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What to do when you feel resentment about your work

resentment

Five or six years ago, I was reading The Tipping Point (one of Malcolm Gladwell’s many bestsellers).

He mentioned this famous study about marriage and relationships where the researcher could prove with astounding accuracy whether a couple would stay together or not … after watching them interact for only seconds.

The bottom line? If contempt and resentment have entered into a relationship, it’s not going to last (even if the couple doesn’t realize it yet).

I promptly broke out into a cold sweat, shut the book, and never finished it.

At the time, I was in a relationship that I was starting to feel trapped by. I was also exhibiting all of the signs of contempt that the book warned about (I remember eye rolling and disdainful comments were two big ones), and honestly … I wasn’t ready to admit the truth yet, so I quite literally had to put the truth down and walk away for a while.

You can’t hide forever, though. Eventually I owned up to what wasn’t working, and we went our separate ways. And in the long run, we were both better off for it.

This experience feels particularly fresh for me because of something I recently helped a client through.

My client, Kara, only started working at her new job (an absolute dream company) 5 months ago. At first, everything was rosy. She was riding a high of inspiration, energy, and connection with the people around her.

But in the past couple months, the honeymoon turned cold, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why.

We did a little digging, and it turns out she’d been nurturing some silent resentment that had started to fester.

I’M NOT YOUR COFFEE GIRL

Kara is an absolute gem. She’s smart, hard-working, compassionate, and incredibly mindful of other people’s feelings.

In fact, she proved her value to her team so quickly that she was promoted to a more senior position in the company after only three months of working there.

The start-up she works for is like a lot of other up-and-coming organizations — there’s a lot to do and not enough time (or people) to do everything that needs doing.

She tries not to get bogged down by overwhelm and her never-quite-finished to-do list, but some days that’s harder than others.

After a stretch of feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and unmotivated, she reached out and shared her fears with me:

“I’m scared that the honeymoon is over and that I won’t ever feel as excited and inspired by this job as I did at the beginning. It’s only been 5 months, but I’m not sure I can get back to that place.”

I asked her to tell me the first thing she would change about her job right now, if she had complete power and authority to make it happen.

She said, “Well … I think I would need to stop getting coffee and water and lunch for my boss.”

Wait. Hold up. Say what?

As it turns out, her boss had been calling her into meetings and asking in front of other people (in a way that was hard to turn down in the moment) if she would mind grabbing them coffees, waters, lunch, etc. They were the kind of requests that look benign, but feel undercutting.

Let me be clear about this — Kara is not an assistant. Those kinds of duties are not part of her job description. She has her own responsibilities and workload that she’s actually being paid to do.

NATURALLY, THE RESENTMENT HAD STARTED TO FESTER

It’s hard to know how to respond when you’re caught off guard by an inappropriate request, so it’s understandable that Kara hadn’t done anything about it. She didn’t want to rock the boat, so she just did what she was asked.

But like anyone in her shoes, she’d started to feel really undervalued.

Not only that, but she was self-conscious about the message this coffee-fetching dynamic was sending to other teammates. She didn’t want to be taken less seriously or undervalued by other people because of how her boss was treating her.

And like any chronic disease, the festering resentment had started to spread. Feeling underappreciated became the ripple effect that impacted everything else — her inspiration, energy, and interest in her job had all started to wane, too. Apathy and disconnection had started to settle in.

It didn’t help when she found out that this had happened before. Apparently, her boss had a series of actual assistants who had all quit because they felt unvalued.

This is the point in the story at which most people would be nodding their heads in solidarity with Kara, saying, “Yeah, your boss sounds awful!” or “No wonder those poor assistants quit. People are so ungrateful.”

BUT I’M NOT GOING TO DO THAT

My response to Kara was, “Does your boss know how this makes you feel?”

And her answer? “No. She doesn’t.”

The hard truth is that those assistants might not have needed to quit their jobs. Maybe if they’d found the courage to tell their boss how they felt, or believed they were allowed to share their feelings, things might have turned out very differently.

Which, of course, is exactly what I told Kara.

 You can’t be resentful of someone or something if you don’t do your part to try to change it.

