On Dealing With Professional Disappointment

If you’ve been alive for more than a few years, you’ve likely dealt with disappointment. Losing a game, not getting a job, getting rejected from the girl you finally had the courage to ask out. You feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach and cannot image ever wanting something more, or ever having something so good. Life is full of disappointments, they are unavoidable. What truly matters is the way you handle them.

I have been working towards a promotion at work for many months. I had crossed off all the checkboxes required of the new title, and had indeed been performing that function for almost a year. My performance was solid, I had taken on new tasks and worked hard day in and day out. My manager said repeatedly I had done everything I needed to do, that it was just a matter of time. Imagine my surprise when I hear that a coworker on another team is getting promoted before me. I was angry, frustrated, and I wanted to quit right then and there. Screw the job if they couldn’t recognize that I was ready for a promotion!

I could have marched right into my manager’s office and told him how I felt, and where he could stick his promises and assurances to me. None of that mattered anymore, I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. But would that have helped anything? Or would it have hurt my professional reputation? Luckily I walked outside, took a few deep breathes and called home to get some perspective. Just relax, my mom said, and don’t do anything stupid or rash. Take your time, and gather your thoughts and feelings before doing something you may regret later. I went back inside and searched for professional disappointment and what to do when you are passed over for a promotion. Another article I found was this one. I followed what I read pretty closely.

First, I allowed myself a moment or two to feel my emotions. I was angry, upset, frustrated and sad. I would jump around between emotions frequently that day, and just when I thought I could think with a clear head, another emotion would come back. You have to let these emotions out. Don’t bottle them up, but don’t let them control you either. If you feel angry, be angry…just don’t start yelling at anyone or throwing a vocal pity party for yourself.

Next, I sought some perspective on what happened. I met with my manager at the end of the day, and he knew exactly why I wanted to speak with him. I had used the day to gather my thoughts and form some questions; I’m usually not good with conflict or difficult conversations, so it helps me to prepare. I asked what more I needed to do, why I wasn’t moving forward, questions that related to me, not the person who got what I wanted. Comparing yourself to someone else in this situation, or demeaning their accomplishments, only ends up hurting you. Focus on what YOU need to do to get what you want. No one takes a promotion from you, so don’t blame them. He gave a little bit of insight into the situation, which in this case didn’t really help me. The reason I hadn’t gotten promoted had more to do with my manager not fighting for it, rather than anything I hadn’t done.

After gaining some perspective, I decided to take stock of where I am professionally, and how best to move forward. I set up meetings with my director, my vice president, and another director who works closely with my organization. The feedback ranged from difficult (lack of a personal network at work) to helpful (use your introversion to your advantage) to a bit of psychological boosting (I’m doing excellent, it was just a matter of timing). I realized that I could either wallow in my disappointment, or move forward from it. Working with those people, I came up with a plan of attack to continue pushing forward, while also setting up for new opportunities within the company. After the meetings, I had a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

While my particular situation was about a professional disappointment, it works just as well in other cases too. Didn’t get the girl? Take some time to be sad about it, but then ask people you trust for some honest feedback, and build a plan to address any shortcomings. And don’t discount timing or luck; they are certainly important factors that are completely out of your control. And if you can’t control something, it’s not worth getting upset over.

The Case for Working From Home

Man working from home

While I was out sick with my wisdom teeth surgery, I discovered that I really, really enjoy working from home. Sure, I’ve done it before when I know we’re going to have a half day, if the weather is bad, or if I’m someplace else and can’t make it to the office. But this was my first, and to date only, experience with working from home for an extended period of time. What I found was I was more efficient and productive, less stressed and generally a happier employee. I saved money by not driving my car (gas, maintenance, insurance costs) and wasn’t harming the environment. When I went back to the office this past Monday, it really hit me just how poor of a working environment most office buildings can be. Artificial light, poor air quality, stress from driving in traffic, etc. So why don’t more companies allow their employees to work remotely?

The Desire Is Strong
After looking at some statistics, it’s easy to say “duh. Of course people want to work from home!” According to this study from Global Workplace Analytics, two-thirds of people would like to work from home, with just over a third willing to take less money to do so. This desire is particularly acute with Gen Y, or Millenial, workers (such as myself); by 2020, this group will make up the majority of the workforce. And what perk do they greatly desire? The ability to work from home.

It’s not too difficult to figure out why these numbers exist. Working from home allows flexibility in a work schedule. Want to start your day early in the morning in order to go to an appointment later? Sure. Need to wait for a repair guy? Done. Want to go to your kid’s soccer game? Sure, just finish your work later. It allows for a better, more personal work environment. Gone are the dirty, dusty desks and chairs and poor air quality. Forbes notes that a less stressful environment was noted by 38% of survey respondents as a key benefit of working from home. In fact, just read that list to see why people want to work remotely.

The Benefits For The Employer
Lest you think that the benefits are all on the side of the worker, there are tangible benefits for the company as well. They have happier, less-stressed employees who are more productive. It lessens the risk of an employee leaving, especially to a firm that does not allow telecommuting. This leads to lower hiring and training costs, which can be up to five times the salary of the employee. The company saves cost by potentially downsizing facilities, using less energy and resources. It can even increase collaboration by encouraging the use of communication tools (instant messaging, Skype, etc.). The bottom line is, the company certainly benefits when their employees work from home. There’s a reason why major companies, such as Aetna, American Express and Apple, offer it as a benefit: it attracts top talent (not limited to their geographical footprint) and keeps them there. Check out this list to see other companies that offer it as a benefit. Cross-reference that list with their list of top companies to work for. There’s a reason there is a great deal of overlap.

