Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the Green-Eyed Monster in Your Cubicle?

When I was in grade school, every year I had to put up with someone I'll call "Mary" in my classes. I never liked her, because her hair was longer than mine, she dressed better than I did and she was much prettier. Yet, every year -- from kindergarten until sixth grade -- I had her in every class.

Some day the jealousy I felt when she showed up in a new hair bow with a pretty dress made me seethe.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I learned she was raised by a single mother, and never knew her father. She and her mother lived lonely lives, and "Mary" suffered from great anxiety and self-doubt.

I felt like a rat. And I learned a valuable lesson about how jealousy and envy can blind you to reality.

But I'll be the first to admit that I haven't conquered jealousy and envy completely. It's not something I'm proud of, but I've been known to be jealous of other people's careers or successes. So, when I did this story for my Gannett/USAToday column, I took much of the advice to heart:

Envy and jealousy have been experienced by most of us since we could toddle to the playground. We envied the kid with the newer toy. Once in school, we envied the friend who nabbed the lead role in the school play while we were given the job of painting scenery.

As we aged, we began to let go of petty jealousies, devoting ourselves to our jobs and climbing the next rung on the career ladder.But then the promotion we worked so hard to achieve — the one that we knew should be ours — goes to someone else.

The green-eyed monster now rears itself not on the playground, but in the cubicle.

We are bombarded with feelings of envy and jealousy, similar to those we felt when we were younger. But unlike our youth, we can't stomp away from the playground in a snit fit. We must hold onto our jobs in the bad economy, and find a way to cope with the feelings that seem to gnaw us from the inside out.

Marcia Reynolds, a psychologist and executive coach, says that a difficult economy can often exacerbate the jealousy we feel for others at work, because when we're under stress and feel our security is threatened, we become more emotionally sensitive.

"We take more things negatively and more personally," she says. "It's easier to jump to feelings of jealousy and envy."

Reynolds explains that these emotions are often about what we sense is a loss of fairness. We feel jealousy when we feel someone has taken something away from us that we were attached to emotionally, so we may react in anger or hurt. Envy is usually about wanting something we don't have and so we may find ways to demean whoever has that which we desire.

But Reynolds says that instead of roiling in misery from those feelings, we can find ways to deal with them more effectively — and even benefit from them.

For example, if someone at work gets the promotion or recognition you feel you deserve instead, examine why this person may have nabbed the accolades. Could it be that he or she did a better job of promoting their hard work or connecting with the right people?

"What did he or she do that you didn't do? This person played a bigger game than you. So, the question is: 'What is keeping you from playing that bigger game?' " she says. "Why be angry? We know life isn't fair, so look at this as a gift. It's telling you that you have something to learn."

With that attitude, she says, you move from focusing on the negative to deciding to take control and learn from the experience. She also suggests it can be easier to get over envious feelings for someone by avoiding them until you can look at the situation in a better light.

Above all, be honest with yourself about how you're feeling, she says.

"If you don't get a promotion, for example, what is it you feel that you're not getting? Do you feel a loss of respect and recognition because you don't think you're good enough?" she says. "Do you feel the loss of control and predictability" because you don't feel in control of your career and fear losing your job?

Reynolds says that it's also common to feel a sense of betrayal if the person who gets the promotion is someone known to us.

She says by embracing our emotions, we can then begin to learn from them.

"Jealousy and envy can be poisoning if you let them," she says. "Look at this as a way for you to learn, as a way to maybe get you to do things you might not have done before. That way, it becomes a gift because you can grow from it."

How have you dealt with feelings of envy or jealousy at work?



Alex Dogliotti said...

Hey Anita, another nice post. Funny cos I published something similar like 30 mins ago! Well, somewhat similar. I think often jealousy is a human reaction to deflect responsibility. Especially at work. You said sometimes you catch yourself being jealous. Now, answer honestly. When you feel that way, do you really believe you've done everything you could to achieve what you wanted? If you don't get a promotion, are you 110% sure you've done all you could to get it? My take on this is, probably you didn't. You did a lot. But not 110%. And that's where the jealousy comes from. You feel responsible for failure, and the first thing to do is to look for someone to blame.
Sometimes it takes very little to overcome jealousy. It takes the courage to stand up and say out loud to your boss: 'I want that promotion. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get it and I will be successful'. That statement screams 'i want responsibility'. People today want authority.
Responsibility, not so much.
Wherever you find responsibility, you won't find jealousy.

Anita said...

I think the interesting thing about jealousy and envy is admitting to myself it's not so much about someone else, as it is about ME. It's about taking a hard look at myself and my own actions. It's not having a pity party for myself, but rather -- as you so clearly point out -- fighting for what I want.
Great comments...thanks.