When disappointments inevitably happen at work, we can make the mistake of letting that emotion fester into bitterness. Instead of processing our feelings, we let it stew inside of us. Why did he get the promotion over me? Why am I missing time with my family to make this report? Here’s how to healthily process everyday work disappointments, so that you won’t get consumed with unhelpful bitterness:
Identify the cause
The first step in letting go of unhealthy bitterness is recognizing that it’s there and accepting responsibility for it. If you don’t, you’ll become increasingly disengaged with the work you do.
“Burnout is about resentment,” Marissa Meyer, the former Yahoo CEO once said. “It’s about knowing what matters to you so much that if you don’t get it that you’re resentful.”
Understand that there are usually underlying vulnerabilities behind work bitterness. Your job is to figure out what exactly is causing you to feel upset. As social worker Dan Maher advises resentful people in Psychology Today, “Observe it. Allow it to simply be. Hold it. Visualize putting space around it. Notice what happens. … Practice identifying and allowing yourself to feel the underlying emotions that anger may be superimposed upon—such as hurt or fear.”
Separate fact from fiction in your feelings
When you feel resentment, you are telling yourself a story about your circumstance that may not be entirely true. Joseph Grenny, a business social scientist, says that part of reckoning with your resentment is separating your personal nightmares from the realities. To do this, you need to name the roles in the story you assign yourself. That way, you can see if your frustrations are legitimate or not:
“Is it a victim story — one that emphasizes my virtues and absolves me of responsibility for what is happening?
“Is it a villain story — one that exaggerates the faults of others and attributes what’s happening to their evil motives?
“Is it a helpless story — one that convinces me that any healthy course of action (like listening humbly, speaking up honestly) is pointless? Naming my stories helps me see them for what they are.”
Put the resentment in perspective
Reframe your bitterness from an unhealthy obsession to one that can be a useful signal for change. To do this perspective shift, you need to understand that disappointments and hurt are part of what it means to be human, and pangs of jealousy over your peers’ work achievements are normal. Brittany Luse, producer and podcast host at Gimlet Media, advises employees to be on the lookout for these emotions. That way you can catch them before they become insurmountable resentments:
Bitterness comes from some sort of hurt– sadness, resentment, feeling like somebody left you out or cut you off. It is NORMAL to feel slighted. It is normal to feel anger or disappointment. It's easy for those feelings to grow into bitterness.
— Brittany Luse (@bmluse) February 6, 2018
Instead of letting your emotions feel like a catastrophe, see these setbacks as signals you need to switch paths. Take it from Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul and master advice giver, says she does not believe in mistakes, choosing to reframe these setbacks as learning moments: “There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that.
“And sometimes when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths,” she told Stanford Graduate School of Business students.
Channel the resentment into useful actions
After you identify and mentally process the source of your bitterness, it can also be helpful to work through them through action. Maher says that physical expressions of your disappointment can be a healthy coping strategy: “Share these feelings with safe, supportive individuals whom you trust. Journal or write about them. Discharge them through physical activity by working out.”
Journaling about your fears is a science-backed way to productively worry because labeling emotions through writing helps us put them in perspective.
Tiny annoyances and petty feuds can build into mountains of resentment if you are not careful. That’s why mastering your emotions is so important. When you learn how to own and honor your emotions without letting them control you, you become the master of your own career.