Let It Go: Don’t let Anger or Frustration Derail You

July 12, 2009

In the last month I’ve chatted with a few folks who were grumpy or bitter about some situation in their work life.  I find myself giving the same advice over and over. “Let it go.”

My kids have a great book Zen Shorts, about Stillwater the panda bear and his three new friends Michael, Addy and Karl. Stillwater shares a story with each child based on a typical issue they are dealing with. For Karl, it’s anger at his older brother Michael over various slights and bossings around.

Stillwater relates the story of an elder and younger monks’ journey in China. At one point the older monk stops to help a wealthy lady across the street. She is haughty and ungrateful for the help. Hours of brooding later, the younger monk says to the elder, “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

The elder monk’s reply? “I set her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

Hanging on to anger isn’t effective in the long term. It may motivate you in the short term, but probably not to a useful outcome. It also diverts attention from your own journey.

I’m not saying don’t be frustrated or get upset. These are normal human emotions. You need to learn to control them and help them empower you.

Why are you angry?

First, think about what is making you angry. Is it a personal slight, unjust treatment of others, poor performance of a work group or individual? Context matters.

How do I deal with it?

Did someone hurt your feelings or embarrass you? DON’T respond in anger.  Most of the time, the clever retort or blunt email will come back to haunt you. Try to develop a thicker skin. You need to learn to control how you reveal your emotions. Manage them or they’ll manage you.

1 – Vent. As a venting mechanism (because we need help letting it go), I try to do two things. One, have a good friend you can let it rip with to get it off your chest. I’ve peeled wallpaper off the walls of conference rooms sharing frustrations with some of my close colleagues. Then I try to put it in a box and tuck it away. Catharsis is good if it moves you forward.

Another strategy is making sure you’re exercising and in decent health. My ability to regulate my mood and patience is greatly improved when I’m exercising.  A long run or time on the elliptical runner help me think clearly and let the endorphins go.

2 – Do something about it. Frustrated because something is unjust or a work situation is bad? Work to make it better, rather than simply ranting and becoming a crank.  Nobody likes the “angry” person. Be useful and channel your frustrations into action.

I am also not saying “turn the other cheek” or ignore people if they are trying to attack you. But responding angrily will go badly. Respond coolly and be disciplined in how you manage the situation. In Godfather terms, be Michael, not Sonny. He dies shot up in a toll booth because he was a hot head.

I’ve heard it called “personal mastery”. Whatever you call it, get it.

As the buddha said:

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”


Is the juice worth the squeeze?

April 6, 2009

I’ve always been coached and offered the advice to people to be careful when they take certain actions. Make sure it’s worth it. I recently got a great summary of it when reconnecting with a former boss. He said where he grew up this is called “is the juice worth the squeeze?”


In difficult situations, there’s always a temptation to respond impulsively or do what feels good. Whether it’s an email, a “witty” response in a meeting or a significant political position…think it through and make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.


A common misperception I see people make all too often is that there are no, or limited, consequences to just saying what we think. This is soooo wrong. There’s a great scene in the godfather where Sonny blurts out a disrespectful and revealing comment to Sollozzo. Don Corleone’s dismissal of Sonny is “Santino, never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking.” In this case it ends for Sonny at a toll booth in a hail of bullets. I’ll summarize in saying the juice was definitely not worth the squeeze.


Obviously, most of our lives are not as dramatic. Nevertheless there are many opportunities to make a poor choice along the way. I’d encourage you to think through in certain situations WHY you would be responding or acting the way you do. My point here is to separate ethics from ego. A few that come to mind are:


1)    Making yourself feel better. This is entirely ego and almost always a bad idea. You’ll feel better for seconds…until you feel worse. The downside is generally worse than the few seconds of cleverness you get to enjoy. Not much upside here. The classic example here is emailing angry. Bad choice.


2)    Speaking truth to power regarding a likely poor decision. This is more complicated. Ego and ethics can get co-mingled and both sides can believe they are doing the right thing. My counsel is to think carefully. You are probably more able to be somewhat assertive as you are (hopefully) data driven in your concerns, have a fact base to argue from and are smart enough to frame disagreement impersonally. Just think carefully before speaking.


3)    Speaking truth to power regarding an ethical concern. This is where things get stickier. You need to think hard before responding and consider whether you completely understand the situation and the implications of acting. Making a major ethical stand can be heroic…or foolish.


First, assess the situation. MAKE SURE you have your facts straight and that you are on firm ground ethically. Lots of things can be gray. Being black and white in a gray world can be problematic. Second, be sure you are willing to leave or be marginalized if things go badly. When you fall on your sword, you are impaled. You may not survive so be sure you understand this.  Third, make sure you have assessed the bigger picture. Could you have a bigger impact by swallowing hard, staying and keeping other things on track?


4)    Acting in your own vs. others’ self interest. In the end everyone will know if you take care of yourself over others. Your reputation will suffer. Consider the implications before acting.


So think through how to respond in difficult spots. I’ll write my next post on how to handle some of these situations wisely to create scenarios where you can do what you think is right without blowing yourself up.


There isn’t a right or wrong answer in these areas. It’s up to you to do what’s right for you. Just think it through and make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.

Book Recommendation: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

February 7, 2009

Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) was recently recommended to me by a friend and former classmate. He feels Pink hits on an emerging trend towards different kinds of work and skills emerging. Then I put it together. Pink had also written The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a manga style graphic novel on career management that I had seen reviewed in a few places. I decided to pick it up.


It’s great.


Pink lays out an entertaining, sometimes funny and most importantly brief overview of some core career management concepts.


Pink uses Diana, a magical career coach/sprite, to deliver the key themes in a step by step process. While torturing Johnny as he bumbles through trying to advance his career, six key themes are revealed as summary lessons learned from each “chapter” of the book.


1.      There is no plan

2.      Think strengths, not weaknesses

3.      It’s not about you

4.      Persistence trumps talent

5.      Make excellent mistakes

6.      Leave an imprint


For those who have read some of my posts or know me you can probably guess why I appreciate this piece. The positive, engaging, “find yourself” message that Pink delivers while also encouraging activity and progress lines up with my world view.


I have given a copy to all of my students and they all have said it was a fun and quick read. I recommend it to those who have grown up reading comics or who groan at the thought of reading hundreds of pages to understand a few key principles.