In last week’s article about maintaining relationships after receiving a promotion I mentioned the importance of keeping perspective after moving up in the ranks. When we are serving at a lower level in an organization we always think that if we obtained a higher position we would remember what it was like to work at that lower level. We like to think that we would not make the same mistakes that our supervisors made and would not forget the things that frustrated us while toiling away at the bottom.
This mentality is not restricted to power dynamics within an organization. A friend of mine was unemployed and looking for work for several months last year. The whole time she was job-seeking she insisted that she would never take employment for granted again. She eventually found a job that she truly enjoys but still finds herself becoming frustrated with interminable staff meetings, annoying co-workers, and many of the other downsides to working. She says that she sometimes has to catch herself mid-complaint to remind herself that while she was out of work she would have done anything to have a staff meeting to attend, interminable or not.
Keeping perspective is always harder than it seems. Part of the problem is that we have a tendency to idealize whatever we desire. We think that everything will be different once we get where we want to go and forget that the grass is rarely completely green no matter what we do. The other part of the issue is that we humans are incredibly adaptable. Upon taking a new job or a new position we take to our new environment quickly and rarely spend very much time thinking about the way things once were. When our old realities cease to be something we experience on a daily basis, they quickly retreat from our minds.
On one hand, this adaptability is a positive thing. It allows us to move forward and to conquer new challenges without dwelling on the past. On the other hand it makes it difficult for us to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes even if we were in the same shoes just a short time ago. Two ways I can think of to combat this myopia are 1) recording thoughts and feelings as you experience them and referring to it later; and 2) maintaining connections with people who are still living your former reality.
The first suggestion could be accomplished by keeping a journal or a blog or even just by talking with a friend or family member who would hold you accountable if you later lose sight of your perspective. The second requires that you don’t become so entrenched in your new life that you completely abandon the old. Maintaining your relationships with co-workers who still serve at that lower level or friends who are still out there looking for work will make it much more difficult to forget the way things used to be and will help ensure that even if you become a new person you don’t forget your empathy.