Hot Coals

By: Nan S. Russell


Involved in an expensive developmental workshop, Chad volunteered first when the facilitator queried the group about their objectives. It was the morning session of a weekend event that a friend of mine was conducting, and she'd asked me to sit-in. So, on a Saturday morning when I'd normally be sleeping, I found myself listening to Chad's frustrations about his lack of success, his inflexible boss, and his difficult coworkers.

What sounded like normal workplace frustrations most people experience from time to time changed abruptly when my friend asked Chad if it had always been like this at work. "Oh no," he said, "I used to like my job until Mark came." Mark was Chad's boss and had the job Chad thought he should have been given. "I guess I never learned to kiss-up enough," he said.

As the weekend unfolded, Chad's harbored anger surfaced. It wasn't just at work where people didn't like him or were "out to get him." Similar oppressive thoughts overflowed his personal life, too.

For ten years Chad had held a grudge against his boss and the company that didn't promote him. For ten years, the anger of not getting what he thought he deserved poisoned his view of the work-world. And for ten years, he grew more and more the victim in his life.

I've met plenty of Chad's in twenty years in management and what I've learned is this: sometimes the Chads are right. There was an injustice done to them in the workplace; and sometimes they're wrong, there wasn't. But either way, the person perpetuates self-destructive behaviors by keeping their feelings alive.

"The grudge you hold on to is like a hot coal that you intend to throw at someone, but you're the one who gets burned." These words by Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, were written more than two thousand years ago, but are just as true today.

Grudges hijack futures. These self-sabotaging emotions weave nets of anger, frustration and woe-is-me thinking. They devour initiative, digest positive thinking, and create self-defeating career results. As the proverb warns, "If you seek vengeance, dig two graves."

People who are winning at working understand that it's hard to let go of disappointment, angry emotions, and personal grudges. They know it's difficult to forgive bosses, staff or coworkers who make it harder to succeed or put hurdles in their way. And they acknowledge that work can, at times, feel like a contact sport.

But people who are winning at working also know that holding on to their pain and disappointment only hurts them. Keeping their grudges thriving buries their aspirations and their dreams. And fueling victim-thinking blinds them from seeing new opportunities.

Want to be winning at working? Put down your hot coals and start moving toward your future.

©2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved. Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at http://www.nanrussell.com.