When emotions take over, whether at work or elsewhere, it’s easy to lose track of perspective. Suddenly whatever you’re feeling in the moment becomes bigger than everything else. And that feeling can continue to grow more powerful, as proportions of the rest continue to shrink in comparison right before your eyes.
Now you may be thinking that sounds overly dramatic. Well, it is dramatic in effect. But it’s something that can happen to any of us. And it takes a great deal of awareness and practice to keep it from spinning out of control. I have a real-life story to tell you on that point. My own.
What happened to me right out of grad school
Although I got my MBA in Finance with a minor in Economics, my real dream back then had always been to work in show business. As a theater major during my undergraduate years, I learned to love anything to do with plays, films, live performance, and music of any kind.
But while I dreamed about working in show business, my practical side said I couldn’t possibly live on what that pays. At least for the early years. So I figured I better grow up, get pragmatic, and get another degree in something that “mattered” — like business.
So I got my very practical MBA. And then I got a job in banking. It was SO not right for me. I thought I would die in the dry, dreary atmosphere, and my square-toed banker shoes.
Then I heard that a friend I knew from grad school was working at a major record company. And I knew that was the answer for me! I could be a businessperson who worked in show business.
My new job in show biz
I practically begged my friend to get me a job — any job. So, he arranged an interview in the finance area. And I got a job offer as a marketing finance analyst. I had very little idea what that actually was or what it entailed. But I didn’t care. It was show biz.
The work was pretty dull, but I have to admit I got excited just typing in the names of the major rock and pop stars we handled. My favorite part of the job was talking to the people in Nashville, where I got the Country and Western advertising expense forecasts.
Those people seemed so cool to me, laid-back, friendly, and most important, they were willing to chat with a nobody like me. I loved working with them. Finally, I was talking to the “real” side of show business. And I wanted to get myself much closer to it.
A new opportunity opens up for me
After nine months of working twelve to fifteen hour days churning out spreadsheets and forecasts that bored me to tears, I saw an internal job posting for a Product Manager in Paris. Product Manager! Working with major rock stars! In Paris!
I was excited beyond words. Nothing was going to stop me. I believed if I set my mind to something, I could make it happen. And while that’s still pretty much my motto, what I forgot is that I couldn’t expect to control the circumstances or the timing of things. Or the internal politics way over my head that I knew nothing about.
Turns out I didn’t have the exact experience and hadn’t been with the firm for the full year you needed to transfer internally. But I boldly plunged ahead anyway and applied for the job, getting the needed permission from my direct boss. And when I got the call from the Marketing Vice President saying she wanted to interview me, I was ecstatic.
The interview went well. She told me that she liked my presentation and attitude. And she was especially happy that I could speak some French. She’d been looking for the right person for a while. I was young and eager. And she offered me the job. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Now comes the part where things go really wrong
My boss’ boss, the Vice President of Finance, was a real power player. And he had his own ideas about what the company needed. Somehow those ideas did not include my personal needs. Imagine that.
Unfortunately, his idea of what was best for the company was my remaining right where I was, in Finance. So he refused to let me transfer. Not that he ever bothered to personally explain any of this to me.
Now we’re starting to get to the part of my story when emotions take over — big time. And I mean my emotions!
The rules actually changed because of me
As a kicker to prevent others from trying to do what I did, the VP also decreed no one could transfer out of Finance until they had been there for at least two years. That meant another year and then some for me! And at my young age back then, that seemed like an eternity.
By this point, I was really angry. And determined that no one was going to pull a power play on me. (I’ve always had an aversion to being told what to do. Just ask my mother.) Rather than cooling down and thinking about my options with a clear head, I marched right into my boss’ office and quit.
In my mind, the Vice President of Finance was totally unjustified in his actions. And I wasn’t letting him get away with it. I couldn’t see his viewpoint at all. All I saw was that he was the enemy. And so was my own boss, who, from my point of view, had betrayed me by not standing up for me after he had given me permission to apply for the job in the first place.
And so I get to learn first-hand about office politics
I was too naïve to understand office politics. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about me. There were things going on above and around me that influenced these decisions. And I was caught up in a political battle I couldn’t influence.
I also didn’t take the opportunity to realize that, in time, circumstances might change. And, even if they didn’t, I could have waited it out until I was eligible for a transfer. It was only another year after all. And I could have used that time to expand my contacts and increase my own ability to position myself for a good job the next time.
I could also have used that time to get my boss to give me more assignments I enjoyed and to propose projects that could have helped me get where I wanted to go. Instead of blowing up and quitting, I should have taken a week or two off. I could have used the time to come up with a plan for my career. And then I could have worked to get myself into a position I really loved.
My brain went into emotional high gear
But I did none of that. I let my temper and youthful ego get the best of me. That happens when emotions take over. I wielded what I thought was power by quitting. After all, it was the only power I felt that I had at the time.
And what I eventually learned was that real power is accepting what you can’t change and working on what you CAN change. That’s the most effective way to take control of your own career. It’s not about letting your emotions lead the way, although at times that sure feels right in the moment.
But at the time, I was young and wet behind the ears. And way too ready to let emotion rule over reason. I look back now at the experience and smile. I learned so much about myself. And about what can happen when emotions rule the day. Plus, it’s a great example of how not to get what you want.
What else could I have done differently?
One of the most important things to recognize is the point when emotions take over. And the whole of you is being led by just one part. When that happens, you have to learn to back off from any action, cool down and think.
Then remember to go slowly over the whole story in your head (or better yet, on paper) without blaming your boss. That’s important. Beware of the people you see as “enemies.” As long as I saw the Vice President of Finance as the enemy, my emotions were tied up in anger.
How could I stay in the same company with someone as horrible as he? How could that company treat me that way? All these thoughts impeded the possibility of me actually coming up with a plan that felt good and right for me. Clearly I was personalizing the situation way out of proportion, although of course it felt justified in my mind at the time.
But, if only I could have re-framed my thoughts and seen the situation from the VP.’s perspective. Whether I agreed or not, I could have seen that it wasn’t an action aimed at me as a person. It never was. As much as we hate to hear this, it was just business.
What would have served me best
I needed to truly understand and accept the situation as it really was. Not aimed at me in particular or meant to deny me anything that I absolutely had to have right away. Just one of the many obstacles we all face when trying to reach our goals.
Instead, I could have rechanneled all that emotional energy and time I was putting into feeling like a victim. Like all the time I spent drawing nasty pictures of the VP with his thumb on me holding me down. (I kept the pictures on my office wall.)
That same time and energy could have gone into networking and working toward my next big opportunity, which would have come eventually. But, of course, it’s easy to look back at what could have been. The most important thing we can do is learn from these times and move forward just a little wiser.
Some more posts to help