If you’re doing work that matters to you, conflict is inevitable. And it’s also invited. Conflict, as Jonah Lehrer points out in his new book Imagine: How Creativity Works, is one of the primary ways we internalize, process, and add value to the ideas of others. Rather than seeing conflict as the enemy, we need to recognize that it can – in many circumstances – be a platform for brilliant collaborative work.
That said, there are certainly a lot of disproportionately unhealthy workplaces. In these settings, conflict isn’t progress, it’s just conflict. (I’ve been invited into more than a few of them to help sort things out.) When there is a lot of conflict over a long period of time without a clear understanding of the context for the conflict the end result can often be apathy, disengagement, frustration, and poor work.
The natural response when conflict becomes the norm is to entertain the thought of moving on to greener pastures. Maybe you hear the stories your friends tell about how wonderful their boss is, and how noble their work is, and you think something better is awaiting you “out there.” Maybe something better does await, but it’s important to recognize that many people leap from job to job in search of the perfect one, but fail to account for the internal problems they carry with them. They never work on their own issues, and as a result they quickly find that their new job has also lost its luster.
Before moving on, here’s something you can do to parse your motives for wanting to leave your job: write a letter of resignation, but don’t deliver it.
Convey all of the reasons you need to move on, all of the frustrations you experience daily, and all of the ways in which you feel underutilized. Talk about how disappointed you are with how things are going, and how you would change things if you could. Get it off your chest. Be as personal as you’d like, since no one will ever read it.
Once you’ve written your letter, ask yourself a few questions:
1. How much of what’s in this letter could I change if I really wanted to? (In other words, where am I abdicating my responsibility for the situation rather than embracing my contribution.)
2. Am I looking to my job to provide something a job cannot ultimately give me? (Identity, self-worth, etc.)
3. How much of what’s in this letter is recent frustration, versus old wounds that haven’t healed?
4. How much of what’s in this letter have I experienced in other workplaces as well?
5. Are there any patterns I see within this letter?
Please understand that I’m not implying that all faults rest with you, I’m simply trying to help you become more aware of what might be motivating the frustration. I did this exercise myself once, and realized that much of my daily angst was the result of very old wounds that hadn’t healed, and that I’d been viewing ever encounter since through the lens of distrust. It allowed me to return to my role with a clear perspective and with a new level of self-awareness. (By the way, an alternative exercise is to take some time to write a letter of gratitude for what you’re thankful for about your work.)
Don’t allow latent frustration and hurt to derail your best work. Your days are short, and you only have so many of them to give. Own your engagement, and if the time is right, move on. But don’t live in the twilight. Be aware of your own contribution to the problem.
Question: Have you ever left a job out of frustration, and if so, what was the root of it?