I underachieve to avoid stress but I feel unfulfilled

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you


I underachieve to avoid stress but I feel unfulfilled

3 minute read

Q. Looking back on my career, I am conscious that I have not done as well as I could have – because I hate conflict. I know I am highly thought of at work, but I have always settled for smaller roles, where I don’t have to deal with ‘jocks’ and the rough and tumble of management. I am frustrated. I know I am capable of more but I don’t want to spend my life stressed. I want to be one of those people who lets it all wash over them, but how do I do that? Name supplied

A. Your letter intrigues me and I am slightly frustrated that I can’t ask questions about the story that you are telling yourself at the moment. By ‘story’, I don’t mean that it isn’t true, but there might be other perspectives which open up more options for you. This approach is known as narrative coaching and I’m currently studying it with David Drake who pioneered it.

This is a peer exercise that we did in training, and you could try, perhaps with a friend who seems to be ‘one of those people who lets it all wash over them’. Invite your friend to identify something that perplexes them (in your case, you could read out the letter you’ve written to me). Instead of focusing on how to solve the problem, explore ways to see the situation with more compassion and candour. Example questions are: Is that true? What else is true? What would it mean if it (current narrative) is not true? What am I avoiding? Imagine all along that the resolution, or at least the next step, is already present. Then swap roles.

One level of awareness is to listen out for words that have a lot of emotion attached to them. I am guessing that ‘jocks’ and ‘I hate conflict’ would feature, and it would be useful to pay attention to what you associate with these words. What does positive or constructive conflict look like? Who are the role models you see standing up for what they believe in, politely and fi rmly, or with humour and grace? Harmony and consensus are overrated if they only mean that no one steps out of line. I have a friend who says, ‘There’s always conflict at work, so you might as well sit in the boss’s comfy chair to deal with it.’

Your bedtime reading could become the business writing on ‘transformational leaders’, or the ‘servant leader’, both of which are ideas about sharing power, and ensuring that those around you grow and develop. The world needs more thoughtful people like you to step up and be part of the change. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

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