August 16, 2011

Fishing for a change

I was recently on a musky fishing trip where my buddy and I fished for three and a half days, 12-plus hours a day, and caught two muskies. If you’re not familiar with musky fishing, that was actually a successful trip. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of time between contact with fish, and often you start second-guessing your strategy.

Should you stick with the place where the fish are supposed to be and risk not seeing fish all day? Should you move from the rocks where they’re supposed to be to the weeds or deeper water where the fish may be? Should you ditch the plan to fish and just head back to the cabin (but no one’s ever caught a fish in the cabin)? Times when there is a lack of success are frustrating and confusing.

Somewhat similarly, I recently talked to someone who was very frustrated with a situation at work (not a First Business employee!). This person had taken a new position and wasn’t happy with the level of support from the supervisor (studies show the number one reason people are happy or unhappy with work is their supervisor), and this person’s first reaction was to bail and look for something different (kind of like the thought of heading back to the cabin). I couldn’t help but relate that to my musky fishing experience and the different options we tried. When people are unhappy with a situation, “giving up” often seems like the logical choice. It can be emotionally satisfying because it’s quick and definitive, but it’s only one of three choices. When you’re frustrated with a situation, you can either 1) leave the situation, 2) try to change the situation, or 3) live with the situation.

In the situation of being unhappy at work, in general, I believe that life is too short to go with option three. Think about it: You spend most of your awake time at your job, so you shouldn’t go through life being truly unhappy at work. So, I really encourage people to try to go with the second option and effect positive change. In the unhappy-with-the-supervisor-scenario, as in most relationship scenarios, it’s really in everybody’s best interest to try to work it out. The supervisor has a vested interest in the person succeeding (that’s the crux of a supervisor’s job), so I believe that a plan for improvement will likely be embraced by the supervisor if approached in a constructive, positive manner. Remember, it’s a lot of additional work for the supervisor, and not a sign of supervisory success, if a new employee leaves. You should at least give this a try; there’s nothing to lose. 

If you can’t effect positive change, you can choose the final choice of staying and living with things. In rare circumstances, this may be the right/only solution. But if this is the case, you must move past dissatisfaction and even tolerance and totally accept the situation and make the best of it – no resisting, whining, or complaining! You will then have to seek your fulfillment from hobbies and relationships outside of work.

Obviously these three options can apply to a lot of scenarios at work and in your personal life. My rule of thumb is when you find you’re frustrated with your circumstances, try whatever you can to effect positive change before you give up. And if you ultimately decide to accept the situation as is, be careful not to be resentful about it; rather, move on with a positive attitude. I think this idea was captured well by children’s book illustrator Mary Engelbreit, who said, “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it."


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