Mediocre or not, you will no doubt feel aggrieved if you're overlooked for a promotion, whether deserved or not.
After all, it's another form of rejection and being dumped for a lesser individual is nobody's idea of a good time. So, after you've gone home, downed a bottle of gin and punched the wall a few times maybe you should take a realistic look at what happened and why. Because without a way forward you'll soon run out of gin and the wall will look like a Connect 4 board.
What possible reason is there for a person with less experience, lax personal hygiene, and who only turns up to work when it suits them, to get promoted before you?
Because they're the boss's friend?
Of course, they're the boss's friend: wouldn't you promote someone you liked rather than someone you didn't? Either way, if you feel your boss either doesn't like or trust you, perhaps you should put some effort into trying to sort that relationship out.
I don't mean by berating them at the pub when they're drinking to forget about the nightmare of managing other people, but rather by having a quiet chat to let them know how disappointed you are and giving them a chance to explain what more you need to do. It's best to leave it a few days before doing this: like revenge, indignation is a dish best served cold.
Because you're a woman?
I'm sure it still happens, but I believe less so these days.
Because you're a man?
Maybe it didn't happen in the past, but it's probably overdue to redress the imbalance in the workforce. That said, the game is still stacked heavily in favour of men across all the available business metrics, so you probably still have it quite good.
Because you're not good enough?
The Dunning-Kruger effect tells us that most people have an overinflated view of their own abilities. As tough as it is to accept, there is always the possibility that the better person was picked for the role. Ideally, you can accept this as a possibility and very politely ask your boss what you can do to rectify the situation.
Because your boss is an idiot?
In the shadow of being knocked back, this is probably what you think anyway. It may or may not be true. However, before blaming your boss for destroying your career and driving you to drink, ask yourself if maybe there's more you could do. Actually, rather than asking yourself, again, go and ask them.
Because they don't need anybody being promoted?
A rising tide floats all boats and an ebbing one dumps them on the sand. I spent ten years of my career at an agency that was steadily shrinking which was a sobering experience. If a company is in decline and shedding staff like dandruff it is unlikely that they have the inclination to be promoting anyone. On the plus side, if you are a relatively junior individual you might find yourself being handed greater responsibility because the expensive senior ones have been let go.
Starting out, I had both sides of this, in that I got a job when all the expensive guys were let go, but I struggled to get any higher up the greasy pole because more grease was being poured on faster than I could climb. I was too good to fire, not good enough to promote. As my boss said, get your head down, do your job as best you can and be thankful it's not you being marched out with your pilfered pens and unused Keep cup.
Are you sure you want to be promoted?
Along with a pay raise, you'll get more stress, longer hours, and the potential loss of friendship from colleagues who now see you as "one of them". You've been good at what you do, but you're now going to find out whether you're any good at what you don't do.
For many careers, promotion changes the role so dramatically that skills from one are not transferable to the next. For example, in sports, where a great player does not necessarily make for a great manager. In my old business of advertising, many creatives are promoted above their station to be senior creative directors, where the skill set is so different that many would actually be happy to return to their original role. Sometimes you'll find that the greener grass is Astroturf.
Maybe try leaving?
The biggest promotion I ever had in my life was when I'd already left the company. Thinking I was under-appreciated at one agency I resigned to go to a rival one. I was working out my notice when the big bosses at the first agency asked me to come in one Saturday for a chat. They sat me down and handed me an envelope that contained an offer that was financially advantageous but more importantly was about their belief in me and my role for the future. Because of this, I decided to stay. Not because of the financial advantages (I'm not saying they didn't help) but because of what the offer represented – that somebody really believed in me and saw me as having a key role to play in their future. This was the first time in my life anyone had ever suggested this to me. Still, it had only taken 40 years: the joy of mediocrity.
• Paul Catmur worked in advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best