How To Make Your Work Enemy Your Secret Weapon

Illustrated by Yazmin Butcher
Nemeses are having a bit of a moment. As Taylor Lorenz wrote in a viral Atlantic article, a nemesis is “a special kind of foe.” Not exactly an enemy, but not exactly a rival either. “They require a particular kind of jealousy, because you compete with them, even if they’re unaware of your existence,” she wrote. They’re the person you stalk from afar on Instagram and Twitter, endlessly obsessing over their achievements and comparing them to your own, constantly keeping score in a game only you know is being played.
Lorenz was talking specifically about online nemeses, but as anyone who’s worked anywhere ever knows, they’re just as common IRL too. Maybe it’s the woman who started as an intern on the same day as you, and five years later, still seems to always do everything just that little bit better than you. Perhaps it’s that guy who has your same role at a competing firm who’s constantly doing things your boss holds up as examples of how you could be doing your job better. Heck, it could even be your work wife, that person you love, sure, but who also makes you feel insecure by just how good she might be if she ever decided she wanted your job. The big difference between an online nemesis and Barbara in accounting, however, is that this person isn’t just a figment on Instagram: They’re people you see every day. At your job. Where, you know, you have to be professional.
In a world where, per a UK survey, 60% of us have a “workplace enemy,” it’s not a question of if you’ll have a professional nemesis but when. That means, whether we like it or not, people who get under your skin in the workplace *are* going to have an influence on our career. Option A is letting your rivalry hold you back, either by fixing your focus on the drama and not your actual work, or allowing the insecurity it brings up to keep you from taking any risks. Option B, of course, is the opposite: It’s taking this nemeses situation and turning it into the best thing that ever happened to your career.
How does one do that? We tapped four experts for their professional advice on how to turn your professional nemesis into someone you’ll thank when you accept that Oscar, Pulitzer, Nobel, or Grammy — or, you know, the award for highest sales in the eastern region.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series