There’s a story we’ve all heard. It starts with, “When I was your age,” and ends by recounting the narrator’s lack of some circumstance when they were younger. Sometimes the story serves to provide perspective to the listener, but there are many times when it’s about urging the listener to accept the situation instead of trying to improve it. In reality, it’s about expressing bitterness.
I remember working for a company that subjected every rank-and-file employee to a two-week training that was abysmal. It was unorganized, contained countless hours of busy work, and even stressed the supervisors with having to sign off on activities they barely even checked for completion. The whole process seemed for show, rather than actual training, but that’s not my point here. What really bothered me was how other employees would respond to the new hires who criticized the process. They’d say, “Well, we all had to go through it.”
And I’m willing to bet you’ve heard that before at some point in your career.
The Bitter Mindset
This Bitter Mindset manifests in both apathy and support, which can be paradoxical given their definitions. Employees show apathy toward the issue or any potential change, but they show support for the disgruntled sentiments of a complaint that they once had. It’s basically summed up by, “It’s not worth the effort complaining, but yes, this sucks.”
There are plenty of processes that are put in place to ensure the quality of the output. And nearly every time, the hard work necessary to achieve something spectacular is integral to that output’s superiority. It’s critical to distinguish those processes from ones that aren’t resulting in a superior result – if even a positive one – while still acknowledging that improvements can still be made in both types. Before we discuss improvements though, let’s talk about what causes us to even become bitter.
Why do we get bitter?
Whenever we talk about change, we are looking to break some part of the way things are in order to create something new and hopefully better. This ‘new something’ doesn’t always come to fruition though. We may start with a spark of motivation, but motivation is just one piece of change – albeit an important one. Time can erode any level of motivation if the other pieces of organizational change (e.g. resources, people) are continually absent.
Another contributor to bitterness is the removal of regret about an unpleasant event by blaming others. Regret essentially places blame internally on ourselves for some situation, which can certainly be healthy to extinguish if we maintain the mindset of having power. However, when we give up that power and blame others, we are adopting a fixed mindset. This means we no longer see ourselves as contributing to the situation, but rather are solely being acted upon by independent, uncontrollable factors. When we take on the fixed mindset, we move from regret to bitterness.
Bitterness rears its ugly head when we are unable or unwilling to change a situation. This can place us in a cycle of self-serving bias where we end up supporting the situation because we are somehow infallible. If we couldn’t change the situation, how the hell can anyone else?
The Better Mindset
Setting aside the Bitter Mindset can be tough, given its strong roots as described above. Adopting the Better Mindset involves the well-documented growth mindset. When we believe we are not simply born with unchangeable strengths and weaknesses, we allow ourselves to grow into any strength and out of any weakness. Further, there is space to improve everything; “good enough” becomes obsolete.
Take note that the growth mindset is not being perfect, it’s about being better. This sets us up for an incremental achievement strategy. Let’s say our change, represented by the letter M, seems unattainable. But if we break it down, we can assess it as, “Perhaps M cannot be achieved right now, but what can be achieved?” This could lead us to solution H, an incremental step toward M. Here again, we ask ourselves what does H require, then work backwards until we reach solution A, where A can be implemented right now.
If this seems simple, that’s because it is. But beware, simple is an often-misunderstood word. Simple means easy to understand. It does not mean it is easy to accomplish, nor does it mean it is obvious to see. These two errors lead us to think that simple does not work because the path needs to be something incredibly complex, instead of what is more likely, which is incredibly difficult and ambiguous. This often causes that Bitter Mindset attitude of, “If we couldn’t change the situation, how the hell can anyone else?” We incorrectly assume that the complexity exceeds everyone else’s capacity, so the whole endeavor should be abandoned.
If we push through and work to improve the situation, we must do so despite what others say. Don’t worry about what couldn’t be done before. As we’ve addressed with the growth mindset, we are looking at what can be improved. Variables change over the years, so what didn’t work for you before could work now. Technology is advancing every day, people are getting smarter, and new ideas are constantly being brought to life. For instance, James Cameron waited until the requisite technology could catch up to what he pictured in his mind when creating Avatar. But what if he had been bitter about that lack of technology and decided to trash the idea? Thankfully, he chose the Better Mindset.
What really creates excitement – instead of resentment – is the fact that new people want to achieve what has never been done before. If a change is necessary, but seems undoable, we can be thankful for the support of fresh minds and new sparks of motivation. If we think about ideas we’ve had and the work necessary to make them a reality, the situation will invariably rely on recruiting others for support. When newcomers have ideas (the ones we could otherwise be bitter about), we can consider those people automatically signed up to bring the idea to life. We must get reignited and reengaged to help change what is happening now, instead of worrying about what couldn’t happen before. Thinking back to when we first wanted a change, what might we have given up just to gain the support of other people? Now, on the opposite end, we are in the exact position to give that support.
Excitement, not resentment, is what moves the world forward. For every unique situation, being supportive and open to change can teach others, those who have not yet had a chance to become bitter, that there is better way.
This article was originally published on Medium