Fri 12 May 2023
One of the most constructive things I've found when facing a difficult work situation is to externalise and write things down -- I do quite well with talking things through with folks, and coaching and mentoring is something I get a lot of energy out of. When it's just me and my thoughts, the interlocutor is writing, and I often have to push myself to get that done.
When talking to others in this situation, I'd often frame it in simple "What would it take?" terms. In the case of whether to stick around in a job or stick with a project or idea, this would be "What would it take for you to quit today?", and the vital accompanying question of "What would it take to resolve all this, and to re-commit indefinitely?". In the case of a job, you're either going to quit, or you're not. Spending a lot of time agonising in between does pretty much everyone a disservice, yourself more than anyone. I think it's healthiest to always be going in the direction of one or the other, if you do feel there's work to be done there.
What I hadn't been realising is that this was a kind of abridged version of the spookily-named CIA Model used in formal coaching. Essentially, you're doing a bit of compartmentalising of issues in your own head into "Stuff I can fix", "Stuff I can affect", and "Stuff I just have to put up with". There's a lot to unpack there -- in some cases, there may be bright lines around ethics, capability and sometimes just bad timing that mean you have to self-select out of the situation. You may also decide that something you think you can fix is something you likely shouldn't, or that you need to think about if you should tolerate it long-term.
Conversely, taking a full checkpoint on what matters to you, and what the real situation is will lead you to clarity on next steps. It'd be a shame to not investigate options for how to move stuff from "I tolerate this" to "I'm okay with it", or better.
Most people take a little prodding to get there, and I'm no different. If there's no capture of what the sources of stress are and why they matter, we end up having to rely on the Amygdala, the "animal brain". It is very hard to reason logically when we think we're going to be eaten by a tiger. This is why we invented writing.
So, if you're at a point where you think you're phoning it in, or you're struggling to get the basics done; think about the theory first.
- What about this situation do you directly Control?
- What do you not control, but have some Influence over the outcome?
- What parts are you going to have to Accept and deal with?
If you're able to successfully explore what the situation on the ground is, the slightly more practical parts that I've worked through with others and for myself are usually the more challenging practicalities:
What is the issue I'm dealing with?
- Do I feel underappreciated and having my incentives change would fix it?
- Do I feel like a co-worker is making my life difficult?
- Is my employer doing a kind of business you don't like?
- Am I not seeing enough customer conversions or sales?
- All of these are valid. They all take up mental energy.
What would it take to resolve the issue and have me re-commit to the idea/project/job/etc. indefinitely? What's missing?
- It costs mental energy to tolerate a situation, rather than having it be a fact of life that you're truly reconciled with.
- Moving from tolerance to acceptance takes change; and it's almost never just rationalising the situation away in your head. Real change involves doing something you can't take back for free.
What would it take to give up and change direction completely? What's stopping me?
- This is a challenging rhetorical question, but the actual answer is something you should try to write down. What would need to change in order for you to say "thus far, and no further" and do something more drastic than putitng up with the situation? What's your 'trapdoor'?
- In each of these cases, you should consider making these things known, if you're able to be definite about them. This especially applies to business outcomes, where you might not be the only stakeholder.
This has worked for me in a long career at one employer, and for knowing when I'm able to make changes without compromising on core values, but also to provide an outlet for the Sunday Night Terrors when the Amygdala takes over. The right answer isn't always the most satisfying one, but it's easier once you put (figurative) pen to paper.