It was restructuring time, and I was angry.
The company I worked for had just laid off one of my favourite bosses. Everyone was emotional about it.
I thought I wanted to quit too. But I had nowhere to go.
It was bitter learning – how capitalist companies work, and the downside of paid employment.
And then through a mixture of fear, necessity and self-consolation, the anger subsided.
Today, the industry I work for is in difficult times again. I’m no longer angry though. Or bitter.
If you are angry at work, I hope this one will help you.
Here are five things I had to understand in order to stop being angry at work.
1. THE COMPANY IS NOT YOUR FRIEND
Your colleagues are your friends. The tea lady is your friend. If you have a cool boss, even she can be your friend.
But the company? No, the company is not your friend.
This brilliant article at Lifehacker tells us more.
The company hires you do to a job. It will protect you. Train you.
Even treat you like a king, if times are good and you’re performing well.
But if it must, the company will let go of you to protect itself.
It will sacrifice you to survive.
I’ve witnessed close friends getting laid-off.
I’ve been in discussions about whether to lay people off or not. I’ve done it myself.
And although it’s incredibly painful, I think a huge part of the pain comes from expecting the company to treat its employees like family.
It’s a high expectation. But it’s unrealistic.
2. LET GO OF FAIR
“Why does Jimmy get paid more than me? We both have the same years of experience, but I get things done faster than him. It’s not fair.”
You might as well ask, “Why wasn’t I born into the royal family of Saudi Arabia?”
Most of us are taught (by well-meaning teachers, parents and religion) that “work hard, do good, and you’ll be rewarded fairly.”
But you and I both know that it doesn’t always work that way.
Sometimes, hardworking people get fired.
Sometimes, assholes get huge bonuses.
Look at the broader scope of things and you realise that life is inherently unfair.
Why are some people born into religious persecution, while others can read articles on the Internet in peace?
Is God unfair? Maybe. But He’s God. He can do whatever he wants.
Work hard and do good is a great strategy for life. What isn’t good is expecting the world to give you everything you want, just because you work hard and do good.
As Oliver Emberton explains here: The problem isn’t that life is unfair; it’s your broken idea of fairness.
When I understood this, I stopped comparing myself to others. I stopped crying about the “injustices” that the company had done to me and my friends. And I started moving on.
3. BE THANKFUL FOR THE GOOD STUFF
You keep hearing “have gratitude” being thrown around on the Internet. Why? Because it’s true.
There’s a lot of bullshit in this world. Keep thinking about it, and you’ll be miserable. Be thankful for the good things you do have, and you’ll be much happier.
Cristiano Ronaldo might look like he has the best job in the world, playing for Real Madrid.
But do you think he enjoys the negative aspects of the job? Sure, he likes scoring and winning. Everyone does.
But what about training hard every morning. Or controlling his diet. Or the huge amount of public pressure he faces.
If every weekend, your work performance was screened to five hundred million people around the world, and fifty million openly criticised your performance, how would you take it?
Ronaldo has to deal with that kind of shit. It’s what comes with playing for the most famous club in Spain.
Likewise, work for a giant corporation: you get a good salary, free medical benefits, and twenty days of paid vacation. In exchange, you give up your freedom for nine hours a day, endure boring meetings, and wear a silly outfit to work.
Be an entrepreneur: you have unlimited earning potential, freedom to choose your clients, and can hire a porn star to be your assistant. In exchange, you work sixteen-hour days, are constantly worried about your business, and become a slave to your customers.
There’s always going to be shit. But as long as I can tolerate it, I’d rather be thankful for the good things I get.
4. YOU HAVE MORE POWER THAN YOU REALIZE
The company policies were outdated. Higher management made questionable decisions.
It was causing me and my colleagues a lot of grief.
It took a management training event for me to finally realise it. True to human nature, my colleagues and I were lashing out at the poor trainer.
She was trying to teach us to be better supervisors, but all we were doing were complaining about company decisions.
Finally she told us, “Stop complaining about management. Don’t you realise it? You are all management.”
And then it dawned upon me: I had a Victim Mentality.
It was always someone else’s fault. But what was I doing to better the situation?
Nothing. Just complaining.
We’ve already spoken about the bullshit in the world. There are a whole lot of things you and I can’t control. But there’s a whole lot that you can. Or at least influence.
You may not be able to force your boss to promote you tomorrow.
But if every day you work hard to help your boss achieve what he needs, while the rest of your peers just complain – who do you think gets the promotion next year?
5. DO WHAT YOU LOVE, TODAY
One of the things I realised about working in large corporations is that you actually get a lot of freedom to do whatever the hell you want.
Sure, there are KPIs and deadlines – but most managers (even the crazy ones) don’t care about what you do – as long as you deliver.
I know. It leads to a lot of Facebook and coffee breaks at work.
That’s what the slackers do.
But for ambitious people like you, there’s a real tangible benefit here. It means that within the confines of your company’s rules, you can actually volunteer to do work that you like.
Here’s what I’ve always observed: The happiest people I’ve known had some kind of side project to make themselves and colleagues happy. Whether it was mentoring new employees, helping to beta test new software, or organising after-work football games.
They weren’t getting paid to do these extra things. But it sure made them happy.
Looking back on that period of my life, not only was I angry, I was bored too.
I was searching for that ephemeral quality at work called “meaning”. So I started to look for what I liked about my job. And mentally noted how every task made me feel.
I realised that I liked building a team, and mentoring young people.
So I focused more on these tasks. It helped make the parts I hated about work more bearable.
I told my boss too that I wanted to eventually get into a training role. He was a good boss.
He told me that while there wasn’t a position readily available, he would keep that in mind and steer my career towards it.
It gave me hope too – that someday I would get the job of my dreams – without having to quit my job.
In an age where entrepreneurship is celebrated, and traditional paid jobs are dwindling – the above thousand words might sound like “Self-consolation for the Salaried Man”.
I wish I could pen an article called “How Anger Led Me to Quit My Job and Become a Billionaire”.
But I can’t.
There’s always the option to quit. Which I didn’t do. And while the above points will never fully solve the risks of working for a corporation, I hope they make your ride more enjoyable.
Perhaps one day in the future, it’ll happen to me too. The HR manager will call me for a meeting in the middle of the afternoon.
She will feel bad, as she reads from a script, avoiding eye contact with me. My boss will be there too, mentally justifying the company’s decision.
They’ll inform me it’s my last day, thank me for my years of service, and tell me how much severance I’ll be getting.
Then with a mixture of nostalgia, sadness, and perhaps excitement – but not anger – I’ll say thank you.
And I’ll mean it.
Aaron Tang is the founder of mr–stingy.com, where he writes about optimizing Time, Money and Relationships.