It’s easy to want to paint people as either heroes or villains — the victim who’s being taken advantage of and the perpetrator who’s doing the harm. But real life is rarely like that.

Because this same boss? She’s also the one who fought hard for Kara to get that promotion after only 3 months of employment. She clearly respects Kara in a lot of ways, or she wouldn’t have cared enough to advocate for her.

So we planned out what Kara would say to her boss, and how she would draw a much-needed boundary around her valuable time and energy. It went something like:

“This is vulnerable for me to share, but I value our relationship a lot so it’s important to be honest. I feel really under-valued and under-utilized when you ask me to get coffee or lunch because it isn’t what I’m here to do. I’d really like to be spending that time on the projects that I’ve been tasked with, so that the whole team can benefit. I’ve been feeling unmotivated and disengaged lately, and I know that feeling more valued would go far in turning that around.”

When I asked Kara how she thought her boss might respond, she said:

“Actually, I think she’ll be really receptive. We’re encouraged to share our feelings here, and I think she’ll be glad that I did.”

IT WOULD HAVE SUCKED IF KARA HAD NEVER SAID ANYTHING

Because more than likely, her resentment would have festered to the point where she was actively miserable. She would have ended up quitting a job that she had been so excited to do … all because she assumed she couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do anything about her situation.

Now, Kara can get back to work. There are so many great things about her job that she hasn’t been able to appreciate for a while, because it’s impossible to feel resentful and grateful at the same time.

So, here’s the bottom line.

You can’t go around blaming people, quitting jobs, feeling disdainful, lashing out, silently seething, brimming with passive-aggression, or assuming what you want isn’t possible … if you haven’t actually set firm boundaries or told anyone what you wanted or how you felt.

It takes guts to be vulnerable enough to ask for what you need, tell people no, and set boundaries. But unless you have the courage to be honest, resentment will always creep in, and it will always wreak havoc.

 Don’t let resentment ruin things that could easily be great.

What about you? We’re all human, so I know you have something festering that you haven’t spoken up about. Share with me, in the comments.

TOO LONG, DIDN’T READ? LISTEN INSTEAD!

If reading long blogs just isn’t your deal, you’re in luck:

We’re now recording our blogs for you!

Here’s Rachel reading this week’s blog:

IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE …

Are you tired of pretending to be someone you’re not?

Why I love jealousy (and you should, too)

Do you actually hate your job? Or are you experiencing burnout? How to tell the difference.

Introducing … The Shit Sandwich

Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

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How to feel more energized at work (& generally in life)

energized

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day, doing some work on my laptop, sipping my after-lunch tea and enjoying the relative quiet, when a rush of people started flooding in all at once.

I looked up to see that my quiet little coffee shop, which had been practically empty just 10 minutes before, now was bustling with noise and had a line out the door.

I checked the time — yep, the 2pm coffee rush.

It got me thinking, what’s with the collective need for a caffeine boost mid-afternoon?

I’m sure there are many explanations for why so many of us hit that 2pm slump (not enough sleep, heavy lunches that make you drowsy, sitting for too long, etc.), but I think the biggest reason is because most people’s work is much more draining than it is energizing.

If you spend most of your workday doing things that slowly siphon off your energy, and you don’t have enough natural ways to replenish it, then of course you’ll feel the need to boost your energy reserves any way you can.

Enter, the 2pm latte.

Without some way to re-energize yourself, you’re running on fumes and can hardly make it to the end of the workday, much less do anything fun or productive in your free hours post-work.

While I love a good coffee as much as the next girl, I don’t want you to feel like you have to rely on caffeine (or any other external energy booster) just to barely get through the day.

What if there were a way for you to naturally replenish your energy throughout the day through your work, instead of in spite of your work?

(This applies even if you’re not currently in a job you love … or far from it!)

FIGURE OUT WHAT ENERGIZES YOU VS. WHAT DRAINS YOU

Here’s an experiment I want you to try.

Over the next few days, keep a running list of everything that energizes you throughout the workday.

If you’re working on a particular project and you find yourself really engaged in the create problem solving part of it, add that to your list.

If you stop by a coworker’s desk to chat and feel better afterward, add it to your list.

