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How to Deal With Personal Problems at Work

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Life is never easy, personally or professionally, and obstacles will always be thrown our way. But while personal problems that affect our professional lives seem annoying and unfortunate at the time, they always lead to lifelong lessons.

I recently faced the most difficult week thus far in my professional career. I thought everything was going my way with my recent promotion and an invitation to travel on behalf of my company. This would be my first time traveling for the company independently, and I was beyond excited. Even better was that I would be traveling to Arizona, where I happened to have family. I left on a Friday evening so I could spend the weekend with family, and then planned to work on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

As my trip began, and I woke up on my first morning in the beautiful southwest weather, my personal life came shattering down. I was up early due to the time difference, and was shocked to see my aunt waiting for me at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. My grandfather had died earlier that morning holding my mother’s hand.

All emotions ran wild in my body and mind. I was extremely close with my grandfather, and my mother was his caretaker in his last days of life. I wanted to be home to mourn with my family and be there for my mother, but I was miles away. My trip and work suddenly became distant thoughts as I sat with my aunt, heartbroken and crying over our sudden loss.

After speaking with my mother and my boss to try to determine how to get home, there was really nothing I could do in this difficult situation. To change my travel plans would cost a fortune, and there was really nothing for me at home to do but cry and mourn with my family.

I was lucky enough to grow up very close to my grandparents, and they’ve been present for every monumental moment in my life until just recently. As my heart became heavy on making a decision about whether to go home or stay in Arizona, I thought about what my grandfather would want me to do. I thought about the moments where I reached to him for a hug as he entered my home. I thought about the moment when we took a private tour of Yankee Stadium and he held my hand as we walked across the field that the legends have walked across. I thought about the moment when I slept at my grandparents’ house the night before I went off to college. My grandfather had kissed my head and said, “Make us proud, ace,” and proudly cried as I walked out of the door. I thought about the moment I graduated college, seeing the smile on his face when I immediately got a job. My grandfather would’ve wanted nothing more than for me to stay in Arizona on the job I was sent out to do. He would want me to stay to make the company proud and, more importantly, make him proud.

Life goes on, and it always will. There will be many moments in our careers where our personal lives will cause a collision and a conflict. People die, people get married, people have babies, and people get sick; life will always happen. But this doesn’t mean that we give up on the job we were sent out to do. These are all life lessons that will only develop us into stronger individuals.

Based on my own personal experience, here is my advice:

  • Always be honest. Sometimes people are nervous to tell their bosses about a personal problem, be it a death, birth, or illness. But honesty is the best policy, and will show your true character as an employee.
  • Don’t over share. Leave the details out when informing your boss of a problem. They don’t need to know you’re going to the gynecologist; just tell them you need the day off to go to the doctor.
  • Choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. Intent is everything. When emailing your supervisor about personal issues, be careful with your word choice and how you present the issue.
  • Be prepared. Have a plan in place about how you’ll manage your work while away; this will assure your boss that you’re a strong employee and that you have everything covered. You can ask for back up with a colleague, hire a temp if needed, or even work from home. This will impress your boss that you can plan and prep even in the hardest conditions.
  • Remember that the people you work with also have personal lives. When I was unsure how to email my boss on the Saturday morning of my grandfather’s death, I thought to myself, my boss is also a human being with a family of his own; he’ll understand what I’m going through, and has probably gone through the same thing. Why was I even scared?

This was the first personal struggle I’ve encountered during my professional career and, because I’m a young woman, I doubt it will be the last. It was an amazing life lesson, and I am proud of myself how I handled and presented myself during the worst of times and I know my grandfather was smiling down on me throughout the whole process.

After all, we are all people with lives and life will always happen whether we like it or not, but it is up to us with what we do with it or in this case, handle it.

What are your tips for dealing with personal problems at work? Share with us in the comments!

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Career Advice Personal Life Work-Life Balance
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I'm so sorry for your loss, Jenna. You handled that so well, and there is no way your grandfather isn't proud of you. Thank you for the advice! You were able to dig through an unfortunate situation and help others who may not be as strong. Thank you!

So sorry for your loss! When my great-grandfather died two years ago, I was devastated (my family live in Virginia, and I live and work in London) and as it was a busy time at work, I assumed I wouldn't be able to go. I ended up doing exactly as you advise - I made a plan, checked plane tickets, and then presented the whole picture to my boss. She ended up being very supportive, and I will always be grateful that I got to go back and spend that time with my family! Thanks so much for writing this - definitely sharing it!

So sorry for your loss. I to had a similar experience; however I was closer to home. I was in Virginia for a work trip and decided to go two days earlier. The first morning I got a call my mom took a turn for the worst and they weren't sure she was going to make it. I called my boss told him I already had a replacement for the show and needed to get home. My cousin who I was staying with drove me back to NJ to be with my mom.She lived three more weeks and then lost her battle to cancer. I was glad I made the decision to go home and proud that I worked out all the details for work as well!

Jenna, I am so sorry for your loss. I agree with Kelsey's sentiments. Thank you for sharing your personal story and advice.

Jenna, I'm so sorry for your loss. I had a similar relationship with my great-grandmother; she passed away just a few weeks after I moved to NYC from Miami. It's so inspring that you were able to sort your way through such an immense struggle and share your lesson with us. I think this is also something students should also learn to employ. A few years ago, I found myself in class with a less than accepting professor and neglected to inform her of my health issues until a bout of serotonin syndrome late in the semester had me out of school for a week. Missing out on 3 sessions dropped my grade from an A to a D. There was nothing I could do so late in the game. After that experience, I've had hour-long meetings with all my professors at the beginning of the term and made a point of dropping in during office hours at least every other week. The bright side of being so up-front is that you build a longer lasting relationship with your boss/professor. They get to know YOU much better than someone who does their best to keep life-altering personal problems in the dark.

Thank you all for your kind words and support. My grandfather was ill for quite some time, so he is in a much better place. I miss him terribly, but am ease knowing he is out of pain and with my Nana. This experience will only make me work harder to make him proud while he smiles down on me in heaven.

Jenna - this took incredible courage for you to share your story with us! Thank you for allowing us to read your story and learn from it, so we can all be prepared in difficult moments like this in our futures. Your eloquent tips on how to have a crucial conversation in a moment of grief or pain are incredibly helpful.

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