Face it, we don’t always make the right career choices, job picks and relationship connections. If we did, we would be perfect, and that isn’t possible. We do the best we can with the information we have at the time. The key is to recognize when the choice we made might not may have been the right one and then decide what to do about it.
If you dwell on wrong choices too often, you will never get ahead because you will be mired in “woulda coulda shoulda.” Regret can be a negative emotion that begets negative behaviors.
I am not saying “don’t look back,” what I am saying is “don’t live there.” Look back to understand the signs that you may have missed. You don’t want to make the same mistake twice.
Break down a bad job selection. Were you so excited about the opportunity that you didn’t do your homework or listen to that little voice inside that said, “hmmm, how come the turnover rate is so high?” How many interviews did you complete? Did you talk to prospective superiors, peers and subordinates? Did you ask a lot of questions about the team, the responsibilities, and the culture? Did you tap your network for information? When you are in a bad situation, it is easy to get excited about a new opportunity and talk yourself into ignoring the warning signs. When you’re trying to get out of a less than perfect situation or when you are out of work, job searches require special vetting. Ask a buddy to help you evaluate the pluses and minuses.
What happens when you get the job and … well, it sucks? Once hired, you need to try and make the most of the situation. Even difficult spots have silver linings: a new friend or mentor or a new skill. Look for those opportunities while you evaluate how to behave and then work on an exit strategy. One of my worst jobs provided an opportunity to improve my pubic-speaking skills, and I am still grateful for that experience.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t still struggling ― and when stressed, I forget to say thank you, I make mistakes, and I eat unhealthy foods. So, when I am grumpy and overweight, I know I must reevaluate and do one of two things: change the situation or change my reaction to the situation. Sometimes walking away is the right choice. Generally speaking, though, it’s about figuring out how to cope.
When stress is related to a work relationship, start by evaluating how you are reacting to the situation. Is it possible that you are making things worse? Ask a trusted colleague to give you some honest feedback. Look at the magnitude of the problem. Is the relationship friction with your boss, a client or a co-worker? Are you just starting out or are you a senior manager with the inherent responsibility to correct the situation? Is this someone you deal with daily, weekly or monthly?
I am not normally an advocate of passive-aggressive behavior, but with a super-difficult relationship, sometimes vaguely agreeing on non-critical issues can be a defense mechanism that allows you to keep going. There are many times when I have had to change the way I communicate with key colleagues, even if it means extra work for me. For example, emailing and talking and texting instead of just emailing. I allow for three follow-ups, not one. I have apologized when maybe I didn’t have to. I give credit when maybe I didn’t have to.
When you are struggling it is normal to think it is just you who has the issue, and you begin to doubt yourself. Try to connect with colleagues who feel the same way you do. Being part of a group of like-minded people provides reassurance (just don’t let it become a constant gripe fest). The enemy is self-doubt because it generates negative thought and comparisons. It is corrosive and can hold you back from seizing new opportunities.
Some mid-career advice I was offered and that has helped me when I thought I was stuck: “Compare yourself to yourself. See how far you have come.” My other go-to is “listen to your gut.” Your intuition is often right. Don’t let too much doubt or enthusiasm get in its way.