What’s being unhappy at work got to do with butterflies?

Have you ever been so ridiculously unhappy at work but still not done anything about it? It’s exactly what was happening in my life for months before I decided to leave my job.   I was a bit like this hovering butterfly.

Today I’m talking about my story and sharing the lessons I learnt.

In 2012 in the UK businesses were still reeling at the impact of the recession. From 2007 onwards, businesses fell like dominoes.  I was at the coal face of carrying out multiple rounds of redundancies. The events of those years had made their very negative mark on work life and there were many people suffering from what is often referred to as survivor syndrome. I became very unhappy and the reasons were multi-faceted.

During the same period I lost both parents.  It was a wake up call. What was I doing spending all my days at a place where I had become so intensely unhappy? Life surely was too short. Still, I carried on going in to the office every day.  What else could I do? I needed an income but with 6 months notice followed by 12 months of restrictive covenants I felt completely stuck.  How was I ever going to leave?

One day I had a compelling thought that the only thing that was making me unhappy was myself and only I could change it.  I wrote my resignation letter. I had no other job to go to. It may have been reckless and I’m definitely not suggesting everyone rushes to do the same thing. Luckily for me, I’ve never looked back even though things didn’t initially work out how I thought they would and the subsequent journey of creating my own business was far from easy.

Here’s a few of the things that I’ve learnt about myself along the way … and it might not be what you’re expecting.

  1. It is within my power to change the way I feel.  I could have made myself happier had I not dwelt on what I perceived to be a negative situation and, instead, looked for the positives. I had a good regular income that enabled me to have the lifestyle I wanted, the people I worked with were great, I had paid holiday, paid sick leave, access to private medical care, a pension and I was protected by employment law. Honestly, when it’s put in those terms, things could have been a lot worse!
  2. No-one else has the power to make me unhappy.  Other people may do things that I do not like or that I disagree with but it is up to me to choose how much I think about them.  I could give their actions very little thought or I could spend hours mulling them over and creating stories in my head about why they acted the way they did, convincing myself it had something to do with me. I can’t agree with everything at work but it doesn’t really matter so long as I don’t allow it to make me feel unhappy.
  3. I have the choice to walk away from any situation.  There is always a choice and there is always a way to make things better.  It might take some time and thought but I believe there is always a solution to a work based problem. It just needs to be found.  I find talking usually helps.  Even though it may feel like there isn’t a choice – there is!  The choice is usually either carrying on what you are doing or doing something different. Weigh up and understand the risks with each scenario before making a decision.
  4. If I decide not to walk away then I need to understand why I have made that decision and be happy with it. Sometimes there are valid reasons for not walking away at a certain point in time. It may be that the likelihood of finding another job is low or that the job fits in well with other commitments. It sometimes helps to write down the reasons for the decision to stay, as a memory jogger if the old feelings of unhappiness creep back in. I also like to think about whether I can do anything to change the reasons for staying. For example, if one of the reasons is that it’s hard to find another job could I do some training that would make me more employable?  I also plan when I’m going to re-evaluate my decision.
  5. If I decide to walk away I need to understand the possible consequences.  I knew, when I resigned, that I didn’t have another job to go to. I took the risk anyway. I believed that I would get another job within the six months notice period. I didn’t.  I would have been far more prepared if I had considered the possibility of not being able to find another HR job within the expected timescale.  I would have given more thought to some back up plans, including having some savings to carry me through.  It’s always worth talking things through with several other people and maybe some who are completely independent, to give a different perspective. It’s always a great idea to have back up plans, just in case.
  6. I need to remind myself that I have chosen the life I live. I chose how long to stay in my job and I chose when to leave and start something new.  I know there are some times in life when something happens that I do not choose but it’s how I react to that event will shape the life I choose for myself. I know sometimes I might need help from a friend or a professional with how I react to an event outside of my control.
  7. Actions other people take are not necessarily because of anything to do with me.  Sometimes I overthink things especially when other people’s actions upset me. I sometimes think they’ve done something as a reaction to something I’ve done or they’ve done something to try to deliberately hurt me.  I need to recognise that sometimes it’s nothing to do with me at all. On the rare occasion when someone does act maliciously that is their problem and not mine because I can’t control what someone else does.
  8. I feel it is really helpful to actively listen to other people’s views, consider them and make my own balanced decision.  It’s always good to talk things over with a trusted friend, family member or a professional.  Instead of not listening to anyone or just listening to one person I find it helps to mull over many views and consider them before making my own decisions.  I’m responsible for the decisions I make even if I’m influenced by the views of others.
  9. I need strategies for reducing worry about income. Instead of worrying it’s far better to take action to remove the worry, as far as I possibly can.  One of the main things that I did worry about was how I was going to earn enough money to keep my home.  It did reach crisis point.  I would say this was the lowest point. Could I have done more to reduce this worry?  Probably, yes.
    • I could have built up more savings.
    • I could have further slashed my spending.
    • I could have put more thought into how long it might take to secure another job and how many jobs I would need to apply for before getting a ‘yes’.
  10. I see rejection as a positive!  That may sound weird. Let me explain.  The fewer rejections I have the less effort I have made to change something.  For example, if I am seeking a new contract I need to think about the success rates. If it generally takes 19 rejections to get one success I need to make 20 approaches to new clients to get one success and to expect 19 rejections.  I can’t be rejected unless I try to secure a new contract.  It’s the same with applying for new jobs – it’s a numbers game at the end of the day. The difficult thing is trying to decide what that number is but there’s lots of research that has already been done on this.

I hope some of these points might resonate with you and help you if you’re feeling unhappy at work and still hovering!

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