THE BLOG

Avoid Career PMS in 2013

01/02/2013 02:27 pm ET | Updated Mar 04, 2013

It Starts With Those Painful Periods...

When you first arrive at a new job, office culture can be truly perplexing. It all looks and feels so familiar at first-- so innocent and tidy with people going about their business -- but then you start to notice the weird stuff. The things that defy logic. Girlogic, that is. Ironically, the qualities that make us girls such great human beings can totally trip us up at work. We work hard. We try to play fair. Most of us try to make sure everyone feels good and equal. We try to make everyone happy because life is better when everyone is happy.

Problem is, for the most part, go-after-the-guy-with-the-ball Guylogic still drives the prevailing system and Guylogic is all about winning. And, frankly, most guys don't care as much as we do if they make a mess while trying to score points.

If your own sense of fairness is disrupted frequently enough, you'll end up stupefied like I did with an acute case of work-induced Political Misery Syndrome (PMS) -- an epidemic disorder of the mind most frequently found in the female population.

What Cramps Your Style

Women (and, OK, some men) develop Political Misery Syndrome because they are not aware that every single thing they do or don't do at work is being observed and interpreted.

Everything.

Just as it is with politicians on the campaign trail, everything you say (or don't say) in the office, how you say it, to whom you say it, who you eat lunch with, who your friends are, how you deal with officemates, when you show up and when you leave, etc., can determine how you are treated, how quickly you are promoted and how much license someone will take in hassling you.

Unfortunately, in the office, the most innocent of actions can be perceived as sinister or manipulative; the most manipulative maneuvers can be perceived as sincere and appropriate gestures. Most of girls who call me completely resist any behavior that could possibly be construed as "Political." Girlogic: "I'm just not a political person; I'm not manipulative. Why can't I just be myself?"

Answer: because it's ALL political, anyway.

You don't have to like it, but you do have to live with it. What counts in the office has virtually nothing to do with the truth, what matters is the perception of the truth. Your personal reality is about as relevant as your shoe size. Until you recognize this fact, you are at risk for case of Political Misery Syndrome that all the Midol in the world can't fix.

To see if you currently suffer from work-induced PMS, see if you have any (or all, God forbid) of the top 10 symptoms:

1. Confusion. You lack perspective; all events are relatively equal in terms of their importance in your mind. Every single project or misunderstanding is a big fat hairy crisis and you are too befuddled to see any humor in anything.

2. Over-sensitivity. You allow office conflicts and slights to hurt, stress and adversely influence your behavior.

3. Obsessiveness and Compulsiveness. You feel undervalued, so you work harder and harder, which makes you feel even more taken advantage of, under-compensated and overworked.

4. Paranoia. You feel like you are being excluded. More days than not, you are afraid that you will get fired.

5. Boringness. Your primary topic of conversation, no matter what time of day or who your audience is, is how horrible your job is.

6. Bitterness. You spend tons of time enumerating the countless reasons all the stuff you really want from your career is completely unattainable, and then get resentful when you see others achieve the exact wish you had in mind.

7. Major Rage. You stew in a cauldron of negativity, looking for people to blame, sue and be mad at. Your primary office skill becomes creating dramas and dragging others into them.

8. Denial. You ignore the fact that you think your job sucks, make no plans, live exclusively for the moment and spend all your money on shoes and champagne instead of paying your phone bill and hope that, somehow, it will all magically straighten itself out down the road.

9. Relationship trashing. You drive your boyfriend and other significant relationships away with nonstop bitching about your sorry situation. I did this more than once.

10. Stupidity. You crash your car -- just about total it on the way to work -- and still go and put in a full day anyway.

The Story of Oh...

There is only one remedy for Political Misery Syndrome -- and, no, it's not shopping. The one, repeat, ONE cure for chronic acute PMS (don't blink; you'll miss it) is:

Options.

Options are oxygen.

Without options, your company has become your life-support system. You live in a state of paralyzed fear that your boss will pull the plug and that you don't have enough skills to get another, or as good, of a job. So you work harder, become paranoid, enjoy less.

Welcome to... Understanding Your PMS Cycle
Taking Stock Of Your Options

Most of the women we know think that options are a luxury they just can't afford. We women love when options are offered to us (hence our great devotion to shoe shopping), yet because most of us are hard-wired to value commitment, many of us feel obligated to stay in the bad relationship that is our job. Girlogic: Spending time creating options seems like "cheating."

It's different for most men. Some ancient directive from The Divine Boss drives guys to sow seeds hither and yon constantly laying groundwork for a more attractive position. My guy spies tell me that pondering possible exit strategies begins before they take on any commitment. Guylogic: not having options is not an option.

For women, though, monogamy is our default mode. If you have PMS or are potentially at risk for it, which, btw, we think almost all women are, the first thing we need to do is get in there and change the power management settings on your control panel.

Here's my tech support:

Step 1. Write down your new mantra: "I must have options, they are an absolute necessity for the life and health of my career and my sanity." Repeat daily.

Step 2. You have to learn how to get them. You will soon discover that options are one of the most luxurious things in the world to have. More on this in my next blog.

Step 3. You have to make the time to create options. You'll have to learn to be more selfish (Yes! the "S" word!). If you are like most women and multitasking your head off, the things you need to do for yourself are usually at the bottom of the priority pile -- if they make the list at all.

Honey, you have to believe that you, and you alone, can manufacture good options for yourself and not let anyone convince you that you can't. People in your life -- well-meaning and otherwise -- might try to brainwash you into believing that you have no options. Why? Because if you had choices, you might change, and people really don't like it when others change anything more significant than their underwear. Really. It drives them completely mental.