Balancing workplace success, aspiration and recognition

Research suggests that one of the greater signs of mental health is a poor sense of self-worth. The average individual, according to BBC news, is frequently evaluating himself or herself in comparison to others in order to gauge some sort of self-assessment on worth. The New York Times bestseller Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz claims that this is a kind of social data analysis, using a doppelganger or an imagined self, and we conduct a self evaluation to establish a perceived worth.

If we surround ourselves if an environment where everyone seems to be better than we are – for example, if they seem to be dressed in nicer clothes, drive nicer cars and we hence have a perceived impression that they are successful and what we would like to be – then if the gulf between them and us can be bridged, we are motivated to work hard and aspire towards that success, perhaps by aping the means and methods by which our models have achieved their success. If the gulf is too great, then we get discouraged and the continual trigger of this disparity causes us to feel slightly depressed and results in poor mental health.

In a workplace situation, envy and depression can develop when we evaluate our co-workers. Some of it can be subconscious, some of it can be deliberate. The proximity of the daily grind makes it inevitable. Imagine we are working on a team project. Various members contribute but one – perhaps the project manager, or someone on the same level as you that knows how to position themselves – takes the credit for the work and the accolades. We have all met someone like that, I’m sure. You can recognise these people by the way they talk; when there is work to be done, they say “We must … ” and assume the team mantle, but when there is a sniff of credit to be gotten, their talk turns too “I” and they start mentioning what they feel they have contributed to the project. I once worked with someone who mentioned “I” twenty-five times in a thirty-minute meeting, yet was careful to refer to “we” when the allocation of work section of the meeting approached.

We all work with these kinds of people. Perhaps we subtly realise too that this is how things are; if you want to be promoted to greater things it seems as if this is something we need to be doing from time to time. The problem with these kind of methods is that they make us uncomfortable; we experience the disconnect between having to use a social method of positioning we dislike, and detest when we see it in others, yet we have to resort to it, or else get left behind when everyone around us becomes more upwardly mobile.

What can you do if you find yourself in such a situation? While reading about the drifters from the
Piano Lessons N8 blog I realised that perhaps the success of the band and its interchanging personnel meant that not everyone was going to be credited accordingly. Sometimes true worth is only correctly evaluated years after the success is over. Perhaps the resolution in this matter is to accept that, like many parts of life, there are always going to be contradictory aspects. We may not like self promotion, but we may have to position ourselves from time to time to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise if we wait for our work to be recognised, it may take too long for our liking, and the unease it may cause us in the meantime might just be a little too much for us to accept.