[Applied Psychology] Professional Bad Days

How many times have you gone into work feeling great, only to leave feeling terrible? No matter how detached we think we are with our jobs – continually reminding ourselves not to concern ourselves over career trivialities – still, occasions will sneak up on us where a customer, boss, or circumstance creates a storm we just can’t endure. No matter how strong our defenses, there is always a weak point. How can we prevent professional bad days?

I have a specific work “uniform.”

When I wear my professional clothes, I adopt a persona. The ego of me, the writer Zombiepaper along with the “me” that could be offended by certain situations, is allowed to rest. In that ego’s place is a more generic, professional persona, that foremostly gets in and does the work, secondarily concerned with the professional opinions of others. If the work gets done, so that the bosses and the customers are professionally happy, what does it matter of their personal opinions? What they do in their off-time may be curiosities, however, none are priorities.

That professional persona could be like becoming a professional zombie.

Do the work that must be done to the best of your ability and all additional brain-power should be funneled into what you really want to do in life. The only problem to that is no matter how much we shut off, there will always be frustration at work. Anytime we interact with anything, there is the potential for friction when the interaction does not go as anticipated, with even the humble image editor giving me grief just before writing this essay. The trick is to not let events like that emotionally register in the moment. This question helps me along: “Is this a hill I want to die on?”

That usually puts things into perspective.

The problem is that instead of consciously acknowledging our stressors, either in the moment to colleagues or later to friends, we’ll subconsciously keep this stress bottled up unless we channel that energy somehow. It’s easy for me as a writer. If I’m still agonizing over a situation, I will turn the event into writing fodder. I’ll take all the events of the situation, consider the repercussions at length to find the root cause of the frustration, recall any related or relevant examples, grind it all up, and churn it all out into my writing. The bonus is just if you read, enjoy, and find value in it.

Writing is my own professional and personal therapy. Find yours!

Professional bad days will almost certainly happen. Perhaps not as often as your paycheck, but they will happen. The more you encounter, the easier they will get. If the bad days are a constant variable caused by a customer, boss, or recurring situation, reframe the situation. In the photographed example, the boss who wrote this was a rather forceful individual, but also mostly inept when it came to the work itself. Is someone like that worth taking seriously? Or do you, donning your professional persona, give them enough respect to go about your day and then forget about them?

I couldn’t do that at the time. I can now.

I can because my self-confidence, my ego, and my long-term goals are not dependent on others. Even if my writing were to suddenly take off in financial success and popularity, I would still not be closer to my specific goal of writing “The Story” properly. It would certainly be easier to not have to worry about much, however if my goal is to write a complete and thorough commentary on a nuanced interpretation of reality, how can I do that without understanding the friction of reality?

That conundrum might be the same as yours.

You may end up working another twenty to forty years in your career field, or maybe you’re about to start your career, or maybe you’re closing in just before retirement, and you’ll still have to deal with this. I’m finding compared to the first few years of my career, customers are becoming more demanding – the greatest professional crime is the motto “the customer is always right” because sometimes, myself included, the customer is not right and we should not enable them. Bosses are receiving more pressure from their management. It’s easier to downsize and outsource than build and improve.

So we must endure and tolerate reality.

It doesn’t need to be this way. With most customers, bosses, and colleagues, if one specific person is the problem, usually, others will have similar problems as well. Be careful with how you approach this topic with others, however. If you’re the odd-person out, “the punching bag,” and you’re in a situation where the professional bad days are disproportionately given to you rather than shared among the team or just circumstantial, it’s time for a change. Financial health is not more important than personal health! Who are you trying to impress by burning yourself out?

I can’t count the number of physically-ill professionals I’ve met.

The stress of their jobs have caused irreversible harm to their bodies and minds. These professionals haven’t properly addressed stress by disengaging from professional bad days.

Have a good [professional] day.

Sources: My professional experiences.

Quotes: None

Inspirations: A chat with a career professional after having a bad day. We spoke at one point specifically about how we handle customers, so it got me thinking.

Related: None

Above: Written on a whiteboard at work. Innocent manipulation.
Below: Less innocent manipulation.

While these are good troubleshooting questions to ask:

1. When was the last time it worked as expected?
2. Has anything changed since, to your knowledge?
3. Exactly what were you doing when it stopped?
4. Were there any error messages?
5. Can you gather/send screenshots?
6. What exact functionality were you expecting?
7. What part of expected functionality is not happening?

These questions are also examples of passive-aggressiveness. Instead of directly training us on these questions, they were placed on a whiteboard for later disciplining when we did not ask these questions. My solution was to build a template around these questions.

Even years later, I’m still holding onto this friction. Just shows that I’m no perfect patron saint of living the good life. Writing this essay and this footnote only goes to show that these writings can help me identify/resolve issues.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.