Don’t be an angry minnow swimming against the tide

I have an idea for a new movie. A film that would serve as an antidote to feel-good The world of Nemo. It bears the working title of Finding Nemesis.

The story revolves around an angry minnow who is perpetually bubbling over being kicked out of a pre-screened pool in Sydney, forcing them to swim against the tide in a constant struggle through the murkier waters of Queensland. They are left battered in a fishmonger’s in Ipswich and have a chip on their shoulder. But then they decide to return to face their nemesis, who for some decidedly shady reasons has always managed to snag the roles they wanted themselves.

Having an enemy at work is no fun.

"Dory,The world of Nemo.” src=”$zoom_0.284%2C$multiply_0.4431%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86% 2Cf_auto/ 77794a93daf645fd7ad2c7ec611119842f912fb5″ height=”224″ width=”335″ srcset=”$zoom_0.284%2C$multiply_0.4431%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756% 2C$ x_0%2C$y_0/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/77794a93daf645fd7ad2c7ec611119842f912fb5,$zoom_0.284%2C$multiply_0.8862%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_7526 $x_0%2C$x_0%2C$x_0%2C $y_0/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/77794a93daf645fd7ad2c7ec611119842f912fb5 2x”/>

Dory, bottom left, and Marlin, bottom right, face an ocean full of peril in their efforts to save Nemo, in this scene from The world of Nemo.Credit:(AP Photo/Pixar Animation Studios, File)

Workplace rivalries may have a comedic quality – they may seem like a lot of fun on the outside – but they’re not fun for the scapegoat. And they are much more common than we assume, unless we assume the workplace is populated by parliamentarians. I confess a childish weakness for the blood sport of watching politicians take down leaders, probably because I am away from this workplace. But being in the middle of it all probably isn’t much fun.

The rival I have in mind is someone who always seems to get the promotion, or the gig, that you wanted. Depending on how you think, they get breaks and in doing so rob you of opportunities to step forward and shine. They are your rival. And now it’s war.

It can be hard to avoid believing that your rival’s success is unjustified. In the process of rebuilding or maintaining our self-confidence in the face of second place, choosing to believe that the other person was chosen for reasons other than their abilities helps us avoid confronting uncomfortable truths about our own capacities. However, it is even more frustrating if we have strong evidence that our rival won due to factors unrelated to the job, or worse, nefarious means. It’s not hard to see how workplace politics begins with the spreading of rumors or slander. If your rival is sneaky, he may be getting ahead because he plays the political game better than you and has taken care of you.

The problem with rivals and our emotional reactions is that we can continually waver between competing accounts of reality – either that we’ve been outright beaten or we’ve been stitched up. Yet how we react to events can have a crucial bearing on our career trajectory. We’ve all seen underachievers eaten up with jealousy and hatred, convince themselves and then proceed to convince everyone who will listen that the game is rigged and therefore not worth playing. These self-sabotagers can be career poison if you get too close.

The best career response to missing is rarely a matter of giving up. Learning to be more strategic is usually better than trying over and over again. This may involve various changes in personal approach, including paddling your canoe in fresh waters to avoid direct competition. This may involve refining your act at work. After all, with the right attitude, rivals can be motivating. Generally speaking, it is better at work to swim in your own lane than to be an anemone to your rival.

Jim Bright, FAPS, is Professor of Education and Career Development at Australian Catholic University and owner of career management consultancy Bright and Associates.

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