Today, I got a question that many other people have asked me in one form or another: “How can I be in this job and not be angry?”

The person asking the question has been in her job for four years, dissatisfied for a couple of years, and actively seeking a new position for the last year. We started talking almost a year ago and gradually she’s realized how very unrewarding her job is and how unsuited she is to work in the organization’s culture. She started by seeing how dysfunctional the place is, and it’s become more and more obvious that the dysfunction is either increasing or that she is becoming less and less able to tolerate this dysfunctional environment.

Here’s a snippet of her e-mail:

It is hard for me to come in here and not be angry. [My boss] has become one of “them.” [This place] has gotten MORE hierarchical not less – what pisses me off is all the talk about being a “flat” organization and we are all about equity and access…. blah, blah, blah. We spent a whole year wotking on values and it is BS and all for show. I suppose that some if is is pride and I should just let it go. Grrrrrr.

Here’s part of what I said to her:

Great venting! That’s one of the ways to cope with anger. That and reading stuff about powerlessness over others, accepting life on life’s terms, seeing reality as it is without condoning it, and getting a belief in your own power to find/create the kind of work place you want. It is possible.

And it’s also possible to make work right-sized, in the sense that it occupies less and less primacy in your heart and head – it’s not the place where you get fulfillment and live out your life mission. You get to explore other avenues for doing that – as you did when you did the volunteer work.

I think that moving has really discombobulated your sense of purpose, usefulness, belonging, stability. I learned that it takes about 3 years to adjust more or less completely to a new community, and you are there not even a year. Just putting things into perspective can help.

I think one of the challenges for you is realizing the depth to which [the organization] is dysfunctional. You thought it might improve, and now you realize it’s even worse. The values work makes the place even more of a lie, because it puts the dysfunction in even higher relief. The disappointment is bigger now, as is the sense of betrayal by [your boss]. Accepting such unpalatable facts is quite a difficult process and is ultimately liberating, once you’re through the anger and pain.

I don’t know that the anger is a bad thing. Acting on it inappropriately isn’t desirable because we want to protect you, keep you safe. Feeling the anger is good, actually empowering, because it’s an anger of recognition, of having the scales fall from your eyes and the reality becoming clear. This anger is like a fire that clears the brush and reveals the true panorama.

And here’s some of her response:

Thanks for this – some really good thoughts and advice. It is good to vent because it helps me to clarify and get feedback on what I see. That I am not being a whiner, nor am I nuts or unreasonable. I have a handle on it and am not acting up in any way here.

There’s a difference between having the anger and being in the anger. One can be angry and not let the anger define or rule you. I’ve found it vital to accept, validate and express my anger. It takes away its power over me, makes it simply a normal part of the process of separating from one’s current existence and moving into a new one. Pain motivates us to leave an untenable situation. I think anger is the fuel that keeps us moving, that works against “settling” and complacency – as long as we accept our anger as part of this process of separation. No one likes change, even if we want it. Change is so difficult and comes in such unexpected ways. It takes us by surprise and often spurs anger because it hurts or causes unsought for awareness or is happening too soon or not on our terms. Whatever the reason for the anger, it is a sign that we are experiencing change, that we are dissatisfied with the way things are, and that we want and, yes, need something new, better, more pleasurable.

I don’t know why my friend is still at this dysfunctional place. I do know that the more she accepts her anger as a sign of her recognizing that she DESERVES to work someplace more suitable for her talents, temperament and personality, the more quickly she will find that new place. Anger may be the sign that our present is no longer suitable for who we are now and for who we are meant to become. So embrace it, love it, and welcome its message of hope that you are on the path to better things. Transform the anger into acceptance of life as it really is, and you will have something to work with, a foundation from which to take your next right step.