A work environment like The Office where an obtuse boss unknowingly stifles productivity and routinely kills morale makes for a funny sit-com. That series is one of my all-time favorite television shows. However, when fiction becomes reality, it’s not so funny. I’ve seen work environments every bit as dysfunctional as the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin. When an obvious choice had to be made, you could count on the boss to make the exact wrong decision.

When our work environments become tough, it’s easy to feel like we are victims in a bad situation with little hope for a better future. Often we fixate on the brokenness of the circumstances and allow it to rob us of contentment both at work and outside of work.

However, you do have choice. You have options.

Choose to Accept

Disappointment and discontented are rooted in our expectations. When we anticipate one thing and receive something else, our expectations are not met and we’re frequently unhappy about it. We can continue to set ourselves up for disappointment by hoping that the circumstances or people will somehow magically change, but that’s only setting ourselves up for more discontentment.

So, you can choose to accept it. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to condone it. But you can acknowledge that this is simply the way it is and stop mentally fighting it.

You can get annoyed that the boss shows up 10 minutes late for her own meeting. Or you can expect it and use those ten minutes to catch up on email. You can get aggravated that someone frequently avoids on-call duty. Or you can do your job and allow him to reap what he sows in the long run.

Choose to Change It

Often we have far more influence than we know. We may not have the positional power to change something, but we can influence those around us by our presence, our demeanor, our actions, and our words. You can influence others by asking questions, making suggestions, or having a good attitude. If we stop viewing the situation as utterly hopeless and look for opportunities to improve things, we empower ourselves to create a better future.

One way to do this is remove yourself from the situation. Image that a friend or colleague has come to you with this problem. Describe it to yourself as if the friend was telling you of his woes at work. What advice would you give? What counsel would you provide?

Choose to Leave

Sometimes the environment or situation is so caustic or so bad that you have no choice but to extricate your from it. You must leave it for your own sanity. If that’s the case, begin taking concrete steps toward that goal. Look for a job with another team or with another company. Get your resume ready, study for certification exams, and begin networking at user group meetings. These simple actions help give you hope in the short term and will offer a path to remove you from the environment that’s causing so much grief.

You Have a Choice

As leadership guru Stephen Covey said in his timeless classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we have the ability to choose. Proactive people are “response-able.” They are able to choose their response to their environment and they focus on the things they can control. They don’t waste time and energy on the things they cannot control. It’s Habit 1 of the Seven Habits.

Knowing that you have a choice is liberating. It’s empowering. It provides hope for a better future.


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