Wherever You Go, There You Are

Tom Goodell

A lot of people don’t like their jobs. In a 2013 Gallup study,[1] fully 70% of workers in America were found to be “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” Engagement is a direct measure of job satisfaction. Why are people so disengaged? And if you are less than happy at work, or would like to find work more satisfying, what can you do about that?

The good news and the bad news is, you have to start with yourself. It’s good news because you are in charge of yourself. If you need to change something about yourself, you can do that. You can’t change anyone else. The bad news is, it means you can’t just blame someone else for your troubles. You have to take accountability for handling your situation at work.

Work is a place where you encounter other people, and sometimes those other people make things difficult. But in fact, work is also a place where you encounter yourself, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. That difficult coworker? Your irritation at their behavior is your irritation. If you weren’t there, your irritation wouldn’t be there either. Wherever you go, there you are.

You might resent this perspective. You might want to deny its truth or relevance. You might say, “Well, that just lets the jerk off the hook.” That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that your power to change your situation comes from your willingness to see yourself, see the choices available to you, and take accountability for the choices you make.

Someone’s behavior may trigger your frustration, anger, or resentment. But your behavior may also trigger their frustration, anger, or resentment. You and they create a feedback loop that continually reinforces the behaviors in each of you that keeps the relationship from working. Together the two of you feed the very things you don’t want, creating a beast out of your relationship. If either of you stops feeding the beast, the beast stops growing and settles down. It gets quieter and calmer, and may stop being a beast altogether. It may even become something you both treasure.

We often equate “easy” with “happiness”—the idea that when things are easy, we’re happy. But the experiences that make life meaningful and satisfying are not the easy ones, they’re the hard ones. The ones you have to work at, struggle with, and learn from. The ones where you can look back and say “I made that better” or “I grew and learned and became a better person through that experience.” And work, while not always easy, is full of those opportunities.

This can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s easier to blame others. But if you take accountability for managing the challenges in your life you will have much greater power over how your life and relationships unfold. Your relationship with that other person may not become a great friendship. But it can be something you are proud of and even grateful for because of the skill it helped you develop, and because of what you did with it—turning lemons into lemonade.

I know in my life I am challenged every day, by my family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, to name a few. But I try to remember that every interaction, every encounter, is an encounter with myself. And in that sense, every encounter, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant, is a gift, an opportunity to learn and grow and develop greater capacity for living life the way I want to live it.

What kind of place is work for you? And what kind of place can you make it? The power is yours. You might be surprised at what’s possible.

[1] Gallup. “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders.” Gallup, 2013, 68.

Tom Goodell is President and founder of Linden Leadership. Since its inception in 1987, our mission has been to guide clients in creating cultures of high performance. Tom provides executive, management and team coaching; leadership training; and culture-building services in a wide variety of organizations, including entrepreneurial businesses, large corporations, government, education, and not-for-profit institutions. Tom’s areas of expertise are in establishing organizational cultures of high performance.