Can Excellent Advice Make You Unhappy?

Wonder Woman at Work
Wonder Women mementoes (displayed in my office) from my dear friend and writer Jeanne V Bowerman

There are a few people I read religiously for insight and perspective on work/business life. Probably on the top of the list:

I’ve just had a sudden epiphany about this reading I do. Maybe you can tell me if it’s really something notable, or I’m just spinning a story.

First, all of these men are entrepreneurs and have been greatly successful by conventional standards.

Second, their advice makes me (at times) unhappy, dissatisfied, and anxious in regards to my work life, or feeling like …

  • I’m not doing a good enough job.
  • I can’t control or change the things they’re talking about.
  • I should go do something else (or otherwise settle with something less than what they advise).

Here’s an example of what I mean—this is from Seth Godin’s blog post “All I Do Is Work Here”:

Then, a few days ago, I heard from someone in a different group at the same company, asking for help with a project she was working on. I explained that the last time I helped someone in her group with a project, I was misquoted, my time was wasted and they violated whatever trust we had. Susan said, and I’m quoting precisely the same line, “All I do is work here. They pay my salary, but I’m me, not them.”

No, Susan, you are them.

The reason your brand is falling apart is because so many of your colleagues are saying the same thing, denying the same responsibility. Consumers don’t believe (or care) that there are warrens and fiefdoms and monarchies within your company.

Also check out “A small, gentle question that could change your life” by Mark Hurst.

I don’t dispute the truth of what’s being said in these posts. However, people like Susan cannot control the corporate culture they work in, or the decisions of other people. She can only control her own actions.

If she can’t change other people’s behavior or particular values of her company, does she need to find another job—even if she’s making an important contribution? Become an entrepreneur instead?

Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, though that feels like the idea du jour.

How would the entrepreneurs delivering this advice fare in an environment where they don’t have absolute control? Would the advice change?

There are trade-offs to working for someone else—and working for a company or brand does not mean that becomes your very identity. Such close identification feels toxic, with potential to produce anger, frustration, anxiety, and dissatisfaction.

Yet the cultural message these days, in books like Godin’s Linchpin (a book I bought for 15 of my staff) is that we all ought to be contributing very meaningful or emotional work, which probably is wrapped up in our identity.

Doing emotional work—delivering with passion, generosity and integrity—is something everyone is capable of (as Godin himself says). And it requires emotional resilience, confidence, maturity. When you’re emotionally wrapped up in the outcomes and your purpose, does this really make you happier? Does it produce a better outcome?

This is the question I struggle with. Where do you come out on the question?

Note: This blog post by Kenny the Monk begins to tackle the question. Even though it’s written for people who may be losing a job, it’s really for anyone facing predicaments in work life.

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