In television there’s a rule: the main character must be good at his job. He can be a serial killer, a meth dealer–but he has to be an unusually skilled serial killer or meth dealer. Apparently, it’s very difficult for TV viewers to identify with a character who isn’t great at his job. But why?
Defending the Fort
By definition, most people are average-ish at their job. Maybe 1 out of 10 people is truly outstanding. But ask 10 people, and 8 of them will tell you they are exceptional at their work.
People tend to get very prickly on the topic of job performance, and most get tangled up in various workplace dramas. Your boss doesn’t give you enough credit. Your co-workers are out to get you. When you invest a lot of emotional and mental energy into this sort of narrative, you are building a kind of ego fort. And once you’ve built the fort, you’ve got to keep defending it.
Recognizing Family Dynamics
What’s the primary reason people get especially defensive about their workplace performance and relationships? Their unresolved family issues. In theory, your family is supposed to love and support you unconditionally. But in reality, it doesn’t always work out this way. At times in your life, maybe you’ve felt rejected, neglected, overlooked, judged or harshly criticized by your family members. These dynamics tend to replay within the workplace. When you are feeling intense competition with a co-worker, does this in some way reflect your sibling rivalry growing up? Or when you are feeling deeply undervalued by your boss, might this relate in some way to your childhood frustration with your parents?
Once you begin to see how your workplace dissatisfaction reflects your family issues, you can make use of your job as a kind of therapy. Improving things with your boss/co-workers may help relieve unspoken tensions and disappointments within your family-of-origin. But the first step is to simply open yourself to the possibility you may not be quite as good at your job as you would like to think. Not only are people who are willing to seriously re-evaluate their workplace performance more likely to resolve longstanding family issues–they are also more likely to get better at their job.