Do you ever walk to your car after an especially brutal day of work thinking, “That’s it. I’m done”? As you commute home, do you think through all your possible options open to you if you were to leave your dysfunctional workplace? I’ve had days like that. In today’s stress-filled economy, this is a recurring theme for many people I speak with.
Stressful environments are never the best incubators for quality life decisions. In fact, it is proven that a human’s decision-making ability is vastly impaired in highly stressful situations. Negative emotions like fear or anger can impair cognitive ability, reducing one to a career version of a drunk driver wrecking everything in their path. These emotions cloud judgment and our view of the world around us.
The key to success in times of high stress is to remove all emotion, especially the negative emotions of fear and anger, and reason through the situation analytically. Seeing the situation clearly helps us make rational decisions. Rorke Denver, a famed Navy SEAL says that “Calm is contagious,” and this is what we need during stressful situations in our career.
The quickest way to achieve “calm” in these types of situations is to remove ourselves from the equation. Pretend you are a coach or mentor giving advice to someone in your exact situation. When you are not the protagonist in the story but rather an observing outsider, you will see things that many times are hidden to us in the moment.
To do this we have to flex our emotional intelligence (EQ) skills. It has been said in this new economy that EQ is a much greater predictor of success than IQ because so many of the situations we have to navigate will require high emotional intelligence. Many times, the problems we face in our current jobs are not a lack of opportunity but rather our own negativity, disengagement, relational conflict, or lack of motivation.
It is important to know what is motivating your desire to leave your job. Never run from something, always run to something. When we run from something it is a sign that fear or anger is our motivating factor. However, when we run to something it is a sign that greater opportunity in alignment with our skills and abilities is actually pulling us toward a better life. This is a time when we are operating from a position of power. Our desire should be to have greater opportunity, not to escape.
So how do we grow our EQ, let go of our negative emotions, and overcome obstacles in our jobs to find greater opportunity where we currently work? There are five keys to success.
- Focus on the positive.
I have spoken with many people who discounted all the positive benefits of a great job and, upon leaving, remember fondly all the good things that they would miss. Write up a list of all the things that you like about your job: the company, people you work with, benefits, learning opportunities, and growth you have experienced. You will probably be amazed at how many positives you may be currently overlooking.
- Get plugged in.
Many people who are struggling with a job begin to disengage slowly without knowing it. They mentally put distance between themselves and their problems at work and they unknowingly start to slack. This disengagement slowly starts to impact your attitude, your work performance, and your work quality. If you have been in a season of struggle with a boss, coworker, or aspect of your job I encourage you to immediately double down on all your efforts! This attention and energy will cause you to improve in all aspects of your job. You will be amazed how this impacts your opportunity.
- Confront your people-problems.
It may be that your greatest career opportunity is right in front of you, but your vision and desire are clouded by a bad relationship with a coworker or boss. Instead of tossing in the towel and running to greener pastures, it is always best to try to deal with the problem head on. The reality is that you will probably be faced with similar situations in your next career, and you will need to know how to solve them. If you run from conflict early and often in your career, you will not grow the muscle needed to deal with these types of situations later in your career when people will expect you to have this skill.
In my career, I witnessed a talented executive who had risen through the ranks of his career but had a horrible history of abusing people along the way. He was exceptional in certain categories but had a low EQ. He was unable to see the world through others’ eyes and incapable of getting along with others who upset him. He ran from every people-problem he faced and therefore never learned how to deal with these issues. It finally led to his downfall late in his career when he was a senior leader.
I’ve used this story many times to highlight why running from something is never in our best interests. It is easy in our early careers to hit the eject button when we encounter work conflict. Instead, when faced with these difficult people problems, flip the narrative and see this as a great opportunity to learn how to respond and solve the problem. Not only will this help clear your vision to see opportunity in your current career, this type of conflict resolution will be a skill that any employer will notice and value.
- Set personal goals and take action.
The act of goal-setting helps us to take a long-term view of our job and coworkers. It forces us to solve problems instead of thinking, “Who cares, I’ll be gone soon.” Anytime we take a long-term view of our life, whether in personal health, finances, marriage, faith, or career, we always make better decisions!
- Talk with the leadership of the company.
This may be your direct supervisor or your boss. I recommend doing this after you have proactively followed the first three steps I listed for a month or two. You will have created positive momentum, healthy relationships with supervisors and coworkers, and improved job performance. Your actions and attitude will have been noticed by many. This is the perfect time, when you are operating at your peak performance, to sit down with your boss to talk about career opportunities and advancement in the company. Ask to take on a new project. Ask to be part of a team tackling an important issue for the company. Let your boss know you are willing to do extra work to advance. Your boss will love your initiative, and you will be amazed at the doors of opportunity that will open for you!
The world is changing. Companies are under pressure to improve margins in this globally competitive world. Show yourself to be faithful, willing and ready to tackle tough projects with a great attitude, and able to work with others, and you will quickly rise to the top of any organization. You may just see the greatest career opportunity has been right in front of you all along.
Originally published in Relevant Magazine, January 2017.