Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Can You Get the Best Out of the Worst?

We all at times find ourselves in unpleasant situations. Our immediate natural reaction is to start searching for a way out: even if you can’t figure it out right away, the process will provide some consolation because you are doing something as opposed to staying passive, so eventually things will change for the better. What if you have to stick around for a while? What if you have to endure something that absolutely poisons your life and everything that’s good in it? Is there a positive approach to endurance that seems to be stretching your limits too far?

In the last couple of months I went from almost liking my job to hating it enormously. There’s a number of reasons to that: I lost my entire team, I am working on a failure project that keeps dragging without an end in sight, my daily tasks got tedious and pointless, I get no guidance from the upper management so I am left there on my own to do meaningless things that have zero effect on success (or the absence of one) of the project. So my only motivation is that I still get paid but even that can end rather soon since the company has financial difficulties and just laid off one third of its work force.

I already made a decision to get another job, the trick is I am going on a 3-week trip at the end of August so it would be quite unreasonable to make a move before September. I made a conscious decision to stay here for the summer (or till I get laid off whichever comes first). It means continuing doing things I don’t believe or see any point in because that’s what I am getting paid for. It means pretending every work day for the next 2+ months - pretending that I am working, coming up with innovative ideas, projecting future success. Fake, fake, fake. It means trying to control my face so that it doesn’t give away my emotions, so I need to look at least neutral, not sour as I feel. It means having to compose myself every morning and “push” myself out of the door of my house. It means taking a deep breath before getting off the elevator on the 10th floor of my office building. It means taking another deep breath – a happy one this time – getting on the elevator at 5 pm, because the day is over. It means buying a lot of books to read my sadness away. It means reading a lot of blogs at work in hopes of improving my level of positivity. It means wanting to live in the future instead of the present moment.

I made a decision and I am willing to stick with it. Yet I imagined it to be easier – I will just come in every morning, minimum activity, zero caring, go home – forget it. I didn’t expect that living with such disgust would be so utterly difficult. And there isn’t a single thing to hold on to for strength. No friends left in the office (smart people quit in the right time), no exciting and distracting assignment (apart from reading blogs which is self-assigned). Nothing is there to help me feel better about the whole enduring process. So as always I have to come to my own rescue and dig some good out of the mud. So here’s how you can find positive moments in an unpleasant situation:

- You learn. Most importantly you learn something about yourself that can only be learned through a hardship. Now I know I will never be able to grow thick skin and I don’t have to. Being sensitive, caring too much, taking it personally can be a curse in the wrong setting. But it also what makes me different, it gives me a heart, it’s why most surprising types of people feel attracted to me. So hopefully I will be able to find a job which will allow me to stay sensitive and emotional as I am.

- Who said endurance is a bad thing? You read about ascetics who practice self-denial to achieve spiritual discipline. So I am sort of doing the same. A little bit of suffering is good for your soul. You become humble and you accept your lot. You even begin seeing everything in a different light, through the “martyr’s eyes” so to say and there’s certainly something to this experience.

- You will appreciate what’s to come. Sometimes you really need to hit the bottom to enjoy the going-back-up process, to be grateful for the good things in your life, to know exactly when your life took the right turn and feel good about it because you have something to compare to. You now know what you are not cut out for and will stay away from doing it. You understand better what you need and what you don’t need. And what’s most important, when the whole unpleasant situation is over, you can commend your spirit for enduring the hardship with grace and not letting it break you.


  1. Ha great stuff, I nearly felt annoyed until I read this; So as always I have to come to my own rescue and dig some good out of the mud. So here’s how you can find positive moments in an unpleasant situation:
    Cool, that is a good choice, you choose to stay for your own selfish reasons, money, and you are taking responsibility to turn it into something good, so you are not wasting away mentally. xox Wilma

  2. Hi Wilma,

    "you choose to stay for your own selfish reasons" - if I decided to be selfish, I would quit immediately. It's quite the opposite here, I am making a sacrifice, because in this case money is not something I selfishly want, but something the whole family relies on, so I can't let them down.

    "so you are not wasting away mentally" - I'm afraid I am but I'd doing everything to minimize the effect, as you put it "to turn it into something good".

    And the whining part is equally annoying to me, that is why I tried to leave some of that annoyance on my blog to have less of it in the real life.

  3. Oh Aysel, thanks for clarifying, I do appreciate that. Unfortunate choice of word, selfish in this case. I so often encountered people in my work as a career consultant who complained about their job but never wanted to do anything because it paid so well. They came to see me to get a magic pill but in the end they hung in there for the wrong reasons, unselfserving, fearful ones.

    What make you say that you are wasting mentally? I think you are doing a great job accepting that at the moment you obviously have no choice and at least you can see that. In that choice you are free as you do know what is holding you there but you are detaching yourself from the nonsense that is going on and see it for what it is. Your mental potential is not used but that is also 'what is so', for the moment.At least you do something about the torture of having to stay there.

    You are not whining when you are committed to do something about it, even if it is changing your mindset about the situation you cannot change. People who whine and then not take an honest look at the situation are uncommitted, annoying whiners. You are not. xox Wilma

  4. Wow Wilma,

    Your comment could be a blog post on its own! :)

    "...detaching yourself from the nonsense that is going on and see it for what it is" - that's exactly what I am trying to do.

    "What make you say that you are wasting mentally?" - doing meaningless things on a daily basis, not investing my brain into work, going back to unhappy thoughts more frequently than I want to.

    But there's one more positive thing I didn't mention - I am grateful. It is my first out-of-college job which I landed as the whole financial crisis was unfolding, I survived 3 cuts, got a lot of useful experience, met really nice people (unfortunately they are all gone to different places). It was rough a times but all in all not that bad for a career start. And now that I can finally put two years of corporate experience on my resume, I can move forward to better things and hopefully better choices. Just a little more patience.

    Thank you for your comment!


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