A fork in the road

Life, especially your work life, is not always going to go as you hope. There will be occasional storms. But it’s how you react and respond to those storms that determines your character.

Let’s say you’re up for a big promotion. Either you or your archrival at work will get the nod. The anticipation builds as everyone waits for the announcement. You just know your name will be called. But your rival’s name is announced. How will you respond?

You’ve worked hard for years to be recognized as a leader in your service organization. The slate of officers is being created for next year and you think it’s your turn to serve as president. But you’re not asked to serve. What’s your reaction?

Even though you have worked hard and done everything correctly in your unit for years, a new supervisor comes in and seems to find fault with every single thing you do. There’s just no pleasing this guy. What’s your next step?

In each of those cases, you may feel devastated. It may be especially hard to swallow when folks in your organization knew you were up for the promotion and you didn’t get it. Your feelings are hurt and you want to crawl into a hole where no one will talk with you for days. Maybe no one in your service organization knew your heart was set on the president’s role. Still, you are hurt that the committee passed you by. And your new supervisor? You feel like the world has shifted on its axis.

You’ve essentially come to a fork in the road. The decision as to which direction to go has implications.

Ideally, you’ll put a smile on your face and not share your discontent with the world. Maybe your heart is breaking and you think everyone’s talking about you—and maybe they are, until a more titillating event happens. Don’t let it show on your face or in your body language. As I tell students often, fake it until you make it.

It won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be fun, but you’ll be glad you didn’t wear your heart on your sleeve for all to see it’s broken. Trust me, they may know you’re upset, but you can’t let them see it.

What happens if you take the other fork and decide that you’re going to show the world how upset you are? In many situations, you only have to look at a person to see their unhappiness or rage or discontent. I had a minister once tell a story about asking one of the men in his church how the man was doing. “I’m just fine,” the man said. “Well, would you tell your face that?” said the minister. “It doesn’t seem to have gotten the message.”

Once you take this fork, it’s like you’re cloaked in pessimism. Everything around you is “bad” and you make sure everyone knows it. You anger more easily and snap at people who don’t deserve to be snapped at. Your face gets red when you deal with the person who “wronged” you and folks around you are concerned that you’re going to literally have a stroke. Carrying the anger around has to be negatively impacting your health and, ultimately, your lifespan. Is this really the fork you want to take?

I get that you feel you’ve been mistreated or wronged, but your response to the decision, whether it was the right or wrong decision, is key to your physical, emotional and mental health. I hope you’ll choose to take the path that gives you the chance for the happiest and longest life.

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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