My Professional Jealousy Is Out Of Control

Photographed by Jessica Garcia
I am suffering from professional jealousy. Urgh, there she is again. How has she done another post? These thoughts race around in my mind as I scroll through my Instagram feed, which increasingly feels like a showroom of people who are more successful than me. I keep going to their profiles to see how many more followers they have than me and because I can’t stop, I’ve inadvertently colluded with Instagram's algorithms to create a feed that’s my own personal hell: full of people who do the same work that I do but are achieving more than me. 
I’m not just jealous that they have more followers or that they’re earning more than me; it’s that they seem to be doing more than me, too. Trying to get through the bare minimum of work each day zaps my creative energy and I don’t know how they can create so much and so often. 
I am a 32-year-old writer, coach and strategist with over a decade in the workplace so I know these feelings are complex. But still, I find myself measuring success in followers, output and newsletter subscribers. I keep refreshing my Substack dashboard, as though staring at the number of subscribers I have is going to magically make them increase. I put my phone down for a few minutes, then pick it up again. I see the person with a podcast that is much bigger than mine has a new brand partner. 
When I listen to the adverts on a podcast, I hear the sponsorship deals I don’t have and the money I’m not making. I can’t focus on what’s actually being said.
Pre-pandemic, my creative career was on a roll and I was making money out of it. Since last year, marketing budgets have been constricted and sponsorship deals have melted away and it feels like the limited resources are going to the same people at the top. There’s a pyramid of success and I feel like I’ve slid back down to the bottom of it. 
I wasn’t always like this. I was happy with my career path; I get a lot of fulfilment from my work and I’m a coach so part of what I do is helping people with issues such as comparison at work. However, knowing what to do doesn’t always mean I do it. In the most recent lockdown, I’ve found my professional jealousy spiralling out of control. 

There's a pyramid of success and I feel like I've slid back down to the bottom of it. In the most recent lockdown, I've found my professional jealousy spiralling out of control. 

Even though restrictions are lifting, my world remains small and work continues to take the centre stage in my life. There’s still so much missing from the richness of working life, such as co-working, in-person meetings and live events. For over a year we have existed primarily at home and on the internet. This year I had more time than ever but my energy levels depleted with it and so I scroll and scroll, my confidence knocked and my jealousy fuelled. 
One of the symptoms of the work-related mental health problem of burnout is to feel disillusioned with your work because you’re not getting back what you put in. How can we not feel like that after the year most of us have had? Work opportunities feel scarce and it’s like there’s a pointlessness to our efforts: there are only so many emails you can send asking for money until you want to give up. Pre-pandemic, work came effortlessly and emails would drop into my inbox with exciting opportunities that would give me the financial freedom to do the work I wanted to do. 
We’re all living through this pandemic but how we’ve experienced it has varied hugely depending on our circumstances and many of us have built resentment towards those whose situations appear to be better than our own. I’m jealous of people who can afford homes with gardens and who work in offices that aren’t their bedrooms, of people who have a full-time job and the security of a monthly salary. I’ve also had more time to reflect on what I want from life and earning more money is the key to unlocking a lot of my desires. I want the work version of having it all – money and fulfilment – and it’s difficult to see those who’ve already got there. 
It’s not just people like me who perform their jobs on the internet who’ve found their professional jealousy getting worse. Thirty-four-year-old Tamara* who’s a brand manager within the healthcare sector told me: "My work has always been a priority but over the course of the pandemic, it became my sole focus." 
"I've really critiqued my development and the comparisons between myself and colleagues over the past year, too," she added. "This is something I've always done but there has just been so much more time to sit and think and stew on things."

Lockdown has given us an opportunity to connect to meaning in lots of ways. So what does our life mean to us? Are we fulfilled? Are we reaching our potential?

Tamara spoke exactly to my experience when she said: "Everybody wants to feel important and valuable but even more so when we found ourselves in really uncertain times. So I've seen jealousy creep in when some of these work opportunities and projects haven't come my way and went to someone else." 
Like me, Tamara is jealous of the energy people seem to have when studies have shown that lockdown makes us all a little more distracted, sluggish and fatigued. "There were times where I didn't want to show when I was feeling the strain and also felt jealous of those that seemed to show up all smiley every day," she added. "How is that even possible?!" I understood what she meant. I do show up with good energy to my (thankfully few) Zooms but when it comes to posting on social media, I struggle.
I asked Jodie Cariss, psychologist and founder of the mental health service Self Space, if she could shed any light. She explained: "What's happened during lockdown is that we've had an opportunity to connect to meaning in lots of ways. So what does our life mean to us? Are we fulfilled? Are we reaching our potential?" 
Jodie said that she has spoken to clients who have professional envy when it comes to people who have purpose-driven work as well as envy around affluence. She went on to explain that it sounded like my issue was around money. 
During lockdown, we’ve been more exposed to affluence on social media. So, she said, it’s important to remember that "people have had more time to curate the image of themselves and that contributes to us feeling not so good about what's going on for us, whether that’s [being] sat at home binge-watching or [having no] outside space. The envy is more prevailing."
Jodie went on to note that we must not overlook the economic insecurity caused by the pandemic. "The anxiety around keeping your job is quite high for people," she said. "This leads to us thinking, Do I need to overwork in order to prove my worth? Am I safe here? Everything feels really uncertain. Look at them over there, they look really fulfilled, they've got a cool job and a lovely house. I wish I was in that spot."
Before I spoke with Jodie, I’d felt a lot of shame for experiencing professional jealousy. She made me realise that it can be turned into a positive, though. "When things are left unsaid, they build in power," she said.
With that in mind, I decided to seek out my peers and talk to them about how I was feeling. Jodie was right: saying it out loud to friends really helped. Jodie also recommended journalling to drill down into what my professional jealousy was telling me. I realised it was important to me to be more active on social media as part of my goals to build an audience and so I have now changed my daily routine and made social media something I do at the beginning of the day. 
I also embarked on a gratitude practice and I close each working day by celebrating the small steps I’ve taken towards big change. Has my professional jealousy disappeared? No. I’m not totally cured of my envy, work is still so hard right now and life isn’t back to normal. But I’m able to scroll through Instagram and no longer see others’ lives as a reflection of what my own life is lacking. That, I think, is progress. 
*Names have been changed to protect identities

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