So Why Don’t More Companies Allow It?
It’s important to note that there are some drawbacks to working from home. First, you lose out on face time, which in some companies can be critical to getting things done and advancing one’s career. Second, there can be a sense of loneliness among the employees without the daily interactions in the office. Additionally, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentally could lead to an employee basically being forgotten. I’m not thinking on the level of Milton from Office Space, but still.

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Finally, many companies are very traditional and set in their ways. They believe that if an employee is not in the office, where they can be seen and their work monitored, they must not be working. This mistrust of employees is a very large factor, a remnant of the days where the manager was the overseer of everything. It’s all bunk, of course. Many studies have shown that working from home leads to more productive employees, not less productive. Yet it is hard to break the old guard’s feeling that working from home means slacking off.

I believe that in the very near future, the rise of telecommuting will only increase. Millenials are asking for it more and more, and the list of companies offering it is growing every year. I know I want to have a conversation with my manager about it. It makes sense for both parties, it helps the environment, it saves money. What’s not to like?

The Six Month Entrepreneurship Experiment

I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. The ideas they could come up with, the freedom of being your own boss and making all the decisions. These things appeal to me, especially since I’ve been working in a corporate job for awhile now. I don’t like going in to the office every day and sitting in a cubicle. It’s unhealthy and unproductive and uncomfortable. I also don’t like my performance or earning power determined by some unknown entity (i.e. HR). If I work harder than others, I should earn more than others. While that can be scary, it also offers some measure of control. And most importantly, I abhor how little vacation time we get (two weeks). Because you just know that during those two weeks, you will not truly be unplugged from work, but rather checking your email or messages. I want true freedom.

But I could never come up with any ideas for a business. And I suppose I lacked the confidence or gravitas necessary to actually start something, like the guys who quit their corporate jobs to sell something and make millions. I felt everything I could come up with was either unfeasible, had too high of a start-up cost, or was done before by someone else. I’ve been sort of stuck in that state for several years. I understood the importance of striking out on your own. Many have written about side hustles already, so I won’t bore you with the importance of them. The point is to begin something.

So today, I’m announcing my own personal six month Entrepreneurship Experiment. Giving myself a small start-up fund ($100) and six months, I’m going to see if I can start a viable, sustainable side hustle online, using keyword research to search engine optimization tactics. The clock starts today and runs out on December 31st, at which time I’ll see if I’ve earned any profit after my expenses. My ultimate goal is to show that anyone can do this, that earning money on the internet isn’t terribly difficult. Of course, this assumes I do it correctly.

I will be keeping you up to date on this experiment, complete with what I’m doing step by step and the progress of financials. If you’d like to join in, please do so!

Frustration; or, Why Corporate America Sucks

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Sigh. I’ve worked in corporate America for about eight years: four for a bank in Ohio, a summer internship with Pepsi in Chicago, and now three years at my current company. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, one aspect that can bring about absolute dread, hurt feelings and anger, it’s the yearly review. Nothing is more annoying, more frustrating, and more hopeless than this process. Even if you perform well, you still walk away feeling like you got ran over by a train, or that you’re worthless to the company and far away from being where you want to be.

At the bank, I never really had reviews when I first started. It was my first job out of college, but I wondered why no one had told me how I was performing, where I needed to improve or anything. So I asked for a 90 day review….after six months on the job. That particular manager neither had a firm grasp on how a review should go, nor the capability to coach employees to perform better. After 18 months, I moved to another position within the bank. I had yearly reviews, but I didn’t seem to get a lot out of them. The process was informal, which can be good and bad. Good in that it doesn’t feel stuffy and forced; bad in that there isn’t follow up or things to take away from it.

I’ll ignore my internship, which deserves a whole other post on just how utterly worthless that experience was, save one.

Now, I work for one of the largest companies in the world, with over 300k employees. Here, the process is much more defined, with very specific questions and objectives and the like. Even though the procedure is better, the results are the same: reviews suck.

One of the worst parts of an annual review at a major corporation is the sense that the end outcome is out of your hands. No matter how well you perform, no matter what you did or how you did it, it doesn’t matter. Some level of management determined what the average score should be, that score filtered down the layers until it got to your manager, who then divided up available points until the average is met. Sitting in my review, I had rated myself a 4 on one category, while my manager rated me a 3. When I asked why, he said too many people in our organization had gotten 4s so only 3s could be handed out. It had zero to do with my actual work or performance.

Another frustrating part of an annual review is when your manager justifies a lower than expected score because of something they did, not you. In another category where my boss and I differed on my score, his rational was that he had agreed to take on too much work, and his performance suffered. What does HIS performance have to do with mine? I accomplished all of my objectives, even some that weren’t on my list that I did on my own. Why does your inability to prioritize your time and workload affect me? This justification was used several times, and each time made me more and more angry.

The real kicker is that at the end, you’re given your score which in no one actually represents your work over the past year. I did the work of four people (no seriously…one product manager per product, yet I had four products), but I didn’t receive any credit for that, because “it was what was expected of you.” SERIOUSLY? It’s a lose-lose situation. Either you turn the extra work down because you don’t have time or energy to do it, or you take it on but don’t get credit for it.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry as I was walking out of that meeting. Reviews should be honest and open discussions on an employee’s work over the past period. Their measurement should be based on reasonable stretch goals and how they achieved any progress. Performance reviews should NOT be dictated by the manager’s/reviewer’s own performance score. Justification for discrepancies should be honest and relevant; saying I lost out on a good score because only one such score can be given is a load of BS.

Anyway, that’s my daily rambling on corporate life!