What Holds You Back At Work?
Probably These 3 Things
Often we're our own worst enemy
when it comes to finding success and satisfaction at work.
The good news? That means we can turn it around.
There's a reason why I feel qualified to write this article. I've made every one of the mistakes I'll talk about here. More than once. I've had a lot of success in my career. I feel very lucky. But it hasn't always been easy for me and I haven't always been satisfied. I was an over-achiever and a striver for most of my career. I worked much harder than I had to (although you couldn't tell me that at the time) and I didn't always enjoy my work as much as I could have.
Over time, I started to realize that my success and satisfaction had less to do with my company, my boss, my co-workers, my role, my opportunities, or my hard work. It had more to do with just me... and whether I was able and willing to get out of my own way.
- Are you as successful as you want to be at work?
- Are you as successful as you think you deserve to be at work?
- Are you recognized as a person of influence or a key contributor?
- Do you get frustrated when things don't go according to plan?
- Do you sometimes feel like you're fighting an uphill battle against ignorance at work?
- Do other people in the office let you down, and impact your ability to perform?
- Do you find yourself complaining about things at work pretty regularly?
What are the three things that may be holding you back and what can you do differently?
The 3 Things That Hold You Back
If you're like most people, you probably believe you'd be so satisfied at work if it wasn't for... name it. Your boss. Your customers. Your co-workers. Stupid decisions. Lack of direction. And so on. You probably also believe that your success is controlled by others. You work hard and deliver results. If only others would give you the opportunity to do more.
Here's the thing. Your success and satisfaction are influenced just as much by your attitudes and interactions as your work ethic, results, or commitment. Perspective rules the day when it comes to how you're perceived and how you perform at work. You have a lot more control over your experience than you think.
Here's what can hold you back and how to get in front of it.
1. Pre-conceived notions about what "should" happen.
Life at work would be great if things went according to plan. Newsflash: that's not reality. We all know on some level that plans will change, decisions will be reversed, and things will go wrong. And yet, we still fight it on a fundamental level. If people would just stick with the program, things would be so much easier. If leaders would just take the time to understand what's really happening, they'd make better decisions. If this, if that, if this, if that.
Work is messy. Things rarely go according to plan. We're given new deadlines when we can barely manage what's already on our plate. Changes are introduced that just don't make sense. Chaos results when mistakes are made. Too often, we resent these types of challenges because seriously, we already have way too much to do even if things go exactly as we planned.
If we get caught up in reacting to our circumstance - with drama or negativity or frustration or complaints - we immediately lose perspective. We're less valuable. We make any challenge worse by reacting poorly or immaturely. Don't get me wrong. It's completely natural. It just doesn't serve us well in terms of our success or our satisfaction.
What To Do:
Expect that things will go wrong and be productive when that happens. Even better, plan for things to go wrong in advance so you already know what to do when the worst happens. Learn to be flexible and take things in stride. Being able to adapt to whatever comes your way, and perform anyway, is one of the greatest and most valuable skills you can have at work. Hands down. Bonus? Changing how you respond to these circumstances also makes you happier and more well-adjusted at work. Test the theory by paying attention to your reactions next time things don't go how you think they "should." Stuff happens. Deal with it... well. You'll feel better. You'll perform better. Others will notice.
2. Idealistic expectations of others.
How awesome would it be if everyone was as smart and committed as we are? Or if they were personable, respectful, and inspiring. Or accountable and responsible and trustworthy. Or effective communicators and planners. Like us! Ahem.
We'd all rather work with people who fit a certain set of profiles. "Our people" prioritize the same characteristics we do. They behave in ways that line up to our preferences. They're not necessarily exactly like us, but they have complimentary perspectives. When we have to work with people who don't line up to our preferences, we don't like it. It's uncomfortable. It makes our lives harder. They challenge our patience and tolerance. They let us down through their choices. They sometimes drive us insanely crazy. They can become pretty big roadblocks to our success and satisfaction.
We're at our absolute worst when we're struggling with relationships at work. Whether we believe it or not, our conflicts impact how we're perceived and they impact our ability to be productive. It's hard to get along with everyone at work. But struggle and frustration and maneuvering doesn't help. It creates a pattern of dysfunction that isn't easily undone. We're less successful, less satisfied, and more exposed than we realize.
