Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Five Ways to Battle the Little Green Monster

What kind of car do you drive? What does your lawn look like? How much did that suit cost you?

If you're a typical American, at least one of these things brings out your competitive side. Go on, admit it. Your car was chosen because it was something you could show off to your friends. Your lawn could qualify for the PGA, and any weed that dares show up is considered an enemy of the state. And that new suit? Well, you don't like to brag...but it did cost you several months pay.

OK, feel better? Now we all know that you're a top dog, that your status in your circle is assured.

Now, let's talk about work.

Gaining status on the job is often very tough, and it causes a lot of anxiety. Alliances shift -- one day you're in box seats, the next you're sitting in the nosebleed section. One day your star is on the rise, and then -- boom! You've been shoved down the corporate ladder. Or, it seems you never even get a place at the table, no matter how hard you work.

It's no wonder that envy on the job is so destructive. Even if you are the most mild-mannered employee, you may find you are jealous of a co-worker's success and resent the positive events that flow toward someone else.

If you continue down this road, the results are pretty predictable: Your self esteem will drop, you will begin to be less productive and creative, your relationships at work will suffer and your poor self-image may begin to seep into other areas of your life, including personal relationships.

In my previous post about perfectionism, I wrote about the constant "ranking" of our every move that can bring about real problems for those who believe they never measure up. I think this is also true of those who gain their self esteem solely from their job. Bosses like to post rankings of sales, safety records, on-time performance, etc., so the person who already feels jealous of others can have those feelings magnified when they fall behind others -- and are constantly reminded about it.

If you find yourself secretly wishing that a colleague at work might get sideswiped by a bus (not killed....just sort of out of commission for a while), if you find yourself resentful of a co-worker's successes or if feelings of envy are consuming much of your waking hours, then it's time to make some changes.

Why? Because you're much more than your job. No job is worth making you believe that you're "less" than someone else. No job title or paycheck is important enough to crowd out the other good things in your life.

I don't promise this will be easy. It's something you may have to work at every day -- or every hour -- or even every 10 minutes. It's going to be tough because you're going to change the way you look at life, at your job and at your place in this world. But I do promise that it will be worth it. How do I know? Because I've been through status envy myself, and I know how painful and destructive it is. And I also know how good it feels to let it go.

So, let's get started:

1. Make a list of things you enjoy. If it's gardening, riding your bike, playing music, whatever -- the point is to find something that you like doing and then focus your energies on finding other people who feel the same. By joining a gardening club, for example, your self esteem can be boosted when you become a key player in raising money for that group. By experiencing success in something that matters to you, your self esteem will grow in all areas of your life, including at work.

2. Sometimes bigger is not always better. Americans like big. They like big cars and big burgers and big titles. But it's OK if you don't thrive in a big group. It's perfectly fine if you would rather swim in a small pond. Maybe you got a job with a Fortune 100 right out of school, but now find you are consumed with doubts and depression. You might find that working in a smaller organization doesn't give you the big money and prestige, but you'll be a whole lot happier in a smaller group where your status isn't in the sub-zero range.

3. Let go of the shame. I think one of the worst parts of envy is the shame that goes along with it. We know we shouldn't feel the way we do, but that doesn't stop the unkind thoughts about colleagues creeping up on us at 3 a.m. The next time you feel ashamed of the way you feel, stop and say: "OK, I know I'm envious that Joe makes more money than me. That's a concern, but not something I'm going to focus on." Instead, you use it as motivation to make a new client really happy so you can make the boss really happy -- and that could net you a raise. See how you re-frame the situation so that you let go of the shame and instead use it as motivation?

4. Be careful what you wish for. Recently, I was in a very ritzy neighborhood, and the person showing me around would point to a house and say: "The owner killed herself. So did her son." Then, he'd point to another house: "That man died alone. Kids have been fighting over the estate for 10 years." Talk about sad! When your self esteem is being battered, consider what it is you're really after. More money? A different job title? A top project? Then ask yourself: Do you want those things to make you happy, or just to be able to compare yourself to someone else? Will those "things" really make you happy for the long term?

5. This, too, shall pass. After I was on the "Today" show last year, I sat next to a woman on the plane who had just spent a week with a man she had met through an online dating service. I told her about my "Today" show appearance, and how I was hoping that it helped my book sales. The woman, about 60-years-old, was a successful commodities broker. She smiled at me and said: "As you get older, you'll find that stuff doesn't matter. What you want is to find someone to share your life with." She went on to tell me that she'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and was hoping to find a man to share a loving relationship with for the time she had left. In an ironic twist, she discovered the man she had just spent the week with also had been diagnosed with Parkinson's.
This woman has been in my thoughts ever since. I've talked to many older workers since then, and they all have the same attitude: Envy and job status take up too much time and energy that they'd rather spend doing something else.

I try to keep that in mind every time I feel that little green monster try to sit on my shoulder. Next time he shows up, he's going in the shredder.

Do you ever find yourself feeling envious of more successful colleagues? What do you do about it?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as an Overnight Success?

Recently I was having a discussion with some friends about the term "overnight success."

We all agreed it was a load of crap.

I mean, who really has overnight success except people in novels or movies? Most of us labor -- unknown -- in the trenches for years and years before we receive recognition for our wonderfulness from anyone except the family dog.

In the meantime, we fight off jealousy as we see others achieve what we think is instant success, and get depressed when that project we worked so hard on fails. Big time. Down-the-toilet kind of failure.

And it's equally hard to be patient when the Internet makes it seem like everything should happen at light speed. We are constantly exposed on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to other's achievements: "I landed that big account!" to "I got the promotion!" to "I've been named the new Queen of England!" can be hard to swallow with grace each and every time.

We wouldn't be human if we didn't admit that some days are hard. We want to give up. We want to throw in the towel and admit that we're just losers and the success we desire isn't coming our way.

But wait.

I think success is a state of mind. It isn't the big account and the tiara. It's knowing that each day you get up -- and despite the odds -- you continue to slug away. You continue to dream. And at the end of the day, maybe you aren't known to Diane Sawyer or Warren Buffet. Maybe your boss's boss doesn't even know your name.

But you haven't given up. And that, in my book, is success. Because others will give up, they will concede that they're not going to achieve what they desire. And that's where your perseverence will pay off.

Here are some things to get you through the tough times until you become that "overnight success":

* Create a better now. Get more sleep, exercise, eat healthier, spend more time with people who make you laugh and who believe in you.

* Keep your perspective. Did you ever stop to consider that what you have right now is a dream for someone else? I often think about this when my husband and I drive through really ritzy neighborhoods and dream about living in those homes. Then, I see someone drive through OUR neighborhood and realize they think we have the dream home. Think about what you've achieved already in this life, and don't take it for granted.

* Be patient. Think back to when you were in high school, and everything that has happened in your life since that time. Are you the same person as you were then? Of course not. You have changed and grown and only through time and different experiences have you evolved. You will continue to grow and change and learn, and that takes time.

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent with wild success. -- Steve Martin, "Born Standing Up"

What do you think about overnight success?


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