Tell me about it: I was devastated when I heard that I was unsuccessful
PROBLEM: I am a single woman in my 40s. I am dedicated to my career and have worked very hard over the past 30 years to bring the department that I work in to a very high standard. I believe the area I work in makes a real difference to a very vulnerable group in society and I am committed to doing everything I can to make life better for them.
I am usually the last to leave work in the evenings and I always put myself forward for new projects, if I think I have the right skills to bring them to fruition. Six months ago our department head died suddenly and I and all of my colleagues were devastated. Recently, his job was advertised and most of my colleagues suggested that I apply.
I was initially reticent as I was still grieving my colleague and I did not want to be seen to be jumping into his shoes. But I am passionate about the area I work in and have some ideas on how the work could be enhanced even more, so I applied. I was devastated when I heard that I was unsuccessful and even more irritated when I met the young man in his early 30s who has now become my boss.
Several of my colleagues suggested there was sexism involved; others mentioned ageism.
I just don’t like his style. He keeps using buzz words and thanking people for their hard work, even though I don’t think he really understands it. He also speaks about changing the culture of the organisation emphasising a work-life balance, essentially meaning he wants people to stop working late, so that money can be saved on administrative and security staff while others burn the midnight oil.
I am worried that these changes will diminish the great work that we have collectively achieved. I do not want to start looking for another job at this stage in my life, but I know that this change has had an impact on my work; I am achieving much less than I had previously and I have started to call in sick to work, something I had never done before.
ADVICE: You sound passionate about what you do and it is wonderful to have such meaning and satisfaction in what you are spending your life doing. Clearly, you are very upset at being passed over for promotion and I wonder if you need to give yourself time to recover from this blow before deciding what your future holds for you. You and others in your workplace may be judging your new boss without giving him enough time to demonstrate his value, and there is a danger that you might withhold your contribution and support, and the whole organisation might then suffer.
Handling failure or defeat is a difficult human challenge and yet most people experience disappointment in some form many times in their lives. We can learn a huge amount from this and it might be worth taking this crisis as an opportunity to examine your life and perhaps make some strategic decisions.
You say that work has been the major focus of your life and perhaps this explains why you are so devastated at the moment, but it is worthwhile questioning this and taking some time to consider if this is how you want to continue.
Of course you should derive huge meaning and value from work but perhaps you would be less damaged if you had other very important things in your life also, and now may be the time to explore this. Your reaction to the change in the work-life balance culture suggests that this change creates unease in you but instead of channelling this into criticism of your boss, perhaps it says more about how your life is very tilted towards work. If we feel sick when something changes or is taken away from us, it is time to examine that thing and its part in our lives.
You are in only your 40s, and this is often a great time to move into management or senior positions so do not write off this possibility in your life so sharply. You can start by asking for some feedback on your interview, and then engage a professional coach to help you address your interview skills and other matters. You, and your colleagues, believe that you have a lot to offer and it is not okay to start settling for less than the best at this stage in your career, it is too early and more exploration is needed to see if other promotional options are open to you.
Your boss is now in situ and the starting point for a working relationship is accepting this as a fact. He may be young but it is also ageism to suggest that because he is in his early 30s, he is not boss material. Tell him that you are passionate about the organisation and that you would like to be involved in its development and perhaps, with sincerity, you could ask how you can help.
When you feel your skills and experience are being valued and used again, your confidence will rise and perhaps you will look around for openings in the industry for your advancement.
This upset is the opportunity to change direction. As an Indian philosopher said “upsets in life are opportunities which are misunderstood”.