Coach at work: 'I'm a rising star. So why do my colleagues dislike me?'
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Coach at work: 'I'm a rising star. So why do my colleagues dislike me?'

We put your workplace woes to an executive coach.

At a recent corporate planning day, the chief executive singled me out (there were 600 people in the room) as a rising star. I've spent the last year and a half doing mad hours on a flagship project that was mired in lawsuits and infighting. Because I sorted it out and landed it ahead of schedule, I'm getting feedback that I can "write my own cheque" from now on, and that my technical skills as a lawyer, combined with my ability to manage tricky stakeholders, make me a hot ticket professionally.

My problem is my colleagues don't seem to like me, and my social life is less than stellar: I spend my Sundays browsing online and fighting off depression. I don't want to be a no one, but I'm having trouble working out if I'm anyone. Am I going to grow out of this feeling of being hollow? Or is this all there is?

"I don't want to be a no one, but I'm having trouble working out if I'm anyone."

"I don't want to be a no one, but I'm having trouble working out if I'm anyone."

The coach:

Your "all there is" adds up to a lot, although I get how a melancholy mood and the bone-deep exhaustion of overwork can drain your life of joy and promise. Let's start with your well-being, in the hope of a clearer view about what's going on beneath all that praise (you're a star) and blame (your colleagues don't love you in the way you deserve).

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The capacity to handle both solitude and intimacy is as necessary as vitamin C to our health and resilience. So, as a first step, you might sort out your Sundays until you have a routine made up of (offline!) activities that support both.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.Credit:Sari Sutton

Here's a laundry list: exercise, meditation, cooking, gardening, reading paper books, craft, model-aeroplane making, spending time in nature. A Sunday evening journal session where you take stock of the week you've had and do some planning about the week and month – and year – ahead. Campanology, decoupage, antique clocks. Learn to play the shawm, you wild thing!

At some point, most of us need to choose between being cool and being happy, so get your nerd on. Any arcane, singular thing that makes you happy, and builds your capacity for offline solitude, belongs on this list. You can balance this with time with others, though choose your companions carefully, for you'll become like them; and particularly value people willing to report to you the truth of your condition.

At this stage in your career and your adulthood, "authenticity", or finding your own sense of who you are (winding back your dependence on what others value) might be landing at your station. The downside of authenticity is that it's not a popularity contest. It's kind of the opposite: the only person whose approval you're trying to win in the search for an authentic life is you, yourself and thou. And if you have no clue, spending time with the question of what and who matters to you is a great beginning.

I have a client who spent every Sunday at home for a year as a way of getting herself into a habit of weekly self-reflection (and restoring her house to a state of peace). She's less strict these days but reports that her "Sundays at home" experiment recalibrated her feelings of who she is and where she's going. When overwhelm creeps back into her routine, she shuts up shop and retreats to her once-a-week sabbatical.

And you're lonely! Of course you are. Loneliness can be as much a sign of self-estrangement as a signal that you're low on meaningful human contact (intimacy). Few workplaces are designed to foster healthy relationships – and whatever designated "stars" might pick up on the swings of quick promotion and satisfying work, they tend to lose on the roundabout of human relating. Giftedness is certainly correlated with persecution, and your average high performer will deal with a lot of jealousy over their career.

On the other hand, your colleagues might have a better nose than you for the Ivanka effect, in which promotions have more to do with beauty or patronage than merit. The Ivanka effect is tasteless, odourless and invisible to those who bask in its yellow glory. "It's magic how I got here all by myself!" Asking your peers to bless you in your innocence and your better looks/fortune is a sign of your relative youth.

If you want more authentic human relating, you might need come back down to earth and offer some. My favourite story about friend-making comes from therapist Milton Erickson, who advised a client at the end of her bitter middle age to send African violets to everyone she knew. Each small act of giving (births, deaths, marriages) brought this woman another modest lesson in amity, adding up to a life that became locally famous for its kindness. Human connection starts with generosity (giving with no expectation of return), so you might try to find unimportant ways to give away the very thing you're seeking. It takes time for friendship and respect to grow, and at your stage in life you may have more than you realise.

Careers can span decades. Sometimes, your senior colleagues will think you're the bee's knees, and you'll tend to agree, because of how mathematically correct all that approval feels (i.e. acutely in proportion to your sense of your own potential). Then, later, your sponsor might retire, or you might move to another role, where the planets are less aligned for you and where your Midas touch deserts you for reasons you may never even be "in" on.

Human connection starts with generosity, so you might try to find unimportant ways to give away the very thing you're seeking.

The thing that will sustain you through these seasons of relative warmth, or freezing? Not the views of others about your worth. Nor will the recollection of your professional glory days keep you cosy at night, whenever life has plans for you other than lining folks up to help, adore or promote you. Your challenge is to get into a habit of looking within for affirmation of what you value, and not without – and then to act on that in ways that tend to serve and connect you to the people around you. There is a magic balm for the double-edged swords of loneliness, professional blame (or praise) and the end of your youth. Self-knowledge. The coolest ticket around.

Jacqueline Jago is an executive coach and the principal of Bloom Coaching & Consulting. Send your questions to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.