Good Frustrations vs. Bad Frustrations

I’ll share with you a #secret; I’ve wanted to quit my job no less than 12 times in the past 6 months.  I’ve wanted to quit almost every job that I have had.  Sometimes, I actually went through with it.  Other times, I let my contract expire.  Once, I was even fired.

Why did I want to quit?  The answers have ranged from salary (rather, a manager that wasn’t willing to negotiate) to a toxic work environment (getting yelled down in a meeting on my second day on the job) to thinking that there is no way that I can succeed in the long term.  At least, those are the reasons that I would tell a hiring manager.

Really, though, I quit (or have wanted to quit) because I was frustrated.  I have been frustrated with people that could not deliver what they had promised.  I have been frustrated that there were limited growth opportunities.  I have been frustrated that the job I was promised was totally different than what it actually was.  I have been frustrated that there wasn’t enough to do (seriously, I watched Netflix for 2 months because there was literally nothing to do.)

What I didn’t figure out in all of the historical instances, though, was the good frustrations vs. the bad frustrations, and that I should treat both as strategic problems. (I have since figured that out, hence why I have not quit my job 12 times in the past 6 months)

Good frustrations are ones that challenge you to grow or change.  These are the ones that are directly related to your skillset, and having an outcome be different than what you had expected.

For example, I had someone working on a few of my projects that was technically brilliant, but could not estimate the time it would take him to get something done with any reasonable level of accuracy.  He would either wildly underestimate (to the point where I had to raise multiple change requests) or sand bag me (on a day off for me, we ran into each other at the mall).  Knowing that I would have to work with this individual for multiple projects in the foreseeable future, I thought that this wasn’t worth the pain and let my contract expire.  He’s still doing what he is doing, and I have since moved on.

What I should have done was spent more time with him to help him with his estimation, and in turn had him work with me to share his thought process.  We could have learned from each other.

That was a frustration that could have been “good”.  It was a learning opportunity; a chance for me to grow my personal skillset and change my perceptions.

Bad frustrations are ones that legitimately drag you down.  If you are promised one thing during the hiring process, and that promise is broken before you start, that’s a bad frustration.  If something violates a core virtue, or conflicts with your values, that’s a bad frustration.  If you are told explicitly that you have no growth options, that’s a bad frustration.  If you can see that a peer is getting paid more than you for the same type of work, that’s a bad frustration.  If someone steals your lunch, verbally abuses you in a meeting or in private, or goes out of their way to sabotage you, that’s a bad frustration.

With bad frustrations, you have a legitimate reason to try to change the situation. However, as I have learned, this must not be a snap decision.  This is not a reason that you need to walk into your manager’s office and quit on the spot; this is not a reason to call a recruiter right on the spot; this is a call for you to try to improve things first, and then quit in a blaze of glory after.

Treat Frustrations as Strategic Problems

Whatever the case may be, it is up to you to problem solve before quitting.  Talk to your manager (but realize that they may not be there to protect your best interests), talk to your mentor, or talk to someone else in the organization to help you problem solve.  Work through the problem as you would any strategic problem.  Document the facts (not your perception of the facts), list all the issues (these can be your perception), figure out what the alternatives are, figure out how you are going to make your decision, figure out the decision itself and the timeline associated with it, and then figure out when you should do a “post-decision” review.

You are in charge of your own career, and your short term decisions will influence you in the long term.  Be sure that you are making these decisions from an objective position in order to set yourself for success.

So tell me in the comments, what frustrations have you fought? Were they Good Frustrations or Bad Frustrations?


About Jason H Zalmanowitz
I am a nerdy Management Consultant / Project Manager with a MBA, have spent the majority of my career working for consulting firms in Calgary, and I race in triathlons because of (and thanks to) my wife. As a Project Manager, I have managed field implementations, strategy development projects, software development projects, and hardware implementation projects. As a consultant, I have helped companies articulate how and why they are going to implement and interact with sustaining technology to support their business.

2 Responses to Good Frustrations vs. Bad Frustrations

  1. Iain Kenny says:

    Interesting thoughts, do you think that contracting influences your determination of what is good vs bad frustrations because there is always an easy out? Does being an employee force you to take a slower approach when it is not so easy to walk away?

    • jzalmanowitz says:

      As always, Iain, very insightful!

      I don’t think employment status really has anything to do with it. I personally believe that this is a measure of a maturity; the ability to be thoughtful, methodical, and future focused in your actions.

      My whole post could be summed up with a “TL;DR” – you must learn to see the Forest from the Trees. Is that not the true measure of leadership (even if you are only leading yourself)?

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