How To Conquer the Worst Work Day Ever
Oh, we have all been there. Those days. THOSE DAYS. Those days where you would like to justify picking up your computer, bringing it to whoever sent you the last email that put you in said horrible mood, smashing the computer on their desk, and making them put it back together while you watched and drank the fanciest latte you can muster. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Think about it. (Yes. Yes, it would be.)
But we can’t do that.
Not now, not ever. First, I’m pretty sure it constitutes as bullying/harassment/assault. Second, you would absolutely lose your job. Third, we — even that person who sent you the email — has had horrible days. Remember Alexander? He had a Terrible, No-Good, Very Bad one once. Absolutely no one is immune. But we can handle them in a way that meltdowns are curtailed and productivity is restored. Here is a crash course in the worst day of your life, and how you can walk away from it the way Will Smith walks away from explosions in any particular action film.
1. Scenario one: the email
You wake up, you check your messages, and there it is. The rejection email. The email ‘o edits. The “where is this piece you promised to have in” trip. The opposite of what you hoped to see. Take it from me, I have been there. I still kind of rent a space there. Basically, “there” is all of our summer homes, only summertime runs from January – December, and that’s okay, because that’s life.
Upon opening this message, you’ll likely feel things. Anger. Rejection. Sadness. Disappointment. Defensiveness (my personal favourite). It’s feelings central, so it’s very important that you do not write back right away. I have done that, and it’s led to only an email sent by me about ten minutes later trying to correct what I’ve done. At one point, I even QUIT A JOB out of frustration, and found myself doing the full-scale face-to-face apology a few months later when I was sane again. Nothing you say right away is what you actually want to say (at least professionally), and you won’t change the mind of the person you’re writing back to. So instead, take a few minutes. Make your coffee, drink your tea, vent to a friend, and then write back logically. Was it a critique of your work that you don’t understand? Ask — calmly — for clarification, or what type of material they are/were looking for. Is it stone cold generic rejection? Thank them (#professionalism), and keep it short. Is it somebody asking you for work you owe? Be honest. Apologize, then get that work in.
And remember, e-communication is tricky. Voice tones can’t be heard, a period can be mistaken for somebody giving you attitude, and unless it says “sent by my iPhone” at the end, anything less than the three paragraphs you feel you deserve seems like a snub. Odds are, it isn’t. You’re busy, they’re busy — we’re all busy. Some people just aren’t the novel-writing type. Don’t let that be a reason you write back, “You know, I don’t think this is working out.” Trust me.
Breathe, then write. Never the opposite.
2. Scenario two: the worst human/co-worker/co-student
Welcome to the REST OF OUR LIVES, EVERYONE. I’ve yet to work at a place where I couldn’t find someone I was 99.9% sure was my mortal enemy. There’s always one. You know the guy. You’re probably picturing that person riiiiight now. And fair enough! They’re the ones who make you second-guess yourself, feel less than you are, and always seem to have a snarky remark for whatever you say. But you don’t have to let them dictate anything other than the three seconds you may spend rolling your eyes at their new sarcastic quip.
Why? Because these people are always going to be around. Like my friend Judith’s dad says, those idiots from high school grow up to be adult idiots. Idiots will always exist, and idiots are people, too, so we might as well get used to them. So instead of succumbing to that feeling in your stomach and the redness in your cheeks (and if you’re me, the inability to say anything even remotely memorable when situations like that arise), take a breath, re-focus, and say nothing in return but the minimum. Fighting at work is not often an option, and if this person is just someone that gets under your skin — as opposed to an actual bully (which we will get to) — don’t give them the satisfaction of effecting your day. Odds are if they’re acting out, they’re even more insecure than how they make you feel, and while leaving their office chair outside and setting it ablaze might seem wonderful, remember that on the priority scale, you’ve got about 25925285 other things to think about aside from the Toby to your Michael.
Shrug it off, and keep doing you.
3. Scenario three: the work bully
But this one’s different. Bullies can also grow up to be bullies, and if someone at work is legitimately harassing, upsetting, or abusing you, HELL NO. If you’ve already confronted the person in an adult, “I don’t appreciate what you’re doing and I’d like you to stop” way, and the behaviour hasn’t, then it’s time to get the powers that be involved. Speak to your supervisor, your HR rep, or someone of authority. And if none of them are doing anything, then it’s really time to evaluate. Do you want to work at a place where someone’s allowed to roam free, accosting people at will? Probably not. And this is coming from someone who once left a co-op job at a radio station because a DJ was sexually harassing her, a management position (when I was 19) because the store manager called her a dumb blonde (I didn’t even have blonde hair), and a bank because . . . well I hated the bank. (Everyone at the bank was quite nice. But it just wasn’t for me.)
4. Scenario four: you are in trouble
UGHHHH this is the worst. This is especially the worst because when it happens you a) feel incompetent b) know you deserve to feel kind of incompetent and c) want to quit because you feel incompetent. Well NO MORE, NO MORE I SAY. First, we all make mistakes. Once I refunded a con artist $3000 cash because I thought it was just a regular refund (he didn’t buy anything), and another time I left the doors wide open to the store I was working at instead of locking them at night. And do you know what? I got in trouble. Deservedly. And so what?
The thing about screwing up at work and it being called out is that when that happens, everything’s dealt with. If you’re not being fired at the end of discussion, then it’s over — it’s okay. Every human being in the world makes mistakes, and if we didn’t make them, we wouldn’t learn anything. On an almost daily basis I get emails from someone asking me to change something, or “going forward…” to avoid doing something I’ve been doing. And great! Now I know. And even when I got CALLED AT HOME because I let $2000 worth of shirts get stolen from another store I was working at (seriously, I am literally incompetent at any job aside from writing/being in the role that I am), I used it (after freaking out/crying) to remember: instead of drinking coffee at the cash register, walk around the store every once in a while to make sure nobody is stealing.
So accept the blame — if it’s rightful — and don’t kick yourself. Many more people have made many more worse mistakes than what you and I have done, and most of those people are in positions of political power. Remember YOU GOT THIS. The worst has probably already happened, and you survived — with gusto.
5. Scenario five: you are going to cry at work.
Oh, I hate this feeling. It’s usually after you get in trouble, or if someone writes to tell you something you’re not particularly happy about, or if the person you like calls in sick (which happened to me once at said hardware store, but I swear I only cared about James calling in because I was coming down with the flu and I wanted to ask him to hang out). EITHER WAY, sometimes it can’t be avoided. Sometimes you are just going to cry.
So do it — in the bathroom, and away from everybody else. I’m all for sharing feelings, but I’m also for taking Kelly Cutrone’s advice: if you have to cry, go outside. It’s not going to help you to cry in front of your bosses or coworkers, and professionalism reigns supreme. Five minutes in the bathroom — a good old-fashioned power cry. If it’s good enough for Kelly Cutrone, it’s good enough for me. And also, for my aforementioned friend Judith, who coined them “power cries” when she managed a radio station in college. (And Judith has led me through many a cry in our five years as friends, so I just go with it.)
So there you have it! You’ve survived the literal worst day. Of course, this list doesn’t include things like, say, locking your manger keys in a fitting room (I’ve done that), working 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. (I’ve done that), accidentally emailing your boss an email ABOUT your boss (done that), and/or being forced to work with strep throat because you called in sick too many times (hello, high school job). But if you would like to know anything more about those, I’ve got your back, friends.
In the meantime, memorize everything Michael Scott says to Toby, but say none of it, ever, and just use those lines to laugh when a power-cry just isn’t an option. A power-laugh, though, while psychotic looking, is ALWAYS a good choice.