Lifestyle

Why career comparison is worse than ever right now – and how to stop the work envy


Are you falling into the career comparison trap? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Before the pandemic hit last March, digital marketing executive Adam Crowther, 25, felt like his career was on a generally upward trajectory.

‘It wasn’t my “forever” job – it was stressful and I didn’t like it at all, but I always thought, at least I’m in London and working towards my career,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.

But fast-forward a year, the beginning of COVID restrictions and a redundancy later, and Adam’s career is taking up a larger proportion of his thoughts than it was before.

‘Before I was treading water – now it feels like I’m actively falling behind both my peers and where I want to be,’ he says.

The isolation and loneliness experienced by many because of the pandemic is making many of us compare ourselves to others, says Faye Cox, a mindset and confidence coach.

‘We’re finding ourselves more disconnected than ever before – this is when those negative thought patterns can take over,’ she says. ‘We start to tune in to our inner critic and compare ourselves to those around us, who we think are better.”

Adam has found this to be true. ‘I feel more isolated, which definitely increases the feeling [of comparison],’ he says. ‘I’m seeing my friends’ positive career experiences. It’s good to hear good news, but because I’m not seeing them often enough, I don’t hear about the negatives.’

On top of the coronavirus restrictions limiting our contact with friends and family, 42% of UK workers like Adam have a revised working arrangement, such as working from home.

Dr Theresa Simpkin is the Head of MBA Programmes at Nottingham University, and is an authority on the imposter phenomenon – commonly misnamed as imposter ‘syndrome’. She defines it as being ‘an ongoing and often career-limiting fear of being found out as not being good enough, a feeling of intellectual fraudulence where people genuinely cannot see a track record of success or achievement’.

It’s easy to judge your low points against other people’s edited highlights (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

For those working from home, and especially starting a new job, Dr Simpkin says that this isolation can amplify feelings of impostorism.

‘You’re not having those serendipitous meetings with other people,’ she points out. ‘You’re not gathering this social data or the social intelligence on what other people are doing, how they fit in, or how they don’t.”

‘And we may not necessarily be having those impromptu meetings with our seniors or those informal points of feedback that provide us with an indication that we’re actually on track.’

These feelings of comparison and inadequacy not only affect those currently working – they can also affect job seekers. As of September 2020, 7 in 10 of those facing redundancy or furlough were suffering from feelings of impostorism.

While unemployment is estimated to fall this year as the economy recovers from the crisis, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that unemployment was at 5.1% from September to December 2020. This is the highest figure for 5 years.

Young people have been hit particularly hard – almost 60% of those unemployed are under 25. And Dr Simpkin’s research found that 48% of Gen Z were suffering from impostorism.

For Christina Souris, a 22-year-old graduate, her days revolve around job applications.

The isolation of lockdown only makes things worse (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Job hunting consumes me,’ she says. ‘It’s all I do. It’s so emotionally knackering. The thought of July rolling around and me still no closer to finding anything makes me feel literally nauseous.’

‘My main concern is that I am not qualified to do anything because I keep getting rejected. I can’t compete at the moment as a graduate, not when there are highly qualified people who have been made redundant and are going for the same jobs as me.’

Both Adam and Christina agree that LinkedIn hasn’t helped their habits of comparing – Christina goes so far as to say ‘I could die happy if I never had to look at LinkedIn again’, while Adam says it makes him feel ‘inadequate’.

‘[The pandemic] is putting into really stark contrast this sense of stacking yourself up against other people’s highlight reel,’ explains Dr Simpkin. ‘People don’t see the types of struggles other people are having, they’re not seeing the effort and energy that’s going in.’

So, aside from avoiding a scroll through other peoples’ career announcements, how do we combat feelings of comparison?

‘Write your professional profile, put it where you can see it every day. This will increase confidence in your knowledge, skills and experience,’ says Cox.

She also urges us to write our successes to date, and ‘remember there is only one you. You are unique and this is true of all of us. Go back to your successes list and pick out those key strengths that make you different.’

Those suffering from the imposter phenomenon, ‘often genuinely don’t recognise their achievements, successes and strengths,’ says Dr Simpkin. ‘But it’s important to really, honestly think about all your strengths and past achievements. This might make your toes curl and give you a flight or fight response in your core, but the only way of getting comfortable with achievement and to break the impostor cycle is to sit with that discomfort and allow it to be diminished over time.’

A mentor can help us look objectively at our capabilities and achievements.

‘This is particularly important during the pandemic as we may not be getting alternative, objective views of our capacities from others,’ she adds.

In a time when we are more isolated than ever, we are only getting some of the picture through fleeting conversations and scrolling through social media.

It’s important to remember that if you’re suffering from career comparison, envy or impostorism, you’re really not the only one.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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