How to Not Feel Like a Jealous Failure in Light of Other People’s Achievements

Photo: Getty Images/JGITom Grill
While I try my hardest to not be someone who compares herself to other people, there is one event for which this rule does not apply: the release of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Every year when it's published, I can’t help but read it with a mixture of awe and panic. It's not that I'm straight-up jealous of the honorees; I'm proud of my accomplishments, which I personally feel to be noteworthy. But still, when I find myself reading about some embryo (read: a grown-up human a few years younger than I am) who's obviously kicking considerable ass—recognition-worthy ass, that is—it weighs on me. Because, even if I am doing great, without my photo on some list, do my accomplishments even count?

These feelings, it turns out, are totally valid. “It’s completely normal to engage in some degree of comparison between yourself and other people, whether those people are the subjects of these stories, your coworkers, your siblings, or even your friends,” says New York City-based therapist Daniel Olavarria, LCSW. In fact, he adds that a competitive nature can be a motivating force for many. “This can be especially true when people are led to believe that pursuing a dream or making a difference can wait until later.”

Still, this motivation of sorts can certainly backfire. “Normalizing those types of pessimistic reactions can leave you feeling chronically negative and gloomy,” Olavarria says. “If you find that other people’s success tends to elicit feelings of shame, inadequacy, extreme jealousy, or sadness in yourself, it is important to acknowledge those feelings.”

Panicky, negative feelings about the Forbes 30 Under 30 list generally has nothing to do with the people or the list itself. Rather, they're just a projection of emotions you already harbor, even if just subconsciously.

In the case of the the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, for the most part, those panicky, negative feelings have nothing to do with the people or the list itself. Rather, they're just a projection of emotions—perhaps a lack of general fulfillment—you already harbor, even if just subconsciously. “Understanding those feelings can help you correct course and make different choices about how you spend your time and what goals you pursue,” Olavarria says.

The people who may be most vulnerable to these feelings, he says, are those who look to external forms of validation. “In our society, we become accustomed to ignoring our inner voice and relying on the validation of others to let us know we ‘should’ be happy and what choices we should make in our life to feel fulfilled.” And, hey, if that's not a reality the prevalence of social media totally backs up, I don't know anything about anything.

Luckily, there’s a way out, and all it requires is a shift in mind-set: Rather than regarding lists like this as proof that you aren’t doing enough, try to see them as motivation to do more of what you love. “Instead of focusing on the people in that article, focus your attention inward, and think about what you can be doing now to help yourself feel more content with the status and trajectory of your life,” Olavarria says.

And remember: No one has to be happy with your life except for you. So stop looking to other people for validation. Work on acknowledging your accomplishments instead of diminishing via comparisons to what others have surmounted. And if what you’re doing now doesn't make that happen, make a change that will allow you to be as happy and proud as you deserve.

One surefire way to feel awesome about your accomplishments? Negotiate your salary like a boss. And if compensation isn't flexible, here are five other things you can work out benefits-wise.

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