I HAD OUTSOURCED MY SELF-ESTEEM, VALIDATION, AND SELF-WORTH AS TO WHAT I ACCOMPLISHED, DID PEOPLE APPROVE OF ME, DID I DO A GREAT JOB.MELODY WILDING
Do you know anybody who’s running on the vicious hamster wheel of career dissatisfaction?
It usually looks something like this: you’ve just accepted an offer for a really cool sounding job at an amazing company.
You’re getting paid more, and the work sounds pretty exciting. In short, you’re totally pumped.
You start out, full of hope, dreams, unicorns and puppy dogs that never pee on the carpet. You really want to make a good impression and set yourself up for future success and opportunities, so you work really hard.
It starts with you putting in a couple extra hours — you want to impress the boss, and definitely don’t want to arrive at work after she does (or leave before she does, either). So you make a habit of showing up early.
Or maybe the boss asked if you had the bandwidth to take on one more teeny project on your plate. It really doesn’t seem like it should take more than about 3-4 hours a week, so you figure you can squeeze out those hours somehow, so you say Yes and start the next project.
Or perhaps you were in a big meeting with a person who leads the department, and he called you “kid” or “honey” in front of the team. Or in private. Or in an email. And while the hair on the back of your neck stood up, you stayed silent. Because he’s the boss. Right?
And then, as weeks go by, you start to notice that what you thought was your Dream Come True job is actually starting to feel like your nightmare.
You’re tired. You’re not thrilled to get out of bed in the morning anymore. You’ve stopped setting boundaries. You’re resigned to complaining to all your friends, and mentally decide that this job must be like all the others. Until you start looking at job ads, that is, and start seeing some seductive or tantalizing new job postings. “This sounds kind of like what I’ve done, but with a twist. This could be the jolt of adrenaline that my career needs to feel revved up again…”
And then you’re on the hamster wheel of job dissatisfaction, where all jobs end up being terrible and you give up on hope, dreams, unicorns and house trained puppy dogs.
Sounds pretty terrible, doesn’t it?
Before you head down the toilet bowl of despair, I want to tell you the first thing I know to be true: it doesn’t have to be this way.
But the most important thing that I know to be true is: the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction in career is often as simple as setting better boundaries to protect yourself.
Boundaries in work can be confusing — because sometimes the idea of setting boundaries sounds like something your parents would lecture you about before you’d go out on a date in high school.
“Remember: no means no, Scottie! Don’t do anything you don’t want to do! Make good choices!!!”
But setting boundaries are a fancy word to say: I have rules I use to teach others how to treat me.
When you have “flexible” boundaries (which usually means boundaries that you don’t enforce…so not real boundaries), there are some clear emotional warning signs that will let you know when they’ve been violated.
Have you noticed any of these in your work life?
(1) RESENTMENT: DEFINED AS TO FEEL BITTER OR INDIGNANT BECAUSE YOU FEEL YOU HAVE BEEN FORCED TO ACCEPT SOMEONE OR SOMETHING THAT YOU DO NOT LIKE.
If you’re wondering if you’re experiencing resentment, read this story to see if any parts of it resonate with you:
Amy was pumped to get the chance to try something new and start writing marketing materials for her boss. She was excited about being offered the experience that without stopping to talk about the effect that adding another project to her plate would have on her stress and time management, she raised her hand and said Yes to write weekly blog posts for her company.
Only a few weeks in, she was feeling overwhelmed by how much she was learning, and started feeling exhausted by completing all her prior job tasks as well as expending 10 hours a week to do the new blog posts. Because she didn’t want to let anyone down, she started compromising on her other values to get it done, canceling after-work plans with friends and missing workouts. She hadn’t realized that by agreeing to take on something new (and wanting to show her enthusiasm), she ended up overstepping her boundary on the total number of hours she was willing to work, and soon started to become bitter about the project.
Despite being annoyed that the work was taking so much time, instead of talking to her boss to re-negotiate her workload, she started directing that anger at herself, being frustrated that she didn’t pick up the new skill fast enough and wasn’t good enough at writing strong copy quickly. But she reached a breaking point, and Amy talked to her boss about the issue. Rather than helping her change her projects around to solve it, her boss held her to her original commitment to complete the work, wasn’t flexible, and asked her how she could get more creative to make it all work.
If any of Amy’s story feels familiar to you, you’ve experienced workplace resentment.
Resentment is tricky because it often shows up when you’ve ceded away your personal power by agreeing to (or not agreeing to) something that you wanted. This can often happen when you accidentally traded what you wanted in the short term for what matters most in the long term.
However, that often means that resentment is something that you can partially or fully reverse with setting stronger boundaries with your boss or coworkers upfront.
(2) GUILT: DEFINED AS A FEELING OF WORRY OR UNHAPPINESS CAUSED BY KNOWING OR THINKING THAT YOU HAVE DONE SOMETHING BAD OR WRONG.
Guilt can show up in your work life when you’ve overcommitted yourself, under-delivered on a project, or perceiving that through your contribution (or lack of contribution), you’ve let someone down.
Note that guilt isn’t the same as shame. As Dr. Brene Brown aptly points out in her most recent TED Talk discussing her research on shame:
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior.
Shame is, ‘I am bad.’
Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’”
“Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake.
Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”
“Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders…Guilt is inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we’ve done, or failed to do, up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.”
That idea — holding up your behavior against who you wanted to be in that moment — is exactly where you can see where a boundary was missing or broken or needed to help you be at your best. From seeing how you wish things had played out instead, you can visualize new opportunities to say “no” to the extra task, or negotiate for a longer deadline, or request help.
(3) ANGER: DEFINED AS A STRONG FEELING OF ANNOYANCE, DISPLEASURE, OR HOSTILITY THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO HURT SOMEONE OR BE UNPLEASANT BECAUSE OF SOMETHING UNFAIR OR UNKIND THAT HAS HAPPENED
Anger will often manifest itself in this way: Rebecca was working at a job that would look like anybody else’s dream job fighting to protect minority rights on Capitol Hill. She was in a meeting with her supervisor and most of her colleagues when the tone of the meeting’s conversation started to shift to be a bit more informal. Her supervisor might have thought he was making jokes and breaking the ice, but he attempted to do it by making repeated comments about her appearance in front of the whole team, including referring to her as a “girl” and as “sweetheart.” She was trapped in a public venue with this person who wielded a lot of power, and felt she had no recourse to protect or defend herself from his sexist, inappropriate comments. Despite trying to redirect the conversation unsuccessfully, he continued with his misogynistic comments and she started fuming, shut down her contributions in the meeting, and had a firey rage burning inside of her by the end of the meeting.
If you’re angry, the chances are good that you’re sensing or experiencing an injustice. It could be something like having been looked over for a promotion or new project, or seeing people (including yourself) being treated in a way that’s out of alignment with your values.
Anger can be an incredibly motivational emotion to use as momentum to make a change, so it’s a great place to start with setting a new boundary, whether directly and explicitly with your boss or colleagues, or indirectly through your behavior.
Tell us in the comments: have you noticed any of these “red flag” emotions in your work that are a signal it’s time to draw new or different boundaries in your life? What kind of tools and techniques did you learn from the podcast episode? How do you need to teach people to treat you?
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RELEVANT LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Learn more about Melody at MelodyWilding.com
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