What continuum might put your feelings into perspective?

Imagine your boss hounds you for months to stay on top of a new project.

That workload consumes a nice chunk of your time and attention, causing you additional stress that normal.

Then, in the eleventh hour, right before you’re about to ship something out the door, your boss suddenly decides that project is no longer a priority.

Look, thanks for all the awesome work you’ve done so far, he says, but now we’re going to need you to switch gears to something completely different, while this other thing you’ve been slaving over for the last thirteen weeks fades away like a fart in the wind.

Ever been in this situation before?

Sisyphus himself couldn’t have written a more absurdist and infuriating tale.

And yet, that’s the reality of many of our daily professional lives. My own included.

Every day uncertainty finds another way to frustrate me with its enigmatic nonsense. And I’m not only frustrated, but I also feel annoyed at my frustration, which adds insult to injury. It would be like angrily pushing that boulder up the hill, only to grow more enraged when it predictably tumbles back down to the bottom. Blech.

The good news is, accepting that this thing called work is totally and utterly absurd need not lead to our despair. There are strategies for combating this inevitable form of modern suffering.

Ellis writes in his penetrating book about living with and without anger that our ongoing, sustained view of our original frustration, rather than the frustrating conditions themselves, is what makes us angry. The real problem is that we hold onto hostile feelings for prolonged periods of time.

Certainly, we must give ourselves permission to feel frustrated. Swallowing any feelings will only relocate them inside our bodies as chronic stress. But if we become so frustrated to the point that we’re gnawing on our office furniture, it’s probably too long.

A technique that helps me cope with situations like these is imagining my feelings on a continuum, the culmination of which is surrender and laughter. It starts with emotions like feeling annoyed, frustrated, angry and enraged. All perfectly normal.

The key is pushing through those feelings to other side, which is when you laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of your situation.

You think to yourself, isn’t this just perfectly hilarious? Of course they cancelled that project. Of course all the work you did for the past four months was pointless. Wow, what will the work gods think of next? Bring it on, baby.

This framing really does work for me. Because it’s impossible to be at the mercy of something you’re willing to laugh at.

It’s not about being the one who laughs last, it’s that he who laughs, lasts.

As in, lasts longer than people who spend their time ranting and raving about their frustrations.

If you can figure out how to tolerate ordinary misery better than anyone at your organization, you’ll have a much higher level of employee satisfaction. And of your own making, too.

Look, in the world of business, you have to accept the fact that almost everyone is going to say no, but you can’t allow that to be the end of your story.

Before frustration takes an even tighter grip on you, figure out what your unique emotional continuum looks like.

Maybe there are meaningful feelings waiting for you on the other side. 

Do you have difficulty moving on when you feel frustrated or unhappy?


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