"Driving over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge", (c) 2012 Roman Bansen-CC BY SA 2.0). Via Wikimedia.

How Being Stuck in Your Career Leads to Bitterness, Anger and Rage, Which Gets You Stuck Even Farther

Forrest Christian Underachievers 1 Comment

Bitterness, anger and rage: Another set of things that get Hidden High Potentials stuck.

Anyone want to guess why working at a job that is too small can make you sick?

It’s not hard to see how this can happen. You have the capacity for doing bigger work, more work, for solving problems that other people aren’t seeing. But no one sees you. You toil getting less and less while other get more and more. Soon it feels like even the little you have is taken from you and given to him who has.

This can drain the strongest of us.

Most people sooner or later become sick from depression and cave to the (absolute untrue) idea that they are to blame for all this, that they are inherently losers.

Or they become bitter and hateful.

You’ve seen it, I’m sure. As an old IT consultant, I saw it all the time. Information security, an undervalued field that requires a great deal of capacity to do well, always had the worst of them but you could find them through the IT organization. They become angry and controlling, telling you how stupid you are.

Because working beneath your capacity will extract its price no matter what you think.

Niklaus Weckmann (Werkstatt): Gefangennahme Christi, Ulm um 1520 , Lindenholz; Fassung durch Caspar Strauß, Augsburg, 1625 (aus Kloster Zwiefalten). Via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve talked in the webinar about why working at a job just one level too small actually increases the pressure by factors of 3 or more. You have to cope with that pressure somehow.

Some of you cave. Some of you explode in rage.

I’ve done both — is there anything worse than a raging depressed person? — so I’m not being judgmental here. I just want you to know that this happens.

A lot.

Sometimes you even get so angry that you hyper-identify with the system that is killing you. You take what is being told to you and apply it ruthlessly to everyone else. You become the enforcer of a system that is destroying you.

Ian McDonald reported that when they reorganized the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) according to work levels, the social services in that company town reported a 30% drop in reports of domestic violence. Some men were coming home feeling so pressed by the bad fit that they were taking it out on their wives. Not to excuse it or to say that everyone who batters a spouse is in a bad job. But it shows what working at the wrong place does to you.

It’s hard to live where no one gets you, where people don’t see who you really are. It is so lonely, so bare, like living in the bleak gray emptiness of Lewis’s endless city of hell. You await some good news but as you age and grow even farther from where everyone else is, the hope of it grows dimmer and dimmer.

You don’t need to learn how to cope with this horrible experience. You need to learn how to find your place in this world. Let’s get as many as we can work that fits.

Image Credit: Driving over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, © 2012 Roman Bansen (CC BY SA 3.0).[Color adjusted] Via Wikimedia Commons.
Niklaus Weckmann (Werkstatt): Gefangennahme Christi, Ulm um 1520 , Lindenholz; Fassung durch Caspar Strauß, Augsburg, 1625 (aus Kloster Zwiefalten). Via Wikimedia Commons.



Michelle Malay Carter { 04.10.09 at 08:15 }

Hey, didn’t your fine friend Michelle just say this? How come when she said it, your response was anger and rage? :)


Forrest Christian { 04.10.09 at 14:11 }

For those of you who aren’t reading Michelle’s Mission Minded Management, I think you’ll want to take a look. The post that she’s talking about is “Young, High Potential Leaders – Use Wait Time to Build Character. It contains much that’s worth hearing.

She’s spot on that I responded in anger, although probably not quite rage. (”Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Sorry just couldn’t resist a superfluous nerdcode reference.)

I guess I prefer what she usually says: fix the system not the person. These people caught in bitterness at the NZ smelter changed immediately upon being released from work that is too small. It’s amazing, but apparently true. I even asked Ian directly a couple of years ago. (I originally thought that the number was much larger: it wasn’t. But 30% is HUGE in domestic violence reports.)

Michelle helps company’s fix bad organization so that people can get a Real Boss and work that challenges them. It won’t solve all your problems — there’s the issue of your work domain or language — but it goes a long way to curing psychological distress.

I suppose that I’m really even more of a downer than Michelle is. In the most recent newsletter I say that the highest potential people will almost always be alone. Jack Fallow, who led the employee-owned GasForce to increase 1500% in value, said something relevant in a comment to an earlier post. You may want to check it out, too.

The solution is to do what you are created to do, and not what you are told. That’s why I make so much of finding out who you are, in this facet. If you “character build” too long in roles too small, you’ll be damaged in some serious ways.

But it’s also what happens to great leaders. When it doesn’t destroy them. But they all seem to have been severely damaged by it.

Michelle’s latest post is “Rewarding OverPerformers with UnderPerformers’ Work – An Employee Engagement Buster”, which you have to love.

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  1. Pingback: What’s more important to job satisfaction: work language or work level? “It depends.” | Requisite Readings

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