Years ago, a close friend asked me for advice on her workplace issue.
She worked in a very small office – I think the staff totaled no more than five. She had very little in common with any of her co-workers. She was unhappy and had tried various methods to improve her relationships with the rest of the office staff.
She had tried seeking them out, looking for commonality. But they had belittled her interests and done little to share their own.
She had tried offering to help with everyone’s work load. But they had responded by telling her they were perfectly capable of doing their jobs without her help.
She had tried bringing in goodies – baked goods and fruit and candy, but they were left untouched.
She had tried commiserating if they complained, or expressing enthusiasm for whatever made them happy. She agreed with them outwardly even if she privately disagreed. They responded by making outrageous statements, and then feigning shock if she agreed.
She had reached the invisibility stage. She went to work and did her job in silence. She interacted only when absolutely necessary.
And she was miserable.
I wasn’t surprised at her misery. A big factor in liking your job is having friends there. You go and see people you like. You talk. You laugh. You feel like part of the team, part of the family.
And job satisfaction in turn is a big part of life satisfaction. You spend the majority of your day at work. How can you go home happy after eight hours of anxiety?
I told her to look for another job. That she had exhausted all strategies and she should move on. And also that, although many people enjoy the atmosphere of a small office, she should consider looking for employment in a larger corporation. I had seen from my own college and workplace experience that, instead of feeling like an faceless cog in a big impersonal machine, a diverse environment had given me a much better chance to find kindred spirits. I had hundreds of chances to find like-minded friends, not five.
“It’s like dating in a really small town,” I said. “It’s wonderful if your soul mate is one of the only three guys your age who live there. But if one is a drinker, one is gay, and one has his heart set on the girl who is prettier than you, who do you marry? You have to say adios to Hicksville and move to the big city.”
“Oh, really?” my friend replied. “That’s how you solve a problem? You run away?”
That surprised me. I hadn’t really thought of it like that. Was running away from a problem my preferred solution?
And you know what?
Problem avoidance is not necessarily a bad choice.
“Maybe,” I said. “Only I don’t call it ‘running away.’ I call it: ‘I don’t really have to live this way if it doesn’t make me happy.'”
My friend did eventually leave that job. But she stuck it out way longer than I would have. I guess I admire her in some ways for not giving up. But mostly, I think it was a shame that she stayed unhappy for too long.
Yes, we should confront our problems.
Yes, we should be brave.
But sometimes, confronting our problems and being brave also entails running away.
It is not so cowardly to say, “I don’t have to take this anymore”