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Professional Jealousy

By Mike McGough

November, 2017

The challenge that came to the firm was a big one. It would provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities and their potential in the field of contemporary architecture in a very real and enduring manner. The design team had been reviewing proposals for the project for several months. The proposals submitted by the various architects of the firm ranged from the positively brilliant to the absurdly ridiculous. Some were practical and doable yet lacked the creative genius and visionary ingenuity needed to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities this project afforded the firm. Others lacked even a hint of practicality, but showed an outside the box, enthusiastic creativity. Somewhere in the midst of all this there was an inspired yet workable solution. Finding it was going to be the challenge, for the team that was put together to make the final decision. 

As the youngest, newest, and least experienced member of the team that would make the final decision, she did a lot more listening than talking at the team’s weekly meetings. Because she was the newest member of the team, she felt a need to read, research, analyze, and then reconsider each and every proposal. She was very pleased, both personally and professionally that she was asked to be a member of this team. It demonstrated the firm’s appreciation for and recognition of her development as an architect, and she wanted to make certain that she fulfilled the responsibility they had given her. She was careful and methodical as she worked through each and every proposal, doing some of them several times. Her diligence and effort paid off. After a great deal of work, she realized that no single proposal had it all, but combining the best of a few of them rendered the answer for which the team was so diligently searching. There was an answer and she had it. She was right and she was certain of it. However, she was not certain that being right was worth the price she may have to pay. That thought made her a bit hesitant to move ahead and share what she had found.

During her first year with the firm, in a somewhat similar situation, another young architect assumed a leadership role based on a clear and very correct view of a difficult and complex design problem. When he shared his proposal, his reputation was firmly planted. In no time it began to grow. His status as a promising architect was confirmed and reinforced by his superiors. He was seen as an architect who could contribute significantly to the firm’s long-term success. He became the fair-haired child of the firm, much to the satisfaction of the senior architects, but much to the chagrin of his younger and also aspiring peers.

His relationship with several of his peers suffered. Showoff, arrogant, and obnoxious were but a few of the labels attached to him and his work. Of course there was more than a little teasing. To his face it was offered as good-natured ribbing. Behind his back there was far less good nature in the comments that were made. Clearly, those jabbing at him were jealous, and they were reacting to their feelings. And even though their sentiments and their comments may well have been unjustified, they were nonetheless real. From her observations he was purposeful, talented, and willing to share, and that’s how she saw herself. She wanted to contribute to her team’s deliberations and their progress, and she was ready to do so. At the same time, she was not so sure that she wanted to take the backlash that her peers may offer.

At the next team meeting she shared her thinking because she knew it was the right thing to do. The team was unanimous; it was indeed the solution for which they had been looking. After the meeting the senior design architect on the project thanked her for her input and offered some advice. He told her that professional envy and jealousy are powerful motivations that often prompt unkind and untrue comments in the wake of one’s success. He said, “You’re developing a great standing as an architect. Do your best to guard against letting it go to your head. On the other hand never hold back because of something someone may say. Success is an interesting commodity in life. It is seldom easy and often it has some hidden costs attached to it.”

The senior architect’s kind words of advice were going to permit her to better solve a dilemma that would arise time and again during a brilliant career. She was an architect with vision, genius, and great professional integrity, and now she had some insight into professional jealousy.