I’ve met a lot of great people during my journey as a coach. The lion’s share of these individuals possessed great ability and solid credentials. Above all — I feel they possessed a sincere passion for their work. But, there was only one glaring problem. Most of them held a really bad job. These roles may not have been bad for another individual. However, the match was undoubtedly the wrong one for them.
This is usually the point where we would cross paths — a moment in their career when they were intensely unhappy at work.
Sometimes this presented as an entire department or team. Either the group was grossly under-performing, secretly plotting their exit, or half of them had already walked out the door. The jobs these individuals held had often led to feelings of anger, bewilderment, disappointment, stress — and in some cases, despair.
No matter how far they had traveled in life, what institution they had attended, industry or personality — the stories are strikingly similar.
Work just wasn’t what it should be, or could be.
It is highly unfortunate. As a coach— this is the normal state of affairs. I rarely interview happy potential clients. I want that to stop. Now.
Of course, the state of today’s organizations plays a role in this dynamic. Certain elements of work life have evolved over time — and the social contract that once allowed us to count on longer-term employment, has been replaced by a quite a different scenario. The economy has made for some unusual job-person mismatches.
However, we are right in the thick of it all. We contribute to the malaise, because we succumb and feel immobilized.
Back in the 90’s there was a long-running television sitcom called Murphy Brown. The name sake of the show, Ms. Brown (played brilliantly by Candace Bergen) was a high-flying, highly opinionated, hot-tempered news reporter — whose over-riding style was to “kick butt and take names”. She was beautiful, witty and well-spoken. However, Ms. Brown also had a penchant for burning through assistants (during the course of the series she had 93 of them). She was, by most standards, a really lousy boss. For most of us, this situation would have been impossible to navigate. She was completely impossible to work for, and this element was a running (and highly entertaining) sub-plot of the show.
However, the really peculiar thing about all of this, was that even though her reputation preceded her — another assistant always appeared outside of her office on Monday morning. (On some level that bothered me. In the real world, I’d like to think that we would have known better.)
Inevitably, we don’t always see the signs of a poor fit. When we do see things for what they are — we’re just not sure how to act. Then work life can develop into what someone aptly described to me, as a “soul sucking” experience.
Each time I connect with a new client, I marvel at how great people have such negative experiences in the workplace. I’ve not only come to the conclusion that there are a lot mismatches out there. I have also come to realize that we play a role in this dynamic. We don’t craft the rules, but we insist on playing by the rules. I fear this can be quite dangerous.
In many cases, even though we are suffering, we feel the need to seek permission to move on. That’s the role I often seem to play. I offer permission to be happy at work. But, we can offer that to ourselves.
As they say, “You’ve had the power all along”.
It can be difficult to explain how these work life scenarios have evolved. We know that recruitment and selection aren’t perfect processes — this is a given. In many cases, we have a clue that things are not right. We may have been hopeful that we could master the situation, or that things would miraculously resolve. But in many cases, this doesn’t happen. As a result, we remain stuck and unhappy.
Many of us do not think it is even possible to claim a better work life. I’d like to think we can change that dynamic.
So let’s at least try.
Have you ever been stuck? What caused you to finally act?