Fear the Working Dead Part 2: “It Can Always Be Worse” (A Downward Spiral)

How often have you been in a situation at work that made you want to immediately quit? Maybe it was office politics from your colleagues. Maybe it was a verbal berating by a manager, after given a task with little resources to succeed. Either way, you feel like you are being set up to fail. And you tell yourself:

“I want out of this!”

“This is complete bullshit!”

“I’ve had enough!”

“Anything could be better than this!”

Then, you start to imagine all the ways that you are going to quit. You’re going to tell the boss to shove it and throw the resignation letter on his desk, or take off your heels off, wave them in the air, and say: “y’all gonna miss me”… as you’re walking out of the door. However, just when you are on the cusp of taking action, you get cold feet. An unsubstantiated fear kicks in. Your anxieties skyrocket. And you are resigned to telling yourself: “Well, it can always be worse”.

…You then calmly go back to your work.

I remember a situation when I would receive a phone call from my boss. The phone would ring so suddenly and random. My blood pressure immediately shot up because I knew what was coming next. It was always the same bullshit. I’d try to let the phone ring several times to avoid showing him my anxiety. I had even considered quickly leaving my office in hopes he would dial the next person in the directory. Eventually, I would pick up the phone and my boss would say in a raspy voice, “Can you come to my office please?”

Before I could reply, the dial tone was pulsing in my ear.

I would go into my manager’s office, summoned to sit down. He would ask me, in the same raspy voice, “Sooooo, how’s it going?” Again, before I could answer, the same pre-planned tirade was launched, and would invariably end with a thinly veiled threat of losing my job.

Following this meeting…

I would go back to my cubicle with a sense of indignation. “No one deserves this!” “It’s not worth it!” “I can’t stand this anymore!” I want to quit!” Time after time, I knew I needed to take some sort of action… but then, I thought of how bad it was to be unemployed again, how unqualified I felt I was for other jobs; and there was always the possibility of landing in an even worse work-environment.

Time would pass. Emotions would calm. And I found myself repeating my own mantra: “Well, I’ll put up with it for now… It can always be worse.” And just like many of you, I activated “drone mode” and calmly went about my duties.

With each new bad situation, this cycle occurred, and each time my tolerance for toxicity reached new heights, all-the-while my self-worth spiraled into hell.

The phrase “It can always be worse”, if applied incorrectly, traps us into comparing ourselves to worse and worse situations. We can compare our current state to something more unfavorable, but in that situation, there is always the potential for a new low.

Ask yourself this question: how far do we go with this comparison? You can always compare yourself to something worse, but doing so creates a state of inaction. It’s this misguided frame of reference that kept me from thinking of the opportunities that exist in the “unknown”. Instead, I focused on unsubstantiated fear.

So, I recommend this, the next time you are at your job, and you say to yourself, “it can always be worse”, imagine a scale; put the weight of your work-driven anxiety on one end, and the weight of your fear of the unknown on the other. If the weight tips in favor of workplace anxiety, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make my life better?”

Next Step: Take action!

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