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.
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Rachel (+ Kristen)
What if the resentment is slightly with yourself for getting into a specific job? I needed a new job as fast as possible and couldn’t find one in a field I liked because of lack of experience and it’s becoming just as bad as my previous one.
The past few months have been particularly bad. No matter what I say to people I used to trust, it gets turned around and I don’t feel like I have anyone on my side anymore.
I don’t have the luxury of quitting without a backup plan and speaking up is getting me nowhere but more agitated and stressed out.
Resentment with yourself is never helpful, in my experience. Maya Angelou, pretty much the queen of wisdom, would say this: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” In your case, it seems like you might want to change your attitude towards yourself and your career.
Unfortunately, the Maya Angelou quote doesn’t go as far as it should in telling us HOW to change that attitude. How to change that attitude is what I’d like to cover: I’ve found that saying or thinking certain statements to yourself that are realistic, yet positive, can help. In your situation, perhaps you could say “I’m proud of myself for not settling for less than what I want. That shows courage. I’m going to continue to be courageous as I search for better jobs, and proud of my determination to do so.”
That would be my tip for you. 🙂
Thanks for your wisdom, Michael! And of course, I agree. It’s important to re-frame our decisions in a way that’s more compassionate, so that we can heal and move on.
I appreciate the advice, however, I suffer from depression. Currently, I cannot think positive because I am overwhelmed with stress and anxiety from my job. My entire department has gone through an overhaul and it’s not working for me. But whenver I bring something up, it gets brushed aside.
No one is listening to me and I feel unproductive and stressed. Changing my attitude won’t change any of that.
I think the situation you find yourself in is an understandable one — if we need a job ASAP, then often we end up in something that’s less than stellar, because we took the first thing that came along.
But as long as you’re beating yourself up about that, it’s going to be hard to move on and make your circumstances better. All of the energy that you could be using to find something better suited to you is currently being eaten up by self-judgment.
So, I think you need to forgive yourself for the decision you made. It doesn’t mean you have to admit it was a good decision; just that you did the best you could with what you had, at the time. You were trying to take care of yourself, and there’s nothing to judge about that!
And it’s also important to see the silver lining here, which is that even though you don’t like your job, you now have the ability to search for something else without the pressure of needing another job ASAP. Without that underlying desperation, you don’t have to end up in the same situation all over again.
And of course, if this is something you’d rather not do alone, this is a perfect thing to focus on in 1-on-1 coaching. Email us ([email protected]) if you want to talk. 🙂
As I wrote above in my reply to Michael, I suffer from depression. It’s pretty bad right now. I’m at the point where I can’t imagine being at this job another week, let alone another year. I need to get out of there sooner rather than later but I can’t find jobs to apply to or when I do, I never hear anything back because I’m unqualified for the jobs I want. Which is exactly what led me to this situation.
I can never break out of this cycle and it’s extremely frustrating.
Gillian — As some who has suffered through depression in the past, your frustrations are totally understandable. There’s nothing worse than deeply wanting to change your circumstance, but feeling powerless to do so. And of course, on a day-to-day level it’s challenging to just get through the basics, never mind how overwhelming it feels to overhaul your entire life and break a cycle that feels unbreakable.
But here’s what I’ve learned over the years, from many sources (therapy, coaching, and countless other places) — That even in the deepest, darkest places of your life, you ALWAYS have a choice about how you respond and how you perceive your circumstances. Always.
Right now, your depression is leading you to believe that you’re powerless. That life keeps happening to you, despite what you want, and it naturally makes you feel like you have zero control. But just because you feel powerless doesn’t mean that you ARE powerless.
But as long as you believe something to be true — it will persist. As long as you believe that you physically are incapable of thinking differently about your circumstance, you won’t be able to think differently about it. As long as you believe that positivity is out of your grasp, it will be.
I don’t think anyone is inherently depressed, permanently. Or inherently broken, or anything like that. I think that there are particular people — you and me included — who are extra sensitive (as in, you’re extra tuned in to the energy of the people and places around you, and you’re more “awake” than the average human), and who are more apt to be saddened, grieved, and frustrated by the fluctuations of life. It would be easier to be completely tuned out; to not be so affected by life, but that’s not our lot! And in the end, sensitivity can be a huge gift. It’s where our intuition and power comes from.
But I suspect that you haven’t yet been able to see your sensitivity as a gift yet. That you have only identified with the negative sides of it, and think that this is just “how it is,” and that it’s nearly impossible for it to change. And until you believe that you have the power; that nothing, not even depression, can turn you into a victim, then you can’t break this cycle that you’re so tired of.
To that end, I want to share a video with you that completely blew my mind. I think this will give you some much-needed additional perspective, and hopefully help you to start feeling a bit more empowered, and less at the effect of life. Watch it through until the end — there’s SO much wisdom here.
All the best,
Thank you for this. I appreciate it. This week has been especially rough and I apologize if I let loose on the comments section.
Your blog posts are always really great and I’m striving to be better with all the advice here.
Hey Gillian — No worries at all! This is a safe space for unloading. All of us go through rough weeks, and rough patches of life. I know I’m full of suggestions lately, but I’m currently listening to a bestselling book you may have heard of called “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” by Mark Mason. It’s so good that it actually surprised by how good it is! It’s definitely got a counterintuitive, no-holds-barred approach, but I think you might appreciate it as someone who values personal development. 🙂 Things will always get better, and you’re doing a better job than you think you are! Keep on keepin’ on.
Interesting. My resentment is centered around the fact that even though my manager agreed that my work was stellar last year, and I went above and beyond, I received the standard raise that everyone else received. I am disappointed in him and the company, and with myself. I was sure that they would recognize my work with a larger raise or even a promotion. But there was nothing. I wanted to discuss this but I felt so…dejected, undervalued, all of those adjectives that I just let it go. I want to discuss it but I feel the time has passed. Has it? I’m at a loss right now and honestly am considering leaving.
Hey Alisa — Your resentment makes perfect sense! I think anyone in your shoes would feel the same.
That said, what do you have to lose by bringing this up, even if you’re afraid the time has passed? The worst case scenario is that nothing changes. In which case, you were already thinking about leaving, so that would likely just affirm your decision to move on.
And of course, the best case scenario is that you’re heard and validated, and you get the acknowledgement and financial compensation you’re looking for!
With so little to lose, I say go for it! Things can really only get better from here. 🙂
Do we get to find out what Kara’s boss’s response was? I am curious to know how she reacted.
She promised to let me know what happens after she has the conversation, so maybe I’ll update this blog once I hear back from her! 🙂 I’m curious, too!
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