(Photo be Betsy Biddle Lange)
A few years ago, I counseled with a young man who came to me for advice. He graduated from college with a degree in criminal justice and landed a job in the social service industry. Determined to succeed, he arrived to work early and stayed late. He asked for the tough cases, demonstrating his ability to keep up with the demands of field work, legal work and paperwork. He even helped others make field visits when they were behind. The talk of the office centered around his amazing abilities and the rocket trail that would exemplify his rise through the ranks of leadership.
Or at least that was what he imagined was being said.
When the time came for his 6 month review, he pressed his white oxford and donned a new tie. Excited to hear of their plans for him, he arrived at his supervisor’s office 15 minutes early. He sat expectantly as his supervisor discussed the strengths she had seen including his work ethic, his drive, his ability to meet deadlines and his timeliness. He nodded proudly.
His supervisor handed over his scores which totaled to the outcome of”meets standards.” His supervisor warmly stated that she would be recommending permanent status. She looked for his smile, but was rewarded with a blank stare.
Wasnt that like…average? He thought.
He recounted all of his accomplishments to his supervisor and asked for reconsideration of his score.
She explained to him that she was aware of the strengths he had demonstrated, but she also needed to discuss his areas of need.
She went on to walk him through specific cases, several of them, where his desire to appear efficient and quick, caused him to make mistakes. Most were minor careless mistakes and typos. But in one case he transposed a birthdate, causing a delay to the child’s benefits. On a few cases, he switched up client’s names. She patiently explained the consequences to his clients when erroneous information was missing or incorrect in his files.
She ended the session by telling this young man that she saw his worth and was pleased to have him in her unit, as they worked together to turn those needs into strengths.
He left her office, went back to his and shut the door. He felt anger, frustration and humiliation. No one noticed how good he had performed. All they cared about was perfection. He would never get the acknowledgement or validation from his supervisor or this company.
He contacted me the next day asking for my advice. He wanted to quit and find a job where he was appreciated.
Actually, this young man was 55 years old and this was his second degree and second career.
Work. Is. Hard.
We all know that.
And the newer we are to the job…
The harder it is.
We make mistakes.
We try to avoid asking questions about every action, for fear of being seen as inadequate.
Yet we complete tasks and make decisions based on what we have learned so far and our best educated guess.
And you know what?
We sometimes get it wrong.
We make mistakes. We trip up and fall on our faces.
And we get called on the carpet for it..
If we hand over our self worth to the supervisor, instead of owning and learning from our mistakes, we feel defeated…we complain…we blame others and then we leave.
We, the older generation, tend to blame millennials for this pattern. As a matter of fact, Gallup estimates that Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.
But is this solely a millennial trait?
I dont think so. My colleague was a case in point.
We all have those moments where we feel unappreciated; and that our hard work and dedication seems to go unnoticed. It could be a fleeting feeling after one mistake or a feeling that seems more pervasive. How do you deal with an agency that makes you feel this way???
You cannot change an entire agency culture alone. You can only control you. So what sage advise can I give to you about your particular situation?
No sage advice.
No magic answers.
No “one size fits all” solution.
You are the key to your own solution.
Yes, we have all experienced moments described above. But it is not the individual moments that define our success or failure.
It is how you process the event and how you react that makes the difference.
People who are more successful in achieving longevity and satisfaction in a demanding job have one or more of the following practices in common.
They believe in the agency mission!
Their work is not about recognition or rewards. Dont get me wrong, they, like us all, want and need encouragement and validation for doing the hard job. But it is not their focused goal.
They believe in themseves!
They are able to go longer without the accolades because they know, deep in their hearts, that they are on the path intended for them. They believe they are giving their all and they rejoice when they play a part in the positive outcomes for their clients.
They are aware of their needs
Being self aware in areas of needed growth can be a powerful tool for success. When you accept that there exists a need, you are more open to honest feedback. Moreover you are able to use that feedback to address the need.
We all have the ability to process feedback and learn from it…Even hurtful feedback. I have experienced hurtful feedback on numerous occasions throughout my career. And I would be a hypocrite and a liar if I said it didn’t bother me. It did. It still does when it happens now.
It hurts. And when I receive painful feedback, I allow myself to feel that hurt and anger.
For a time.
And… I have learned it is best not to respond immediately.
No fiery emails
No threats to quit
No calls to all my friends to commiserate.
And when my brain shows back up I think.
And I consider the feedback factually to see if I can own it.
Most of the time I can.
I may not like it…but I can own it.
Once I can own it, I can respond without all the feelings.
That’s just my way. I believe in you that you can find yours.
I said I had no sage advice. But what I do have, although a cliche, can be meaningful if embraced.
Don’t give up.
Keep growing until the end of your days.
HANG IN THERE!