Strategies to avoid obsessing over the career success of others
By Brian Kreissl
One of the negative aspects of social media we keep hearing about is the oversharing of information and how the lives of others often seem just so perfect.
Experts repeatedly tell us not to compare our lives with the lives of others and that people tend to share only the most positive aspects of their lives with their social media contacts. While many people appear to be so happy and lead such fulfilling lives on social media, we’re often only hearing half the story, and in reality those people’s lives may not be as perfect as they seem.
We all know this advice is primarily about Facebook. I believe that particular social network has resulted in many people carefully crafting and curating a certain image of themselves online that deliberately tries to make others feel envious.
Images of travel to exotic foreign destinations, large homes, vacation properties, luxury cars, good times and perfect families abound on social media. These types of things make many people feel inadequate when they don’t believe their own lives measure up.
This carries over into the offline world as well, where people seem to be more obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses” than ever before. If someone gets a new granite countertop, everyone else has to follow suit.
Likewise, people end up buying bigger and more expensive vehicles than they need or can afford — just so they can show off. They also tend to “humblebrag” about their wealth and status.
I personally don’t care how much money people earn, nor do I think what kind of countertop they have or what car they drive (if any) determines whether someone is a decent and interesting person. I also believe the people who feel the need to flaunt or brag about their lifestyles often can’t really afford those lifestyles.
LinkedIn rather than Facebook as a source of envy
Having said all that, I’m certainly not entirely immune from envy when it comes to social media. Yet Facebook isn’t the main source of social media envy for me.
Perhaps because I’m an HR practitioner and I am so focused on workplace issues, I find myself becoming much more envious of the success of others when I see how far their careers have progressed when viewing their profiles on LinkedIn. I suspect many other HR professionals have similar thoughts at times.
It can be particularly disconcerting when a former colleague or even a subordinate seems to be on the fastrack to climbing the corporate ladder while you’re still in the same job you’ve held for the last 10 years. Although we’ve been told not to think of career progression or income as the only factors that determine true success in life, for those of us who are ambitious, seeing others sail past us in their careers can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Overcoming ‘LinkedIn envy’
Nevertheless, I think we need to be able to manage “LinkedIn envy” so we don’t let it eat us up inside. There is a reason why envy is one of the seven deadly sins: It can cause tremendous unhappiness in the people who envy and can result in plotting, scheming and even revenge.
On the other hand, some psychologists recognize that envy can also be a positive force when it inspires us to bigger and better things and reminds us of what is possible. The trick is to ensure the envy remains the positive kind. It is also much better to try to be legitimately happy for people and sincerely congratulate them for their successes rather than being envious of them.
I tend to remind myself of the following facts and ideas to avoid succumbing to envy:
- No one ever said life was fair; not everyone who wants or deserves to get ahead will be able to do so.
- A large part of career success is often determined by being in the right place at the right time.
- Job titles are notoriously inconsistent.
- While you may be envious of others, it’s all relative; others may be envious of you.
- Assume people actually deserved their promotions.
- Understand that people learn, move on, grow and develop in their careers.
- Try to learn from successful people and emulate their success.
- There is no set timetable for career success or progression.
- People who experience early career success often experience a career plateau.