‘You’ll never be successful here or anywhere!’
Obviously, these are words you never want to hear from your boss. In fact, words like these typically precede being fired. When I heard them, I cringed as if someone had hit me. And, of course, oh-so-embarrassingly, I immediately burst into tears.
Seven years into my career at a large e-commerce company, promotions into leadership positions and positive performance reviews had garnered me a reputation as a trustworthy, hardworking, customer-centric and somewhat fierce leader. In addition to this role, I had several noteworthy professional accomplishments at other companies and an MBA from a good school.
Yet, my boss’s words stung. And I — a 33-year-old professional adult, a leader of a large team at a Fortune 100 company — cried. Hard.
‘Staying was harder than quitting’ but more rewarding
While I was peripherally worried that my direct reports had heard her though our makeshift modular walls in the company’s second campus building in downtown Seattle, I was mostly dumbfounded. My boss’s level of frustration was a surprise.
I prided myself on my ability to read people and situations and understand what was expected of me. As a matter of fact, a direct report once referred to me as having a “spidery sense.”
“You pick up on all the things no one says,” he said.
My boss’s words rang in my ears. How had I gotten myself here? How had it come to this?
Six months prior, I had transferred to this position from another team. The new role came with a greater scope of responsibility and new, unfamiliar functions and teams. It relied on a few strengths I didn’t possess yet. I also wasn’t on the top of my game. I had infant twins and a toddler at home. I was exhausted, distracted and struggling. Even before this fateful day, I had noted that the position also came with a manager who seemed to be going through a tough time herself.
I had thought I was still managing it all OK, though, until that conversation.
The idea of quitting hung in the air, tantalizing in its immediacy and finality. Quitting would allow me to save face and not get fired. It would allow me to avoid the self-examination that would certainly be necessary to turn things around. It would also be great revenge, and I was angry. Even if my boss was unhappy with my performance, quitting would make things hard for her.
But I didn’t quit. I didn’t get fired, either. I moved teams and stayed on for three more years and had the best years of my career there. Most importantly, I grew professionally and personally and had a lot of fun.
Staying was harder than quitting. However, for me, it was the more rewarding choice. Along the way, here are some things I learned about how to stay in the game when you feel like quitting.
5 tips for staying at your job
Remind yourself that negative feedback truly isn’t personal
I’d heard this countless times, and as a manager of others, I had become adept at giving tough feedback and even firing people. But when that tough feedback is turned on you, it feels like a measure of your worth as a person. It isn’t. No one gets to determine your worth except you.
Also, feedback givers have their own challenges and insecurities that influence the message. In my situation, the manager was also unfamiliar with the new scope, had a new manager and was under intense pressure to deliver. Her frustration was driven by these factors, as well.
Get intimate with your strengths and opportunity areas
Successful people vet themselves against the strengths needed for their position. A position that’s a good match should require at least two of your three top strengths.
If the most critical strength for success is a challenging area for you, make a plan to move on. In my case, technical expertise was critical, but I didn’t have it yet.
Particularly if you’re moving around within your current company, new managers are quick to give people with known reputations the benefit of the doubt. This won’t always set you up for success, so do your homework.
Surround yourself with good mentors, and ask for help
A good mentor is someone who has been a fair critic of you in the past, not someone with whom you enjoy having lunch.
For example, upon recounting this incident to a mentor in an emergency lunch that week, he said, “Yeah, I wasn’t impressed with your work in that role, either, and here’s what you can improve.” While hard to hear, his comments helped me see that I hadn’t necessarily been wronged; I did have room to improve.
But mentors need to advocate, too. Another mentor helped me locate a new role that was much more aligned with my strengths.
Move forward from failures
What could you have done better? What can you learn? Then learn it, and move on. It was tempting to let this event define me and crush my confidence.
Give yourself a time limit to wallow, and understand that you will have seasons in your career; learn from them, and begin your reinvention.
Work to build a trusting relationship with your boss
Success and failure are often one bad boss relationship away. While another manager may not have put me in this role, feedback shouldn’t be a surprise, and professionalism is critical for a trusting, mutually beneficial manager-employee relationship. Enable feedback to flow freely both ways — before either party becomes frustrated.
It’s tempting to quit when the going gets tough. Sometimes, quitting might be the only choice. But there is often more personal and professional growth to be had on the other side — if you’re in a position to do the hard work.
Andrea Leigh is an e-commerce consultant and the vice president of strategy and insights at Ideoclick.