What We Control and What We Don’t

aka How do you know when it’s time to leave a shitty work situation?

Lately, a number of my clients have been grappling with the same issue. It shows up slightly differently each time, but essentially it all boils down to the same question: 

Photo by  Alex Holyoake  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash.

How do I get people to treat me how I want to be treated?

In the first iteration, a client and I framed the question as: How do I command more respect? She’s someone who can look much younger than she is and is more accomplished for her age than one might guess. So it was often a struggle to be taken as seriously, and given as much deference, as her white male peers. 

More recently, another client and I were working through how to get her manager to show that she (the manager) valued her (my client) by paying her on par with her white male counterparts. The question this time was: How do I get a raise?

So my clients and I talk about how to solve these problems.

What’s within our control to do?

Illustration credit:  LizAndMollie .

Illustration credit: LizAndMollie.

Well, we can come up with a strategic plan and craft a beautiful argument, we can stand up and advocate for ourselves, we can make sure we’re not undermining ourselves, and we can decide to no longer tolerate certain things. Using these tactics can cause a total shift in people’s behavior and get the results we want.

But the truth is that we cannot control what other people do. We can’t “get” them to do anything – not really. The honest-to-goodness truth is that no matter what we do, people may still treat us poorly. Because, ultimately, whatever they decide to do is whatever they decided to do.

It’s really hard to accept this. Because it feels like defeat. And like there’s no point in trying. But I don’t believe that either. Because I think this is an “and” situation:

We can do our best and we can recognize that the outcomes we want are beyond our control.

Photo by  Etty Fidele  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.

We can know that both of these things are true at the same time.

And then, after you’ve done what you can, tried a series of strategic changes to your own actions and behavior and still nothing’s changed, then it’s time to look at your options. You could stay or you could leave. If you stay, you can adjust your mindset and expectations – manage your emotions around the poor treatment, essentially. If you leave, you have the chance of things being different and the experience and lessons from having navigated this situation.


you can only do what you can do. But that is, in fact, quite a lot.