What To Do:
To keep relationships from holding you back at work, you need to appreciate the value that each person brings to an organization. I've said it before; you can almost always find something that another person does well, even if that skill doesn't matter to you specifically. Once you see "value" in another person, it's far easier to tolerate areas of weakness.
Make an effort to stop being idealistic in your expectations of others and they may respond in kind. (Yes, that's right. Someone else wishes you lined up better to their preferences too!) Accept co-workers where they are, meet them half-way when you can, and be respectful when you disagree. The key is make a concerted effort not to have unrealistic expectations of others at work. You aren't the judge of the good, bad, and ugly in others. People won't always be where you want them or need them to be. That doesn't mean you can't work with them, find ways to get things done, and be positive, respectful, and productive in the process. It isn't easy. It's always worth it.
(I've published several articles about how to work well with others, despite challenges. You may want to scan the topics for help with specific relationships by clicking here.)
3. Focus on what's wrong vs. what's right.
It's really easy to get in a habit of seeing and talking about everything that's wrong at work. All the things that aren't going as they "should." All the people who aren't meeting our idealistic (albeit reasonable) expectations. All the rest of it. It's a cycle of negativity. Even if it's cathartic to talk about, it can hold you back over time. Here's why.
Negativity breeds negativity. I'm all for keeping it real, and recognizing what needs to be done better, smarter, or faster. The key is to be productive with that recognition. Our tendency is to be productive for some period of time... and then spin out. Something happens that hits a little too close to home and suddenly it's all bad.
We make mountains out of molehills, where the smallest of infractions seem like a personal attack. We focus on problems that don't really matter. We bitch and moan and gossip and make snarky comments. Sometimes it's hiding under a veil of humor, but in all cases it can escalate.
Our non-verbal communication speaks volumes as well, so we lose points for being too quiet, crossing our arms, rolling our eyes, or otherwise reacting defiantly too. Negativity might be attractive in small bites, but it isn't at all attractive in volume. The worst part is that negativity can consume us before we even realize it and the road back is long. Everything becomes about us and we lose total perspective on the bigger picture.
What To Do:
Recognize what's wrong. And then find a way to make it right. You can't fix everything yourself. Some things aren't even fixable. But if you have the ability to positively impact something that's wrong, do it. And then return your focus to what's right and make it even better. Help other people do the same. This isn't about being Pollyanna with a fake smile on your face and false optimism. It's about being a positive and productive presence at work.
Remember that both the good and bad at work is transitory - it changes over time. By focusing on the good and working to change the bad (or accept it as needed), you gain far more ground. People who focus on the bad are rarely perceived as top performers in any organization (even if they out-perform their peers). People who associate with those people are also typically held back. Don't let negativity get a hold of you and you won't have to worry about it escalating. Once negativity takes hold, it's likely time to move on because you're no longer productive.
We all have different motivations when it comes to work, but I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be successful or satisfied in their job. You don't have to be a rock star at work to be either of those things. You do, however, have to get out of your own way by maintaining a positive and productive perspective.
One of the best ways to find success and satisfaction is to move beyond what "should" be happening at work and accept that things sometimes go wrong. Work is messy. Adapt and keep going. Recognize and accept that other people may not meet your expectations - and that's okay. Just do your best to set aside your preferences and to meet people half-way. And finally, don't focus on everything that's wrong to the exclusion of what's right. There's normally at least as much good vs. bad if you stop to think about it. Don't let negativity take hold. Fix what you can, accept what you can't, and make what's good even better.
When all else fails, remind yourself of how unimportant almost every negative event at work really is in the broader scheme of things. Yesterday I was feeling a little over-burdened with work, even though it's all great work. I spent more time on a project than I anticipated. It shouldn't have taken as long as it did. I had some unrealistic expectations of others. I was all about what was wrong in that moment. And then I looked down at my wrist.
I'm wearing a bracelet in support of a friend who is in a fight against Leukemia. The moment I saw the bright orange band, it was like a lightening strike. If I was fighting for my life, how much would it matter that I spent a little too long on that project? Would it matter that someone else let me down, in a small and annoying way? How lucky would I feel to be working and enjoying the normal nonsense of life?
This year I'm committed to stay out of my own way. My perspective won't hold me back. So for me - not as many should's, fewer expectations, and for sure less wrong and more right. Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted on the results.
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