Mean Green: The Problem with Career Envy

Mean Green: The Problem with Career Envy

For many women of color, working hard is nothing new. Balancing love, life, and career is natural to you. In fact, you don’t know how to walk away from a challenge without giving it your all. Although this sense of determination can serve us well, it can also drive us toward career envy.    

Recently, I read an interview featuring writer, producer, and The Chi creator, Lena Waithe. She mentioned that the realm of her control behind the scenes of the show is limited. Ultimately, there are always people to answer to, consult with, and include in the process.

I appreciate Lena’s candor. Not only does her transparency help viewers understand more about the show (which I love), but it speaks to one of my top tenets of career development. Skip career envy.

In the past year, we have seen Lena premiere a highly-coveted TV show, grace the cover of Vanity Fair and Out100, and become the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. Brava.

Many people would think of these accolades and swoon over her career. Why not? She’s accomplished and decorated… right?

Therein lies the problem with career envy. Career envy is a lot like social media. It only shows the attractive parts of someone’s career. We don’t see the struggles, risk, and disappointment. Coveting someone else’s career is a slippery slope. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. And before you know it, everyone else’s career feels bigger, better, and brighter than yours.

Yet, if you ask anyone who appears to have a fulfilling career (and is willing to be honest), everything is not as it seems. Yes, Lena is likely living her dream, but she worked hard to get there and must work hard to stay there. I can relate. Throughout my career, I have coveted opportunities, thinking that the next job would be the game-changer. This next job would be what finally positions me for success. Then, after just a few months on the job, I would see that there was more to it than I realized. I finally had the “dream job”, but it wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as I’d hoped.  

Don’t get me wrong, I walk into every situation knowing that there will be pros and cons. Still, it was hard not to look at other people’s careers and wonder what I was doing wrong. But, while I was trying to keep up with someone else (or worse, trying to keep up with my future self), I figured something out – I’ll never learn anything if I’m always trying to get to the next thing. Success doesn’t start with the next job – it starts with where I am in this moment. It starts with whether I am willing to challenge myself right now to move my career forward.

My career trajectory is not supposed to look like anyone else’s and neither is yours. Embrace your own career path. Instead of using your time envying what someone else has, become the person that is deserving of the career you want. After all, Lena’s success didn’t happen overnight. Had she been looking to the left, focused on what the next person had, perhaps we would have never laid eyes on Kevin, Brandon, Emmett, Ronnie, and of course, Papa. We would be missing out on the grit and glory that is The Chi. Much like Lena, you have unique talents to gift this world. Stay focused and become the best version of you.