Advice from the Trenches: Work Woes

Dear C and Dr. B;

I was assigned to a year-long product development project in partnership with the head of our company, Larry. He was responsible for half of the tasks involved. The project was very complex and involved gathering information and developing models over many months. Everything was going well — then Larry’s wife became very ill and he began to become increasingly absent. I understood his difficulties and kept taking on extra tasks to help him out, but it began to make my own life a lot more difficult.

In a terrible turn of fortune, Larry’s wife died about 3 weeks before the deadline for the project. It was understandable when he dropped out of the picture completely. But there was still a huge amount of work left, publicity and invitations to buyers for the product’s premiere at a home show should have been started, but nothing happened. Promotions were coming up soon and everyone seemed to be paying far more attention to the boss and his grief than the upcoming premiere. I sent emails asking for help, but none of my co-workers answered. It was my assignment, so I had to finish it, but my health suffered from the stress. I somehow finished the product and presentation materials and got them to the premiere, but the publicity had been nonexistent so very few buyers attended what should have been a very large event.

Now, I have no idea how to process my feelings. I can’t be angry at Larry, because he’s the boss and for god’s sake, his wife died. But I put in so much effort! And to top things off, Larry came out of his slump just in time to gear up publicity for another product and event that had been scheduled right after mine. That event was attended by many buyers and the product took off. It was a triumph for the company, so everyone forgot about my project and moved on.

I feel that I really got treated badly … and wasted a year of my life. But how can I lodge any complaint under the circumstances? The problem I have now is that I have lost my enthusiasm for working and my heart isn’t in it anymore. It was all understandable, but that doesn’t change what happened to me. What do I do now? I feel like crap and want to quit.

Blue Bob


Dr. B says: Dear Blue;

“It was my assignment, so I had to finish it.” I think that this was where the communication breakdown occurred. Clearly, everyone else’s attention had been diverted. You tried to bring it back but failed, so you went out on your own. The timing sucked, but you had already devoted much of your time and energy so you decided you couldn’t just cut your losses. This is understandable, but as Kenny Rodgers said in his song, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, when to fold them, and when to walk away.”

Although you are disappointed, I would not take it personally. Put this event in the category of “shit happens,” and let it go. But learn from this — never jeopardize your health for anyone or anything. There is only one you and if you sacrifice yourself to depletion, you are gone and useless — even, like the main character in Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, DEAD!

It is understandable that everyone else’s attention was diverted off the project. Picture if it was you or a loved one of yours that died instead. Sometimes a tsunami can destroy everything suddenly and just out of the blue. This time the tsunami hit your boss directly then spilled over onto you. Everyone else rushed in to try to save one person from drowning and ignored you, but … well, you were on dry land. Just be glad you survived it.  Count your losses and start anew.


C says: I see this scenario a somewhat different way. Picture this: You are walking to work minding your own business, when out of nowhere, a car plows into you. Your boss, who was driving, was blinded by tears of grief. So you should just cut your losses and feel sorry for him, right?

Wrong. There are two truths here. The first is that it really sucks what happened to your boss. No question there. But it also really sucks what happened to you. This wasn’t a contest to see who’s loss is the greatest and then it doesn’t matter what happened to the other guy. You have a right to your feelings just as much as the boss has the right to his. I think one of the reasons that you have lost heart and want to quit is that everyone around you is acting like your loss doesn’t matter and you have no right to feel bad. But the fact is, a year out of your life is worth something, and it mattered a lot to you. Your life is not worth less because someone else suffered a tragedy. All lives matter.

Here’s what I think: Your fellow workers were assholes to let you swing in the breeze while they cried along with the boss. He endured a terrible loss and deserves special treatment, of course. But your coworkers suffered no personal tragedy. They are not heroes … they did not save the boss from drowning. It sounds like they were largely looking out for their own possible promotions. They could have easily helped you while still showing sympathy for the boss; they did not. This reflects on their character, not yours.

However, let’s face facts. You would look like a total asshole if you whined about your problems after your boss’s spouse died. Death rightfully deserves dignity. So allow yourself to feel pissed off in your own private mind, but if you want to make lemonade of of this pile of lemons, let it go. Holding on to anger never made anyone happy. Scientific research has shown that our neurotransmitters produce feelings of well being when we are kind and help others, very much the same as they do when we win a prize ourselves. So, let your co-workers be the assholes. You will never regret behaving well. After the dust settles, your boss may see everything in a whole new light.

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