When you feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, unseen, and unfulfilled at work it is hard to believe that you don’t have to throw it all away. You don’t have to quit or escape. In our moments of pain, suffering, and fear it can be hard to see there are other options, much less trust that you have the power to change your professional life. You do have the power stop running and stay in the game.
Kiri’s voice was two octaves higher than usual, his cheeks had red spots, and his hands were balled in fists. He shoved his resume across the brown, shiny conference room table, as he said to me, “I’m done. I can’t take it anymore. I’m quitting. Here’s my resume. What do you think?”
He was angry. We’d reached the tipping point in my client’s frustration and dissatisfaction with his job. And the only solution in Kiri’s mind was to quit and find another job.
I took a deep breath and hoped that Kiri might mirror my breathing and begin to calm down. “Before we begin, let’s go get a cup of coffee in the break room.”
I knew Kiri would not be able to brainstorm nor think rationally when he was amped up on anger fueled adrenaline. I needed Kiri to walk off some of his anger because movement is one of the most effective ways to discharge and neutralize emotions.
When we returned to the conference room, I said, “Before we talk about your resume, let’s first address your anger. Anger is a no. It’s our body’s way of telling us that there has been some type of boundary violation. For example, think about the anger you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. You’re angry because cutting in line is not fair, you were there first. What do you think your anger might be telling you?”
He paused, the red from his cheeks finally fading, his hands now unclenched and resting on the table, and said on a loud sigh, “That I haven’t had clear boundaries with the other members of the leadership team around how much time and support I can give them on their projects. And, I have allowed myself to be pulled into too many different corporate projects, that, while important to the company, have taken me away from my team and our responsibilities.”
“And, how has a lack of clear boundaries impacted you and your relationships?” I asked.
“Well, every time Robert, Karen, or Jin ask me for my opinion on a case or advice on how to approach senior leadership to get their buy-in or to take on another joint project, I feel resentful and completely overwhelmed. I feel like I’m leading the entire division without the title or paycheck. I feel like my contributions are not fully recognized by my manager. I feel underappreciated.”
“I’m curious. What’s at stake if you chose to leave?”
Kiri thought about it for a few moments and then said, “Well, first my relationships with my colleagues. If I go to a competitor, they will be hurt and angry. Due to my non-compete, I will have to completely change industries which means I have to basically start my career all over again.” Kiri paused and added, “I don’t know if I’m willing to have any of those things happen.”
I nodded and asked, “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘wherever you go there you are’?”
“Well, what I would invite you to consider is that if you chose to leave your current job and are struggling with healthy, clear boundaries and communication here, the same situation may also occur in your new position if you don’t change yourself, because there you are.”
Kiri reached across the table and gently pulled his resume back towards him, folded it in half and put it in the spiral notebook he had laid on the table.
“So, what do you choose to do next?” I asked Kiri.
He looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll start with me.”
The challenges you are facing at work will not be solved by changing your work environment. A new job at a new company will be different, but you won’t be different. If Kiri had chosen to leave, he would probably experience the same or a very similar situation at his new job. You must own your “piece of the action.”
Over the next few months, Kiri worked on his communication skills. He identified what healthy boundaries looked and felt like with each of his colleagues. Kiri had multiple, courageous conversations with each member of the leadership team and his manager to realign his contributions to their projects and corporate projects.
Six months after Kiri had thrust his resume across the table at me, he called me on his way home early on a Friday afternoon to prepare for his daughter’s birthday party that weekend. With joy and excitement in his voice, he told me he had just launched the company’s first internship program and his team had just supported the sales team in closing their largest account in the year.
Kiri took ownership and made his job work for him.