What's the best way to deal with a boss who pushes you too hard? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
When I started my first job out of college at an investment bank, I felt like I was being pushed really hard. Early on, whenever I'd work with someone for the first time or work on a type of project for the first time, I'd go through the following three phases:
- Phase 1: Epic Beatdown. I knew nothing and was utterly incompetent and everything I did was completely wrong. I was staying until 4am to finish my work and was tired and demoralized and constantly on the brink of something terrible. And somehow, for some reason, some of my bosses kept giving me more work and more responsibility, no matter how much I was already doing, no matter how screwed I was, no matter how little sleep I'd gotten. It just kept coming. During this phase, I hated some of my supervisors. They were responsible for my physical and mental deterioration, for the voice in my head that told me I was incompetent and stupid and Not Good Enough. They were killing me, slowly but surely, day by day, failure by failure. How did I deal with this? By progressing to...
- Phase 2: Baby Steps. At some point, I began to improve. Not a lot--just a tiny, pathetic amount. I would do one thing right or I'd finish something faster than I'd anticipated (never both at once). Small things. Positive feedback. Less strife. This was an exhilarating, addictive feeling, like a starved prisoner being given one Hershey's Kiss. I loved it and I wanted more, I wanted to be great, I wanted this feeling all the time. I no longer hated my supervisors but needed them, needed them to give me work so I could have the slim chance of doing it right. Maybe this was Stockholm Syndrome, but every day just felt illuminating at that point. What was impossible yesterday was a breeze today.
- Phase 3: Self-Esteem Restored. Somehow, after a while, I actually became competent. This took a long time and I didn't realize it was happening until it happened. But at some point I self-evaluated and realized that I was actually not bad at the work I was being given anymore. And I was being given quite a bit of work by then. But I could do it all, without major mistakes! I was so happy. And without Phase 1, Phase 3 would have meant nothing. At that point, I liked my bosses. Of course they'd pushed me too hard at the beginning. It was all part of their secret plan to make me good.
Since that first job, I haven't worked in such a crazed, intense, long-hours environment, but I sometimes (not often) get nostalgic for those awful times. I was definitely pushed pretty hard and I definitely didn't deal with it well at the time, but if I could do it over, I'd probably be less demoralized by the bad times in anticipation of the possibility of improvement, the possibility that one day I could actually be good.
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