If you lead a productive meeting and feel a surge of accomplishment afterward, add it to your list.

If you take a short walk outside to clear your head and replenish your energy, that goes on the list, too.

Anything, no matter how big or small, that gives you even the slightest boost in energy gets compiled on your “Energizing List.”

Then, I want you to create a parallel contrasting list of anything throughout the day that drains you.

Certain projects, people, meetings, tasks, lulls in workload, etc., might feel like they’re draining the very life out of you. You’ll know something is draining if you find yourself hard-core procrastinating on it or if it makes you feel heavy and exhausted. Keep track of those things, too.

LOOK FOR THEMES

By the end those few days, you’ll be hyper-aware of your energy fluctuations, and you’ll have a comprehensive list of things that feel really good (and really miserable).

Now it’s time to look at both of your lists — the “Energizing List” and the “Draining List” — and see what patterns emerge.

Do a lot of your energizing examples come from connection with other people? Or from having creative freedom? Or from leadership, or spaciousness, or solo work?

Do you see a pattern of feeling drained when you’re doing busywork? Or when there’s not enough work to fill the day and you’re bored? Or from being around certain people? Or when you’re making client calls?

Recognizing the broader patterns of what energizes you vs. what drains gives you a kind of “playbook” on understanding yourself better (at work, and really in all areas of life) so you’re clear on what works for you and what doesn’t.

START TO RE-BALANCE THE SCALES

 You’re only human, so you don’t have an endless supply of energy. Choose wisely where you direct it.

Eventually, unless you replenish as much energy as you’re giving out, you’re going to run out (and, soon after, burn out).

That means, you’re a much healthier, happier, more productive, and more engaged worker (and human, for that matter) when you’re spending more of your time doing things that boost your energy and less time on things that drain it.

To start shifting that balance, take a look at your calendar or to-do list (work and personal), and label each upcoming event/task as “energizing” or “draining.”

First, try to eliminate as many of the “draining” activities as possible.

That might mean doing something uncomfortable, like declining meeting requests or delegating some of your work. If there’s absolutely no way to cut something from your draining tasks, find ways to make it less miserable. Take frequent breaks, put in your ear buds and listen to some energizing music, ask to work on it remotely, or mix in things that do energize you.

Then, start finding ways to bring more of the energizing things into your day-to-day routine.

It might help to share your “Energizing List” with your boss so that together you can brainstorm ways for you to spend more of your time on those things. You might also want to start out your day with something that energizes you, whether that means working on your most interesting project first or listening to an inspiring podcast on your way to work. That will help fortify you for whatever comes your way the rest of the day.

What if you’re thinking, “But I’m not energized by anything at my job?”

If you’re truly miserable at your job and you hardly ever feel energized, then it’s time to get really honest with yourself about why you’re still there.

It’s not healthy or sustainable to stay in a job that drains your energy all day, every day … and, if you ask me, life is too short to hate what you do for a living. So if it’s clear that you’re in the absolute wrong job for you, use the “Energizing List” you came up with to direct your job search to something that’s a much better fit.

APPLY THIS TO YOUR WHOLE LIFE

You can try this in your personal life, too.

Pay attention to what brings you energy outside of work (things like plans with friends, yoga class, walking your dog, reading a great book, taking a class, planning an upcoming trip) vs. what drains your energy (possibly grocery shopping, cleaning the house, checking your work email over the weekend, eating junk food).

Try to eliminate or outsource as many draining things as you can, and make a concerted effort to spend your outside-of-work hours doing as many energizing and replenishing things as possible.

So tell me, what are a few things that you know give you an energy boost? What drains you? How can you start to shift the balance? Leave a comment to let me know!

TOO LONG, DIDN’T READ? LISTEN INSTEAD!

If reading long blogs just isn’t your deal, you’re in luck:

We’re now recording our blogs for you!

Here’s Kristen reading this week’s blog:

IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE …

How to get your groove back when you’re in an energy slump

Why you need to stop fighting your life and just go with it

This one shift will transform your low energy & burnout

Something new you HAVE to try: No expectations day

Much Love,

Kristen (+ Rachel)

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