In my last post, Take this job and shove it, I talked about the difficulties inherent in quitting a job out of frustration without having another job waiting in the wings. Near the end of the post, I said-

I will continue to reach beyond the parameters of my job description because I strongly believe that everyone is responsible for keeping an eye on the big picture. Focusing on the big picture helps me maintain a positive attitude instead of concentrating on the negative and reflecting that negativity in my work.

Easier said than done, I admit. Sometimes focusing on the big picture makes you feel powerless to effect necessary change.

In that post, I also linked to an article, Managing Your Career in a Negative Environment. The article offers some really good suggestions for maintaining a positive outlook when surrounded by negativity. Its focus is more on how to maintain one’s own sanity in a culture that could benefit from change rather than on how to change the culture, which admittedly might be impossible depending on the circumstances.

As I said in my last post, I don’t work in a negative environment. But everybody encounters negativity or destructive habits within their work environment to some degree–negativity and habits that have been nurtured for years simply by the implicit acceptance of such behavior as normal. If you are frustrated in your current employment situation for whatever reason, and you would like to do more than simply manage your own sanity, you really only have two choices–give up or lead by example. You can descend into the abyss, or you can raise the bar. Specifically, anyone can do the following-

  • Be direct. Talk directly to the person who needs to hear what you have to say. Fostering a work relationship is not a bear hunt–you can’t go around it, and you can’t go under it. You have to go right through it.
  • Don’t hide behind an email. If you have something important to say, say it in person. Resist the urge to craft the best possible version of you in writing. Maybe it’s true–maybe you do express yourself better in writing than in conversation. Doesn’t matter. Some things just must be said, openly, with body language and eye contact and discomfort.
  • Don’t buy into passive-aggressive behavior. I came across this post today, and it is excellent. I bet everyone can think of someone who fits this description. Maybe the person you think of is yourself.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t talk in riddles. Don’t make people guess. Be clear. That doesn’t mean you have to be abrasive or rude or inconsiderate. Simply be honest in the nicest way possible.
  • Be nice. Being nice doesn’t mean being weak or not standing your ground or giving in. Being nice simply means not being mean. Being nice is easy.
  • Take the chip off your shoulder. If it’s getting heavy for you to carry around, it’s probably weighing other people down, too.
  • Bring your best self to work even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Find like-minded people and sustain one another.
  • Contribute to the conversation even when you’re not sure anybody’s listening. You owe it to yourself to have a say.
  • Just keep swimming

Who am I to offer such advice? Nobody. And everybody. We’ve all been guilty of negative behavior at one time or another, and we all have the power to change old habits. Nobody has all the answers, and everybody has a bad day now and then–a day when they just don’t have an ounce extra to give and it’s easy to just send that email, avoid that conversation, and hide. But if every day is a bad day, then maybe it’s time to make some changes. This list is a reminder to myself more than anything.

When it comes down to it, we’re each responsible for our own conduct and our own internal dialogue. Whether you’re frustrated, bored, overwhelmed, or drowning in a sea of negativity, there’s only one person that can elevate your job–you. I’m not talking about promotions or raises, which are nice but don’t always accomplish anything unless the person being elevated externally has elevated themselves internally by changing their mindset, attitude, and perspective.

The reality may be that your job is on the ground floor and you’d rather be working in the penthouse suite. Either way, the elevator is open to everyone and you can ride for free.