Turn Professional Envy Into A Productive Approach To Career Growth


We’re all guilty of letting that nasty feeling of envy distract us from staying in our lane. In your personal life, it’s the comparison trap of Instagram users or mommy bloggers who post covetable snaps of their dreamy afternoons with kids in tow at the farmers market or on a weekend getaway, wine tasting with their besties.

But what about the envy trap in our work lives? Do you find yourself stalking LinkedIn profiles wondering how that kid from grad school who couldn’t string together two sentences is the chief technology officer of a hip athleisure startup? Are you measuring your own accomplishments against your colleagues when annual reviews approach?

Envy is normal. We’re human, after all. And maybe you’ve auto-corrected when you feel professional envy start to creep in because we have been taught to view negative emotions as unproductive and a contributing factor to “getting in your own way.” But, if the Disney Pixar animated movie Inside Out taught us anything, it’s that all our emotions are valuable to our well-being.

Transform Your Approach To Envy

As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how distracting comparison can be. It knocks us off course and slows down momentum. So, when I heard a tip for using envy as a tool for productivity, it was a game-changer!

If you’re familiar with Being Boss (the book and the podcast), you know that Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon consistently serve up actionable tips for bringing your best self into your work. In episode 190 of the podcast, the bosses have a conversation with Amber Rae, author of Choose Wonder Over Worry. They discuss “seeking external approval versus internal awareness” and “habits and routines to consistently practice choosing wonder over worry.”

Amber talks about creating an “envy map” as a method for her to reframe this feeling into a tool for productivity. Based on her suggestions and my own approach to the process, here’s how you can leverage your own envy map:

Make a list of all the personalities, celebrities, colleagues, supervisors and LinkedIn profiles that turn you green when you get stuck focusing on their success over your own. This list can include folks you know personally or the personalities you follow on Twitter.

Then, for each person on your list, jot down the traits, characteristics, successes and wins that you are drawn to. It’s unlikely that one person encompasses all the traits you’d like to reflect. Instead, you may notice that your former supervisor is a fantastic communicator, your colleague is always prepared in meetings with insightful feedback and the bestselling author who you follow on Twitter exudes bravery and takes risks.

When you dig deep, you’ll begin to see a web of connected traits that starts to form the ideal vision of your professional self. Sit for a moment and embody those traits with “I am” phrases. “I am brave. I am a great communicator. I am prepared.” Now, doesn’t that feel good?

From my perspective, a secondary benefit of this game-changing tool is that you’ll begin to personify your heroes. You’ll see that they didn’t get to the present moment without pitfalls or failures. If you invited them over for dinner to swap stories, they’d have plenty to offer about how to overcome the career roadblocks we all face. Once you realize this truth, your envy will likely soften into curiosity. Take that newfound wonder and allow yourself to get curious about how you’ll adopt some of these enviable skills and start to become the elevated version of the person you were born to be.

Apply Envy Mapping To Your Marketing 

As a marketing and brand manager, I utilize envy mapping as a valuable step in the brand coaching process. I recently led our organization through a major rebranding effort, updating the design and messaging of a 20-year-old company that lacked a cohesive brand identity.

As part of the creative process, I walked the executive team through this envy mapping exercise. I asked key players to think about brands they admire — not only our competitors in human services but brands from all industries. We came up with examples in retail, hospitality, health care and food service.

Then, we examined how those brands get it right. Is it their stellar reputations for customer service or product innovation? Is it the classic typeface and color scheme of their brand assets? From there, we identified the characteristics that mirrored our company’s values and began to incorporate those aspects into our new brand strategy.

Envy mapping is an engaging process that reveals patterns unique to you or your team. Whether you’re a freelance marketer or part of a creative team, take the time to reflect on the people you follow and brands you’re loyal to. The key is to stay focused on the traits you admire, without trying to be the other guy. Allow that hint of envy to drive you forward, but remember to stay in your own lane.

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