Fix things that frustrate you

A year ago, I started working part-time at a software firm in Portland. It was a nice change of pace to the freelance life I’ve known for the past decade. The pay was better, the stress was lower, and it was nice to have a team that I worked along-side every day. I’ll admit I went through a sort of honeymoon phase with this new company.

But, as with all honeymoon phases, this honeymoon phase came to an end. In the past few months, I started noticing myself getting more and more frustrated with “the way things are.”

Last weekend, I found myself not really looking forward to Monday. A lot of frustration was coming up.

I listed out the things that were frustrating me. My top complaints:
1) Time wasted in meetings that I didn’t need to be in
2) Lack of automated testing
3) Brittle code
4) Low sense of meaning

By the time I got done writing the first few complaints, something dawned on me: The first 3 complaints were problems costing the company a whole lot of money and brand value. The fourth was probably also costing the company due to employee turnover.

These complaints/problems were all the things that management had mentioned when they were interviewing me. They had told me about these problems, and I  bet that the manager hiring me knew I’d get frustrated when I encountered them.

In the past, I probably would have followed the internal thoughts that were arising along with this frustration: start looking for a new job that didn’t have these problems. But this time was different, because my understanding around frustration (and all emotions) has changed significantly in the past few years.

My older/incorrect understanding around frustration was that it was “bad” emotion — and all bad emotions (anger, sadness, fear) ought to be avoided. I’ve realized this is not a very helpful understanding. My newer understanding is that emotions are just our brains’ programmed response to external stimuli — as a means of meeting our basic needs (air/food/water/shelter/reproduction/security/etc).

So I took a closer look at my frustration. The frustration with work is really that my brain is just worried about meeting its basic needs in the future. My brain is worried about future job security at this company (because these problems are making the company less and less competitive in the market). My brain is also worried about future job security in the industry (future employers are going to judge me by my past experience).

What’s interesting is that, after getting down to the bottom of my frustration, a whole variety of new options arose in my brain, rather than simply “Find a different job, Ryan.” Each complaint simply became a problem that could be solved with a little thought and work, rather than a mountain that would require a time-intensive job search. On top of that, if I could help to solve these problems for my company, I’d look like a hero and my resume would have some meaty talking points.

So I took my frustrations to my boss, along with some preliminary solutions. He was extremely open to solving these problems (as they would all make our team more efficient and profitable). We brainstormed for a bit, and he suggested I start taking more ownership over some initiatives to solve the problems.

And now, now it’s Sunday night, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming week. I’m actually taking Monday off, but I just spent the last 2 hours thinking about solving these inefficiencies at work.

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