I am writing this article on behalf of some young clients who have come to me for coaching over the years.
The beginnings of life as a career person is no easy task. For a young individual in today’s world who’s armed with college education, plunging into the world of “working adults” can feel more like falling through thin ice on a semi-frozen lake then taking a dive into warm waters.
The day you enter the new job, you are faced with the realities of work life as an executive, and the features that come with it:
- Office politics: you realize that there are individuals who make the rules, and there are individuals that protect the rules, there are henchmen, rivals, sympathizers and other members of a corporate chess-board. Unlike the chess board, you cannot tell who’s playing what role. This understanding comes to your awareness slowly and sometimes painfully.
- Underuse of your abilities: you have spent a small fortune (which you still have to repay) to get yourself educated, and years of preparing yourself for your career, and your work life does not seem to have use for it. You are disillusioned, bored and disappointed with the experience. Deep down you hope, that as you climb the corporate ladder, someone is going to take notice of you abilities and give you a chance to let your expertise be heard.
- Overwork: Although you feel a mental under-load, you are overloaded with work. Reports and budgets to create, minutes of meetings to write, sales calls to do, fire-fighting, correspondences, data-collecting, solving problems, responding to complaints, waiting for others to do their part of the job, managing, and datelines datelines datelines.
There are many more challenges faced when a young person begins work in a company, like conforming to corporate culture, work travel, overcoming personal issues. The above 3 factors seem to be the most prevalent and daunting issues that have come to my office.
Constant unresolved challenges lead to stress and burnout
The consequence of dealing daily with these challenges is work stress. Once we think of the work “stress”, we are no longer talking about needing a coach. What the client really needs is psychotherapy. Stress, after all, is the embodiment of negative emotions.
Stress is about how you, as a human being, somatically interact with the (work) environment in which you have put yourself in.
What most people do in this situation is try to “beef” themselves up. They go for courses on self enhancement, take efforts to socialize in the workplace, work harder and longer, get coaching. This helps to overcome the system that causes the stress, by “taking bulls by the horns”– so to speak.
The feeling of needing to “beef” oneself up is an alarm signal– that despite one’s education and skills, one still feels a lack of self.
My question is, if your body is already stressed, wouldn’t grabbing raging bulls just add to more stress? This is ikely, and this has lead many executives towards a situation of ultimate energy depletion.
This phenomenon energy depletion is called a “burnout”.
You love your career, you need your career. So, what can you really do to reduce stress, so that you can keep working?
The answer to this question is not answerable in a few paragraphs. I can however invite you to see these things in the point of view of a psychotherapist, by asking yourself and answering honestly these questions:
- When I am caught in office politics, how do I feel about myself?
- When my colleagues say I am underperforming, how do I feel about myself?
- The scope of my work is below my intellectual/academic capacity, how do I feel about myself?
- My workload is heavy, can I admit to myself it is time to take a break?
- I am responsible for the sales figures/growth. How much of this is really within my control? How much of it is highly dependent on external factors (e.g. the market, economy, luck)?
- How do I feel about myself when I am not able to accomplish goal which are beyond my control?
- Can I admit that things are not entirely up to my control?
- I am being judged for goals set by the company, that are actually (realistically) beyond my control. Can I come to terms with this discrepancy?
- How can I cope with this discrepancy?
- Some colleagues are waiting for me to fail / to judge me / are competitive / deceptive / exploitative. How do I come to this conclusion? what were the signs? Despite all this, what can I do to preserve my sense of self worth?
Some of the above questions are tough questions. Many executives may have the urge to avoid them, and carry on the mantra “it’s no big deal, I can do it.” That’s fine, if it does not lead to a build-up stress.
When clients come for therapy because of burnout (or getting close to it), the answer to some of these questions are painful emotions : feeling of low self worth, disappointment, anxiety, depression and deep rooted shame, and loneliness.
It is better to see this as an opportunity to recover from a state of never-ending struggle with a stressful work environment. The way one can do this is to re-access one’s relationship with the oneself, and one’s relationship to the job.
Finding resource for relieving work stress:
Think carefully, then of the following questions and statements:
Can you think of yourself as a person while leaving out your educational and career status?
Complete this sentence. “I would rather go to work at this office, than …” (the answer can be “jobless” / “bored”…)
Tell yourself, “I am (my name). I am working as (my position at this company). I am not merely a (my position at this company).
Things that I am responsible for, but cannot control (e.g. sales figures)… who in the company can really control? Can your superior control the sales figures himself? If a colleague had better sales performance, is it because he/she had better control?
If you’re lagging behind your colleagues (or feel that way), what is the real impact of it to your keeping the job? How can you live with not being the best in the company? What is being the “best” really mean?
What available resources do you have to support yourself at your job:What resources can you get at work? (e.g. friends at work, good relationship with customers/partners). What resources do you have outside work? (e.g. friends, family, hobbies, religion, professional guidances, etc.)
I hope this article provides you with insight into the problems of being a human being of corporate life. My ultimate message is: You are not your career. Try try try to see the difference.
By the way, this is the same thing I practice. I tell myself, “I am me, I work as a psychotherapist, I am not a psychotherapist.” This gives me a chance to work without judging myself, being stressed out or stressing my clients out. This gives me a chance to forgive myself if I make mistakes. This helps me to work more professionally.
I wish you a successful work life and a good career.