Bonus time really cranks up the competition between high-flying male counterparts, but who gets left behind in this pissing contest? Well, actually, everybody, says psychologist Esslin Terrighena.
Every year during bonus season most of us end up on an often-cruel ladder, waiting for our fate to be mete out with dollars and cents. At the top, we have the happy few who come away with jackpots. Life is good! Yet any attempt to celebrate deserved success gets shot down quickly. In a world of competition, people want to hear that you’re also struggling if only to confirm they’re not falling behind the game. They do not want to hear how much better you’re doing – you and your sparkly digits can sit back down, thanks.
Our middle group hit the expected target and can wipe the nervous sweat off their brows with the confirmation that the premature spending sprees and kids’ school tuition are covered. Heave a sigh of relief, only to return to another year of grinding yourself to the bone, because time is money.
Finally, there are those leaving the office with stone cold poker-faces. Everyone likes to claim they stand on this bottom-rung, complete with a solid, pint-induced pub rant about being cheated out of an adequate bonus. Nobody wants to get caught being anything less than grovelingly modest. Yet, the true complexity of distress triggered by a subpar bonus remains unacknowledged.
So, if bonus time is a no-win for all, why are men wearing themselves down like this?
Bonuses are the critical reward for the countless, exhausting hours sacrificed in stressful, fast-paced environments riddled with uncertainties. Unjustly, in the cash-focused society of Asia, the success of high numbers has become an inseparable indicator of the success of a man as a whole. Any step backwards equates to failure – a loss of control over his future and himself. We cope with our seeds of self-doubt by merrily maintaining substantial levels of denial. This chronically suppressed distress leads to increasingly repetitive and circular negative thought patterns that do not progress toward solutions, but are rather prone to spiralling out of control – we no longer see the wood for the trees. Psychologists have shown that such rumination is linked to high incidences of burn-out, drug and alcohol abuse, heart attacks and suicides.
So how can we effectively deal with these inevitable pressures? The more we share our fundamental worries, the more acceptable and manageable distress will become. We break the thought cycle by moving our focus from the chaos (‘what if I fail at my career?’) to the solution (‘how do I tackle this?’).
Set aside 15 minutes a day to put any negative thoughts on paper and out of your head! To each, write a potential solution. When the time is up, put the paper away. You have systematically acknowledged your worries, and crucially, are now making progress on Plan B if, post-bonus, Plan A no longer feels solid. You’re back in control. Do your reality-check: the sub-text of a disappointing bonus is that it is time to find different challenges, not that you have failed as a person. As men, you have more to offer than a bank account. You can motivate change in out-dated societal expectations. But to do that, you must first unlearn your own belief that your personal value is tied to your vocational success.
We are all diverse, multifaceted people shaped by our multitude of experiences and dreams, not the product of the digits on a bank statement.
Esslin Terrighena is a psychologist with the passion for guiding people towards stepping out of their struggles and hopping onto the path to greater well-being, using a holistic mix of cognitive-behavioural, emotion-focused and meditative strategies. She also enjoys a healthy bit of cynicism, backpacking adventures, smoky whiskey and helping men and women rise above their miscommunications.
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