Dealing with Disappointment at Work
by John Kyle
Working with young adults starting their first jobs, I am often asked about disappointment at work. The expectation-reality gap of a new job can be an especially striking and confusing aspect of life in a fallen world.
About 10 years ago, a company hired me to sort some of its problems. I was eager to dig in and help. I imagined the satisfaction of helping them get to a better place through cultural and operational changes. On my fifth day on the job, I was surprised to learn that instead of the work they had hired me to do, I would be serving as the interim finance leader, taking the place of someone that had recently stepped down.
I don’t love finance. I felt ill-equipped. Plus, I knew the finances couldn’t really be improved without first changing the deeper problems I was originally hired to address. My enthusiasm for the job quickly degraded into disappointment.
Disappointment in The Workplace is Not Uncommon
Try Googling "disappointment at work". You'll get a lot of results! Why is that?
When we imagine a new job, we tend to think about abstract things rather than the details. We imagine the new opportunity, the camaraderie, and the meaningfulness of the work rather than the minutiae, tedious meetings, and difficult colleagues. Our focus in a new job is more on the possibilities than the ordinary stuff that makes up most of each day.
Imagining abstract aspects of a new job is especially strong in the early career - the first 5-7 years. In that season, we have limited experience, so our expectations are primarily informed by imagination. Thus, the expectation-reality gap is born.
Dealing with The Expectation-Reality Gap
There is no magic formula for disappointment. It takes time to develop a new perspective. For Christians, it should also involve spending time in God’s Word, which is always the best means of gaining a new perspective.
Here are four specific suggestions that might help if you or a friend are dealing with disappointment at work:
Be patient (Romans 12:12) and consider why God has you there. At work and elsewhere, we are Ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Bringing the love of Christ to a broken and hurting world is part of our role as disciples. Imagine an ER doctor that suddenly ran out of the hospital exclaiming, “Why do all of these kids come here with broken arms?!” We would be shocked. Wouldn’t we respond, “Hey, it’s springtime. Broken arms are just part of what kids do. You’re here to help them heal.” Like ER doctors, we need to expect that broken and disappointing things are part of every workplace. We should not fool ourselves that work will be perfectly blissful or the fulfillment of our dreams. In fact, we should reframe our thinking (Romans 12:1-2) by understanding that part of our job, no matter where we work, is to bring the healing, encouragement, and hope (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) that comes with the love of Christ.
Lament the broken world and recognize the toll it takes. Just because we are called to serve a broken world doesn’t mean we need to love the brokenness. Nothing in Creation is immune (Romans 8:20), including jobs. As we love and encourage our colleagues, it’s also important to recognize our own need for rest and respite. Take time in prayer and solitude to share your burdens with God. Ask for the refreshment that comes from being known by Jesus and the promise that he will, one day, make all things new (Matthew 11:28).
Do your best work. In our disappointment and frustration, it can be tempting to ignore our responsibilities at work. When the workplace fails to meet our expectations, it seems only fair that we shouldn’t have to meet the expectations placed on us either. It’s so easy to turn to complaining and gossiping in those situations as well. In contrast, Proverbs is an excellent source of wisdom on what is expected of us – hard work, diligence, and Christ-like attitude. Be careful not to let your disappointment with a broken workplace create even more disappointment for others.
Change jobs only when God is calling you to something else. You may be so disappointed that you want to quit your job. Sometimes it’s good and right to quit. A trusted mentor once told me, though, “Don’t quit a job because you don’t like it. Quit when you’re sure that God is calling you to something else.” To discern God’s call, you will need to make wise application of God’s Word, pray through it, and seek Godly counsel (Proverbs 12:15).
If you are about to graduate from college and are concerned about the expectation-reality gap, or if you’ve recently graduated and are experiencing it now, why not join a TFI fellows program this year? We will dig deep into these and other important topics that will help you for the rest of your life.
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