean said something so relevant: ‘Work hard in silence, let success be your noise.’ Listen to Frank. There’s nothing wrong with being a quiet achiever in today’s oversaturated and self-promoting market. Get back on the social media horse only when it provides inspiration and information, not a bullet to your self-worth.

Remember that comparison is the thief of joy

The sad reality of comparing yourself to your friends/peers/colleagues/random person on Instagram is that it will render you unable to view your own career clearly. Having an undercurrent of mental chatter running through your brain telling yourself that you are inadequate, lesser than someone else, and unable to reach their career heights, is potentially more dangerous than we realise.

Teddy Roosevelt, whose career win peaked at the US Presidency and a Nobel Prize, famously said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ Sydney based career and life counsellor and founder of Life Design Coach, Lucy Megginson, agrees: “Comparison, whether perceiving yourself as worse off or better off than others, is purely an exercise in perception. It just acts to eat away at our self esteem and keeps us from focusing on moving ourselves and our careers, wherever we currently perceive we are, forward.”

Focus on your own career wins

Crowd out the thoughts about your friends’ career successes (and your apparent lack thereof) by focusing on your own success. This is the quickest way to, as the saying goes, water your own garden. By putting your mental and emotional energy into reflecting on the times you’ve had your own wins – nailed an interview; spoke eloquently at a meeting; boldly made a career change, for example – you put yourself into a positive and open frame of mind.

It doesn’t matter if you are reflecting on your past success, it is still a part of your career story. Write it down if you have to. Ruminate on your skills, your unique abilities, and the times when you felt your potential being met. It’s a strategy to reset your headspace.

Consider your unique values

Megginson reminds her clients that everyone has their own set of values which sees them pursuing different life goals at different times and is reflected in education, family, lifestyle and career choices. We can’t forget that our friends may be more motivated by specific financial goals while we may be more inclined to be chasing a creative lifestyle or vice versa, for example.

“The art of not allowing comparison to get in the way is to recognise what values you had when you made certain choices which have brought you to where you are today and to ask yourself whether you are willing to sacrifice other values in order to have what you perceive someone else has.”

Learn from them

There is a handy way to use career envy to your own advantage. Luckily for us, these feelings are mutable and easily transformed. Instead of comparing yourself to another person, use them as inspiration. Make their success your friend, not enemy. If it’s your mate or acquaintance you are envious of, ask them about their guiding career philosophy.

Perhaps they use some simple self-talk practices, read certain books, or follow a specific career adage. It’s a sign of confidence and strength to be vulnerable and ask for their advice. Know that if you are identifying another’s career success and feel envious or despondent, it’s actually less a feeling of jealousy than it is a way of telling yourself that you need something in your own career to change.

Know there is more than enough pie to go around 

You can be genuinely happy for your peers and friends in their career success if you know that there is in fact, more than enough opportunity for you to also prosper. Their success does not equal your failure. It is actually just a real-life demonstration of how success is achievable. It brings it closer to you rather than further away.

Stay in the zone of knowing something fantastic is going to happen for you, and that you don’t know what’s around the corner. Those with career success are positive, grateful, focused on their own career growth rather than that of others, and believe staunchly in their own abilities. They are the traits you are probably truly seeing in them, and wouldn’t mind borrowing for yourself.

Freya Latona is a Byron Bay raised, now Sydney based writer. She has one of those creative writing PhD’s that ensures a life of underemployment. Freya’s memoir was recently shortlisted for the Finch Memoir Prize 2017 and she is represented by Curtis Brown Literary Agency.