Anger exists for a reason. And no matter how much you try to repress it, you’ll still feel anger, frustration, annoyance, and resentment. Sometimes you’ll feel this towards people you love and care for deeply. Sometimes you’ll be betrayed and feel resentment at the betrayal.
When you feel this anger, don’t immediately cast it aside and tell yourself that you must build up moral fortitude in order to overcome it. That may be the right reaction in some cases, but in many cases, you can use your anger to light a fire under the sails of your career and take yourself to the next level.
Chips on your shoulders can put chips in your pockets.
Here’s how you can examine your anger to use it to get ahead.
It doesn’t matter if I burn my bridges, I never retreat. -- Fiorello LaGuardia
We feel angry and resentful when we have certain expectations of the world or of other people and those expectations are violated. We feel this resentment not just towards people, but also towards situations we face in the world.
If a guy on the metro steps on your foot while clearly acknowledging that you’re in front of him, we feel the sting of anger and resentment. If a colleague undermines us after we confided important personal information with them, we feel this pang. Similarly, if we have a terrible experience with a company or a service, we feel a pang of annoyance and anger at having spent the time and money on it.
In any of these cases, we have three options:
- Do nothing about our anger, push past it and sweep it under the rug, or wallow in it.
- Try to change our personal expectations and overcome our anger.
- Try to change the world around us so that it doesn’t make us angry again.
The first option seems attractive when you want to get your anger under control, but it’s often the least productive and long-term most destructive response to anger. Anger is a sign that something is wrong. Something is wrong either with your expectations or with how others are treating you. Regardless, you should take the feeling of anger as a signal that something needs to change. Brushing anger under the rug will just lead to cynicism and a feeling of powerlessness.
In a lot of cases, the second option is a useful route forward. This is the route of personal transformation. You take the sign of anger as a sign that your expectations about the world are off. Take a moment to step back and ask yourself, “what did I expect in this interaction? What actually happened?” Then adjust your expectations appropriately. This isn’t to blunt your reactions to the world around you but rather to help you appreciate that much of your feelings are in your control and a function of your implicit and explicit beliefs about interactions with other people.
The third option is the option of righteous anger.
Righteous anger is a motivating force that leads you to make the world conform to your expectations, rather than changing your expectations to the world around you. And just as righteous anger can lead revolutionaries and prophets to overthrow the established order, you can use righteous anger to overthrow your personal established order.
If you’re feeling righteous anger in your career, take a moment to step back and ask yourself, “what expectation has been violated and how has it been violated?” “Expectations” aren’t always explicit. Sometimes they’re implicit norms, like when you don’t think you’ll be asked to work late for no extra pay but that conversation was never formally had. Sometimes they’re explicit rules.
Use your righteous anger to change the world around you. Use it to catalyze a search to improve your situation at work, search for a new job, or launch a new venture in a market of violated and disappointed expectations.
Your anger is your mind telling you something about the world. Listen to it. Sometimes it is telling you about opportunity.