This column originally appeared on Forbes.com.
For all its rewards, at times work can bring out some of our worst emotions. They can be triggered by the inevitable conflicts between people, the frustration of poor performance (whether it be our own doing or someone else’s), the angst of political maneuvering or simply the times when we feel overworked and under-appreciated.
These are the times when frustrations bubble over, stresses take hold and people become resentful and even revengeful toward their job.
Might I suggest, however, in moments like these, the best revenge is to use our fired-up passion to do something truly great, to make the kind of difference that will stand up and speak loudly.
Choosing to do something great in the face of immense struggle is good for you and good for business. Why? Because rather than obsessively wallowing in the problem — a counterproductive loop — we learn to access the problem for its deepest insights, inspirations and answers to our most pressing frustrations.
The key is your mindset; which one are you?
Dr. Carol Dweck is a professor of social psychology at Stanford University. For decades, she’s been studying what she calls the “growth mindset” and its all too prevalent counterpart, the “fixed mindset.”
People with a growth mindset:
View problems and failures as opportunities for growth because they believe their skills and intelligence are developed through effort.
Gravitate to activities that create the possibility for ongoing personal improvement.
People with a fixed mindset:
View problems and failures as threats because they believe their success is due to their innate ability and intelligence.
Gravitate to activities that validate what they’re already good at.
Dweck explains, “The bottom line is that the fixed mindset makes it hard to maintain confidence because difficulty, effort and other people who are perceived to be better all pose threats. But, in a growth mindset, the same things are opportunities.”
So if you consider your most pressing problem — the problem that raises your angst, your anxiety or your blood pressure — can you channel your thoughts into a growth mindset and inquire into the insights and opportunities your biggest problems can teach you?
Chris gets stuck with clients nobody else wants
Chris, an associate of mine, recently shared with me a career-changing insight he experienced years ago as an advertising writer. Excited to have been hired at the hottest, award-winning ad agency in town, he was discouraged and became angry when he was constantly assigned the most “difficult” clients like life insurance, medical devices and financial institutions. He wanted clients he could do truly creative award-winning campaigns for — like the zoo, the travel industry and the symphony.
After his pent-up frustration finally bubbled over, Chris decided to talk to his leader about a reallocation of assignments. Why not share the burden of the difficult accounts and share the fun accounts across all the agency’s creative teams? How else was he going to show what he was capable of?
In response his leader said, “Sure, I see what you mean. And we could easily do that. But then you would miss out on an important lesson: great work follows great writers, not the other way around. Your job isn’t to hunger after someone else’s assignments. Your job is to turn the assignments you have into the ones everybody else wants.”
It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. But Chris decided to work with a growth mindset. That year he and his creative partner focused on the great work they could do with the clients they had. They had to dig deeper for insights, generate way more creative concepts, and push out the boundaries of what had ever been done before. Chris went after it with a vengeance.
Chris and his team went on to win as many awards with their ads for “difficult” clients, as their counterparts in the agency did with ads for arts and travel. His biggest problem became his biggest opportunity; his work made a difference for his clients and the agency; and he earned a reputation at the agency as one of the strongest and most creative writers in town.
So whatever your problem, whatever may have gotten you hot under the collar, channel that energy toward making a real difference and you will discover the sweetest workplace revenge of all.
David Sturt is an executive vice president at O.C. Tanner and author of the New York Times best-seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill). You can follow him on Twitter @david_sturt or visit www.greatwork.com.
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