There are moments in time where work can be frustrating, even when you love your job and enjoy the work that you do (never mind when you don’t). Frustration is often caused by external factors. Someone else makes a mistake and you’re left to handle the fall-out. Someone else is responsible for something and they drop the ball. Your boss expecting things from you that aren’t possible in the time you have available. It can be caused by internal factors as well too though. You dropped the ball on something and now have to clean up. You feel like you aren’t as focused as you can be or you aren’t dealing with your tasks to the degree of quality you should be able to achieve.
Whatever the cause, frustration can be a natural, human response to the situation at hand. It’s the knee-jerk emotional reaction to what you’re facing, although I find that I get most frustrated when I sit down and deeply think about a situation. The process of thinking about it makes every step of failure along the way much more visible and present. Understanding that there were so many different opportunities to avoid the situation from having turned out the way that it did and that no one applied them can make it even more frustrating.
What’s important to remember is that frustration is not actually a useful response. It’s normal. Maybe it can’t be avoided. But it isn’t the response that will help you handle the situation. Venting can be great sometimes in that it lets you process your emotions verbally and that process can be enough to help you move on. Venting can very quickly do the opposite though. It can easily sink into the culture of your team, your interactions, and how you deal with adversity as a group.
Here are some of the things that I find helpful when I’m especially frustrated:
Remember that it holds you back from dealing with the situation
Frustration doesn’t help you move forward. It keeps you stuck. Maybe your initial response is to figure out why exactly you’re frustrated and to go through that process I mentioned earlier, where you try to understand every step of failure that got you to the point where you are now. This is constructive. This is definitely worth doing. Once you’ve gotten to that point, there’s no more purpose in being frustrated because everything beyond that point will distract you from acting.
Focus on what you can do from now on
The best thing about every frustrating situation is that there’s usually a lesson you can take from it, whatever that lesson might be. Imagine you were in the exact same situation again, only this time you have the knowledge of hindsight because you’ve gone through it once before. What would you do differently? What have you learned from this experience for your next time? Most of the time, there’s a lot that you can take from the situation for the future. Maybe the cause was a gap in your processes that you can fill now or you just needed to react faster the next time you knew something was wrong. It’s great to take the time to reflect on how it went and focus on the things you can do from now on.
Sometimes I come out of this exercise with the belief that I wouldn’t actually do anything differently because, even if it didn’t turn out as well as I would’ve liked it to, what I had decided to do was the best decision that I could’ve made at the time. That is also a valuable lesson to learn.
Do what you can
Once you’ve figured out how to respond to the situation and what to learn from it for the future, it’s time to act. Let’s say there was a major bug that impacted all of your users and now it’s fixed. If you feel that the impact was large enough that you should do a post-mortem with everyone involved, go ahead and do it. If you think it was inconvenient enough to your customers that you should communicate it to them, figure out how to make that happen. Frustration is often made a lot worse when you feel powerless like there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation. You might not be able to change what happened but there are always some things you can do.
Let go of the rest
This sounds a little esoteric and I struggle with this myself. Some people seem to do this naturally because they just aren’t the type of person who dwells on things. I’m not one of those people. I’ve found it to only work with conscious effort and practice. Going through these kinds of steps can help when it comes to rationalising your response to the situation. It’s through that rational thought process that I’ve found it possible to start letting go.
In the end, once you’ve taken the lessons that you can take and responded in whatever way you can, there’s nothing else you can do. Feeling frustrated beyond that just takes time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. There’s nothing that can be done to change the situation now because it’s already happened. The past should only hold so much power over you.
If this article spoke to you, one small tool that I’ve found helpful is the Daily Stoic book (and journal). The daily reminder format has the practice built into it and the fundamental points covered here are Stoic ideals.