Three Questions to Reframe What Makes You Miserable at Work

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A friend of mine recently started a nursing job at a new hospital. As part of the standard orientation plan, she was assigned a preceptor to show her the ropes and acclimate her to the hospital's policies.

But instead of being a supportive and encouraging leader, the trainer was constantly looming over my friend's shoulder, speaking over her during report-outs, and making unnecessary stylistic corrections to her written reports.

Instead of feeling confident and at home at the new hospital, my friend—an experienced and wonderful nurse—felt distrusted, incompetent, and frustrated. After just two shifts, she was going out of her mind. And the training period was six weeks long!

Each time I saw her, she was pulling her hair out, venting, and counting down the days. As we sipped gin and tonics on the porch after one particularly rough shift, I asked her:

What if, instead of seeing this as a frustrating and demoralizing situation, there was another way of looking at it?

Yes, please! she said, desperately.

Sure, it's a crummy situation. And she's having to survive the reign of a lousy leader. Lots of people in this position feel that they have no option but to wallow in the misery of a terrible job; just get through it.

But there's another way. Even amidst the frustration, there is value in this for you: when something at work rubs against you or gets under your skin, it puts into stark contrast what's truly important to you. Take note. Use this opportunity to get specific about what's bothering you. Think through how you would approach it differently. Gather your thoughts about the aspects you wish would change. 

Even if you can't alter the situation at hand, this is good data to use as you move forward in your career. You'll know the building blocks of work environments and relationships that will fulfill your needs.
 You'll know what you're looking for, and it will be easier to find.

I point out to my friend: I know that she aspires to one day be a leader in her field, and to be the preceptor training new hires. If she had had a good preceptor, the training experience may not have registered with her as a leadership learning opportunity. When things are in alignment, sometimes they are invisible.

But when you have a bad leader, suddenly you can zero in on the contrast of how you would approach the situation completely differently—How would she communicate with her trainees? How would she go about building on their current skills? How, specifically, would she want them to feel as a result of training with her? She can use this as an opportunity to refine her understanding of her own approach and leadership style.

With this perspective, my friend might actually learn more from having a lousy, micro-managey, overbearing trainer. Who knew?


1. What is one element of your work that gets under your skin? Get specific about what it looks like, why it bugs you, and how it affects your work.

2. What does this situation tell you about what's most important to you?

3. Given the opportunity, how would you approach the situation differently and how would that lead to a different result?