Walking from the parking lot to her office, Jill noticed that the experience was now strangely painful, for the third day in a row. It was weird, because nothing bad was happening, and she couldn't explain her feelings of dread and sadness. She thought, I should be feeling good, I'm riding the wave of Marigold's success — more or less on time, 8% under budget, and great teamwork. And then Program Manager of the Year. Gosh I felt good. So why am I sad?
It's a good problem to have. You've done a great job, people have recognized it, and then the glow faded. When everyone's focus shifts to the next problem, and we're no longer the center of attention, we can sometimes feel a sense of letdown. It can be especially difficult when nothing much is happening to explain our sadness.
Sometimes "nothing is happening" is the key. Moving from the center of attention back to a more familiar place, we can feel ignored, unappreciated, unloved. We're especially vulnerable when we've let the accolades define our self-esteem.
Sometimes we blame others for our feelings of letdown. We accuse them of ingratitude, of having adopted an attitude described as "What have you done for me lately?" True, those around us, who have benefited so much from our past success, can seem ungrateful. And sometimes, they are. Another possibility: we're feeling the letdown that comes after the accolades.
To manage the letdown, first manage the elation. Begin by noticing how high you are. How does the high feel, physically? Perhaps you can't stop smiling, or you're too excited to sleep, or you feel tightness inside your chest. We're all unique — how you experience the high is your very own.
When we move from
the limelight back to
a more familiar place,
we can feel ignored,
unlovedOnce you know you're up there, you can more easily remember that you are still you. And you can remember that having succeeded in such dramatic fashion didn't make you a better person. Actually it was the other way around — first you were a fine person, and then you did the good work. And now you are still you. You're the same wonderful person you've always been. Remembering this can help you manage what comes next.
Once you've learned to recognize the elation, you can more easily recognize its passing. You'll know that the elation is gone, and when the letdown comes, you can remind yourself again that you are still you. You're the same wonderful person that you always have been — before your success and after.
Do you have a favorite photo of yourself as a child? Perhaps as an infant, or that snapshot from your seventh birthday party? Make a copy. Carry it with you. Peek at it now and then. You are still you. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Blind Agendas
- Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants
can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
- Be With the Real
- When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed
that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.
- Handling Heat: II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's
participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way
- Some entries from my personal collection of useful insights.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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