Two of my favorite television shows are “Up w/Chris Hayes” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” on MSNBC. The hosts, guests, topics, and level of honest debate are high energy and always challenge my thinking. Recently, Chris Hayes said something I had to jot down: “The gap between your aspiration and your situation equals your level of frustration”. Although the topic under discussion that morning was not the work environment or careers, the lesson is a lesson for every space.
Three key words: aspiration, situation, and frustration. Three words that sum up the disappointing times of work life (and help us understand contentment). The words also provide a window into how we might deal with disappointments that surely come over the course of any career.
Lets start with ASPIRATION – the hope of achieving something. What we hope for is at the heart of our motivation to keep going through the good, the bad, and the ugly of work. This hope keeps us going to achieve for our families and ourselves. Aspiration is the first step to knowing the joy of success. Langston Hughes said it best: “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”
Whatever your aspirations, you have to deal with the SITUATION – circumstances in which you find yourself. Not a dream, but the real thing. Circumstances are at face value neither positive nor negative. We label situations as such in direct relation to how they impact our aspirations. Example: You want to be a manager on one of the jobs you have. The requirement is a four-year college degree. You work two jobs to support your family and have neither time nor money for 2 more years of college. Each year the gap between your aspiration and your situation widens.
Your FRUSTRATION – a feeling of being upset because of an inability to achieve – mounts when circumstances – your situation – take you farther away from your aspirations. Frustrations play out in absences from work, limited engagement with the organization, defeatist attitudes, general complacency, and passive-aggressive behaviors. Those are outwardly focused reactions. However, the most dangerous reactions are inwardly focused manifestations of frustration that lead to psychological and physical ailments.
- Want and work for something. Have goals. Don’t water down your dreams or aspirations because circumstances seem not in your favor. Dream big!
- Although you may not be able to control your situation, you can control your reaction to it. I know this is easier to say than to do, but it can be done. In fact, it is the biggest lesson of all.
- Be honest with yourself about frustrations and disappointments. In being honest, objectively evaluate the achievability of your aspirations and know it is okay to modify them. If you are unwilling to modify them, attack your situation. Is it time to relocate or change employers?
You and only you are responsible for developing your aspirations, managing reactions to your situation, and controlling your level of frustration.