How to Fight Envy in the Workplace

I think I do a decent job at my workI like most of my tasks and most of my colleagues. But I struggle with job envy. A few of my colleagues are remarkable at what they do, and I’d love to have both their abilities and their opportunities. How can I know if I just need to settle down and be content, or if I’m in the wrong job and should be looking for something where I can be brilliant?

First off, I appreciate the authenticity in your question. This is an honest tension I believe most of us struggle with.

While it can be easy to glorify the world-changers at the top of the org chart, most of us are plodding along in our daily work, grateful for the opportunity our job affords us and struggling through the muck of the mundane. This feels more like the daily life I’ve come to know.

Regardless of our status, though, that ancient thief of joy—comparison—is always knocking at our door.

So I hear the longings beneath your question. I hear the discontentment, which flows from a frustrated identity. After all, if our identity is misplaced, our work and our worship tend to be as well.

As my former pastor and friend Scott Sauls often says, “God has not called you to be awesome. Rather, he has called you to be humble, faithful, forgiven, and free.”

We can leave the awesome to Jesus.

Content ‘In All Things’

The apostle Paul offers some helpful insight when it comes to wrestling with contentment. Consider the popular verse: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). This has been overused as a sports-team motto, inspiration for passing that test you didn’t study for, and generally bootstrapping your way to success through life’s various trials.

But that’s not what Paul is getting at.

The book of Philippians is an affectionate letter to a church he loves, and in this final exhortation he writes of God’s provision—both for himself and also for this beloved body of believers:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phil 4:10–12)

The famous next sentence—”I can do all things through him who strengthens me”—is not getting at triumphalism, but contentment. And it’s a word of encouragement for those who struggle with comparison in their current situations, including their vocation.

The “all things” Paul can do is not about winning games or earning promotions, but being brought low and yet abounding in every circumstance. With Christ himself as our portion, we’re free to rest beneath the light burden and easy yoke he offers (Matt. 11:28–30).

So rather than craving the gifts and skills of others, see your workplace as an arena for obedience to the greatest commandments: loving God and loving neighbor (Matt. 22:36–40). This is not a means to pad your ego; it’s an opportunity to reframe how and why you work.

While it’s easy and common to be caught up with workplace envy, the gospel grants a way forward, away from the striving nature of this cultural moment.

Andy Crouch’s Three Callings

In a blog post a few years ago, author and speaker Andy Crouch helped clarify three categories for understanding calling. Before considering a career change, especially since you do enjoy your work and your colleagues, I’d recommend pondering these principles.

First, you share a calling with every human being to bear the image of God. This means we “exercise dominion, caring for, and cultivating the good world and making it very good through our creative attention.” Most work we do falls into this bucket. Because we first encounter God as a worker himself in the opening pages of Genesis, as his creatures we can find guidance and assurance for the goodness and potential of human work, despite the present effects of sin.

The second principle is like it, but reserved for those in the family of God: restore the image of God. This is an act of boldly confronting injustice and brokenness in the world where sin creeps in and infects. It’s keeping the garden, as Adam was commanded in Genesis 2:15, and pushing back against faulty systems, structures, and patterns that infringe on the dignity of humanity.

If you’re trying to find a job where you feel awesome, remember that Jesus has already been awesome for you.

As you think through your career and vocation, especially in light of possible next steps and a career shift, ask yourself if you’re bringing these two aspects to bear in your daily work. If you are, then take heart in the work you’re already doing.

I’d caution against using workplace envy as a means of escapism, as it can rob you of an opportunity to be stretched and grown by the Lord. Instead, dig into where your frustration might be originating. Investigating the roots will produce better results than plucking off branches.

If you’re already living into the two callings above, the third tends to fall into place: make the most of today, while it is called today. This means growing keenly aware of the ways God is present with you in this moment, leading you by still waters and calling you to bear his image as you were intended. 

Indeed, every good endeavor presents an opportunity to live into who you were created to be. If you’re able to trust that the Lord’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) and lean into the callings he asks of his people through his Word, you are inhabiting his will for your life.

And if you’re trying to find a job where you feel awesome, remember that Jesus has already been awesome for you. Your job is simply to be faithful and free.

Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].