Let’s face it, we’re entering a recession. Getting your career off the ground and feeling good about it has never been easy, but in the midst of an unprecedented global economic downturn, the cards might feel stacked against you more than ever.
Coupled with the American predisposition to enmesh career with identity and self worth, we’re in for bleaker times, both professionally and mental health-wise. Job opportunities are dwindling. Mass layoffs have already begun. And yet, your friend/former co-worker/cousin seems to still be… thriving on Instagram? What?
Regardless of market upheaval, that feeling of professional jealousy is unfortunately an ever-present issue. Social media doesn’t help the issue either. You can end up comparing yourself to peers, colleagues, and people you’ll never meet based on no information.
But before diving headfirst into a pit of toxic energy, stop and remember that despite what individualistic ideas of “workism” imply, you alone are not 100 percent responsible for what happens to your career.
Take a step back, and stop yourself from conflating professional achievement with self-worth. You are not your work. Your work is not you. You aren’t how much you make, the title you may or may not have, whether or not you can afford next month’s rent. You are just you.
Sara Kuburic, the Canadian psychotherapist and academic researcher behind the popular Instagram account, @millennial.therapist, says the crux of many people’s issues stem from the fact they’re unsure of how to define themselves, or what their values are.
Kuburic’s client base is primarily twentysomethings struggling with life transitions. Her account promotes healing and tips for self-awareness in bite-sized pieces, informed by her background in trauma-informed therapy. “The whole comparison culture stems from us not being fulfilled, or from us now knowing how to be fulfilled,” says Kuburic.
We know serious self-work and progress is nonlinear, but it’s still hard to do, and even harder to accept right away.
“Professional jealousy only stops when we feel fulfilled in our own lives,” she says. That stop only comes when someone understands their core beliefs, or knows what makes their life fulfilling — which differs from person to person.
So to help get to the core of your jealousy and make the story back about you, Kuburic gave us five tips.
Let’s begin your journey to coping with feelings of inadequacy in this tumultuous economic period in world history.
Kuburic encourages reframing what’s happened to you in order to validate your own sense of worth and value. Instead of feeling like a failure or thinking “I don’t have a job, I’m not going to be able to get another, I’m a loser,” she says instead to tell yourself something like, “No, the coronavirus happened, and it really derailed my professional path. It shifted my career.”
Through this, people can not only validate their feelings, but realize that many circumstances, professionally speaking, are not their fault.
“It comes down to recognizing your own sense of worth,” Kuburic states. “I might not be where I want to be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have inherent worth.”
According to her, the fact that others have value should not take away from your own value. “It’s not, ‘If they’re successful, I’m somehow less,” Kuburic says. “To realize you have inherent value and you’re learning, regardless of how well you do, can help you get over that hurdle.”
In Kuburic’s practice, many clients often list their values, attaching them to their core beliefs about what makes a good life. “It boils down to things that matter the most to you,” Kuburic says. “Is it being authentic? Is it having flexibility at work? Is it helping people? It’s essentially what drives you.”
For someone struggling with comparing themselves to other people earning more money, she offers this line of thought process: “I understand that Billy’s making twice as much money as I am, but I chose this job because it allows me to live out my values.”
For you, the highest value may not be the money you have in the bank, but for Billy it may be. In either case, both you and your hypothetical friend are both living out your values. You shouldn’t try to mimic someone else’s values, because they may not align to your own, she says.
A therapist’s term, negative self-talk refers to self-deprecating inner dialogue, which stems from the inner critic, according to Kuburic. When left unchecked, negative self-talk taints our perception of who we are, our sense of self-worth, and our sense of success.
“If you can’t control that inner dialogue of ‘You’re not good enough,’ then professional jealousy will always be a problem,” she says. To close the gap between you and your inner critic, she suggests acknowledging and taking note of things you’ve already accomplished.
Kuburic also encourages her clients to identify their emotions in their commentary, to step back from saying “I’m not going to get that role” to “I’m feeling nervous I may not land this job.” Even rephrasing small statements are crucial to coping with feelings of career-related jealousy and inadequacy.
“You’re not letting the emotion define the experience,” she says.
Before you even start to compare yourself, Kuburic says that first and foremost, you should know what success means. To guide clients on their journeys in identifying that for themselves, Kuburic often asks clients to imagine who their future self will be, 5 or 10 years down the road, both career-wise and in other aspects of their lives.
She also recommends reading books, talking to peers you can be vulnerable with, or asking others you admire how they define their own success. “Visualizing ourselves and stepping outside our personal vacuum can guide us and be super helpful,” Kuburic says. From there, once a clearer future “successful” self is defined, it can be easier to work toward it.
“Whatever the tangible angle is, you can explore that,” she says. “That can be one way to kickstart what success is to you.” She once again returns to the importance of defining for yourself what your values are.
“You’re only going to feel successful if you’re living out your values,” Kuburic says. “If you’re not, no matter how much praise you get, you may not actually feel fulfilled.”
We all have people in our lives we talk to, but they may not always be the best for our mental health. In order to truly get at the root of professional jealousy, it may be important to reexamine who you surround yourself with and how they make you feel.
If you’re unsure if you have a healthy support system, Kuburic says, chances are you don’t have one, but that shouldn’t be cause for alarm.
“Define for yourself what a support system should look like. It will look very different depending on your personality and your needs,” she recommends. “We think a support system is a passive, accidental thing that happens to us. Sometimes it’s not. We have to reach out and build that for ourselves.”
Do the people you turn to for support give you permission to be yourself? Do you feel like they have your best interests in mind? “The way that relationship makes us feel is a big indication of what it is,” Kuburic says.
Starting a new support system may not even require meeting new people, but instead redefining who your support system consists of, and in what particular capacity. “People don’t have to be intimately close to you to be your support system,” she says. “It could be your mom, your boss. It could be a professional mentor.”
According to Kuburic, these five tips are just the start of a longer journey to clarifying for yourself what contentment and success mean. Are you willing to tick boxes or climb the corporate ladder? Or would this affect your capacity to cultivate a life of creativity or flexibility? That balance is something each person must decide and discover for themself.
There’s no quick fix to deeply rooted, societally driven feelings of professional inadequacy and insecurity, but there are solid, therapist-approved ways of figuring it out.
For anyone with the means, low-cost online options for therapy like BetterHelp and Talkspace can help you find a mental health provider to explore this one-on-one in the age of physical distancing.
Speaking specifically to millennials like herself, who she also says is a generation exposed to more opportunities for comparison online than ever before, Kuburic also stresses humility and exploration, and to ask yourself, “What is my life really about?”
Her final words on humility: “Furthermore, why should you know everything in your 20’s and 30’s? And if that was the case, what a boring life to live.”
Patricia Kelly Yeo is a freelance writer and journalist covering health, food, and culture. She is based in Los Angeles. Find her being mostly professional on Twitter.