Getting through the 'dark days'
"If you don't keep going, you'll never know if you could've made it."
(Graham McPherson, a.k.a "Suggs", lead singer of Madness)
There are going to be days when you'll want to throw in the account management towel and retreat to the hills. That’s guaranteed. You'll face these types of days more often than you’d think, and you won't be the only one.
Account management is stressful, demanding and can often feel totally thankless. Assuming that you've walked into this demanding career with your eyes open, and given that you know 'dark days' will strike at some stage, how do you cope when you feel you've hit rock bottom?
- Believe it can get better: If you think you are defeated, you will be; but if you believe that not every day is a bad day, and that things really can get better, they will. Half the battle is very, very real, and the other half is the mental battle you wage with yourself.
- Do an expectation check: Are you expecting every day to go perfectly; that everyone will be nice and polite to you; and that your clients will only ever sing your praises? If you have high or unrealistic expectations, you are more likely to experience days filled with disappointment and frustration. Try lowering your expectations or making them more realistic. That way you'll find your days filled with pleasant surprises instead of miserable ones.
- Change your balance: It's tough to remind yourself that 'it's only work' when you love your job, love your clients and feel emotionally-attached to your career...but there is truly far more to your life than just your job. If you find you put most of your energy and focus on your work, and less into your family, friends and pastimes, then it's more likely that you will be affected by rough work-weather. Without a balance of priorities in your life, a bad day (or a series of bad days) will feel more overwhelming than it otherwise should do. Having balance in all aspects of your life will help you to focus on non-work things when work is getting you down.
- Remind yourself what you're doing this for: Do you love your job? Yes? Why? Is it the creativity; the rush of adrenaline; the teamwork; the agency buzz; working with your clients; a good salary? Whatever drives you forward, and whatever reasons you have for coming back to work day-after-day, focus on those things.
- Put things into perspective: Dark days have a way of making it feel as though the whole world is crashing down around you. Perspective is all about taking time to breathe, looking at your situation from the outside in, and trying to take a wider view rather than letting the smaller stressors and mistakes bring you down.
- Don't take things personally: AgencyLand is made up of colourful personalities and complex relationships (internal and external). Dark days can occur when we allow the mood of other people to affect our own mood. If your dark, downward spiral was set off by someone else's issues (e.g. if they were angry, upset, stressed, frustrated or just plain mean), then try not to take their words and actions personally. Their mood may not have anything, whatsoever, to do with you, and you're just caught up in their whirlwind.
- Remove the extreme emotion: Try to describe the way you are feeling in simple terms and without using any extreme or exaggerated emotional descriptors. By simply stating how you feel and why you are feeling that way (e.g. you are “angry with a client”, or “disappointed with yourself”), it can allow you to discharge any hold your emotions have over you, and help to identify the root cause of the problem.
- Snap back as quickly as possible: When you are having a dark day, your decision-making skills are compromised. Your ability to stay on top of your game is imperative in account management, so you need to find ways of dealing with the emotions that are at play and then be able to snap back as quickly as possible. For example, give yourself the morning to emotionally work through whatever is gnawing at you, but commit to coming back strong after lunch. If you feel you can't turn it around that quickly, then 'sleep on it' and start fresh the next day - often things look a lot better with the sunrise (and after a decent amount of sleep).
- Leave work issues at work: Taking the stress and unhappiness of your work home with you is a sure-fire way of reliving your day over and over (either in your head, or with your partner/family). The more you allow your day to rerun in the theatre of your mind, the more likely your brain will magnify the associated feelings and emotions, making a lousy day feel 10x worse.
- Do things that make you happy: One of the best ways to combat the work blues is to seek out things you know that will help you feel uplifted, confident and happy. That's another great reason to make sure you have a balanced life (and a good amount of spare time) away from work.
- Know that some dark days cannot be beaten: There will be times when you'll receive bad news that will affect your work – the sickness or death of a loved one, an injury that you sustain, or the loss of your job. Bad things will happen, and sometimes you need to cut yourself some slack and say that it's OK to feel sad and down. As long as your colleagues and clients know why you are having a rough day (or days, or weeks) they should be supportive and understanding, and do what they can to help you pull through.
What if there is no respite?
If the dark days occur regularly then you have to ask yourself what's going on? Is it that there are unresolved issues at your agency? Do you have a manager who doesn't support you? Perhaps your clients are particularly challenging, or maybe you are finding it more and more difficult to cope with the pressures of AgencyLand and the industry itself is wearing you down. Either alone, or with the help of your manager, you will need to dig down to find the core issues and see if anything can be done to make things more bearable and enjoyable.
If you are constantly stressed and unhappy this will impact every corner of your work day, and have a negative impact on your team. Even your clients will start to feel your drop in energy and enthusiasm.
If you feel that there really is no respite, and that things are not going to be resolved, then you have three distinct choices: (1) you stick it out and try to improve your current situation; (2) you leave your job and try your hand at another agency; or (3) you leave your career in account management for something less stressful. If #1 is really not tenable, do try #2 before you try #3 as you may be pleasantly surprised, as not all agencies are created equal.
You have a choice
Remember that although you may not have much control over what gets thrown at you on a daily basis (and so you may feel 'powerless' as a result), you are in full control about the way you respond; and in your response is your greatest power. Choose wisely, and you may find that the dark days are not quite as dark as you first thought.
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