“Finally. At least now I don’t have to go on pretending anymore that it’s really what I wanted to be doing. Now I can finally do what I WANT to do.” That’s what my client Lon said after his business collapsed.
I wasn’t surprised that, after the initial shock wore off, what he felt was relief. Pretending exacts a huge toll.
Lon had expended enormous amounts of energy over the prior two decades trying to fit in, trying to prove he deserved the accolades he had been desperately seeking, pursuing promotions and deals that he was certain would finally allow him to relax and be himself (but never did). For years, he alternated between anxiety, depression and resentment – mostly because he was constantly trying to be a version of who he thought he should be to succeed.
Lon’s attempts at compartmentalization – keeping his “work self” and his “real self” distinct – and tamping down his real desires and his unique personality consumed vast amounts of energy. He told me that “everyone” did this in the industry; “No one is their real self or gets to do what they really want.” Despite thinking of himself as quite entrepreneurial, he had been trying desperately to be like everyone else, to fit in and not to stand out as “weird, eccentric or too far out there” in his approach to business.
He told me he was ready to get out there and find his next thing, before he got too stale.
When we next met, I asked Lon to outline what an ideal work situation would look like. His responses told me that he was still operating from a view of what he thought he could get, not what he would actually consider ideal. It took quite some time for Lon to get to the heart of what he really wanted. From that place, he could begin to approach a new role – one where he could feel free to express his many talents and soar.
Moments like Lon’s firing, which look like disaster, actually contain the seeds of freedom. Freedom to admit that what we were chasing so hard isn’t actually what we wanted at all. It gives us permission to turn our attention toward what we DO want and to be who we really are.
There is a curious gratitude that arises in those newly diagnosed with cancer. Not gratitude for the cancer, but for the permission to finally abandon assumed obligations and begin saying NO or YES. The gratitude of being able to say “Screw this, I’m going to be who I am and do what I really want.”
The goal, however, is to develop the willingness to reveal who you are and what you want WITHOUT HAVING TO ENDURE A DISASTER to acquire that permission.
Most of us have, at one time or another, been in a relationship – at work or in our personal life – which began by pretending. Pretending to like what we don’t, pretending to be more or less of something than we really are. Accommodating the other, hoping that once we feel safe we can actually ask for what we really want. We hide a part of ourselves, sometimes an essential part of ourselves. Giving ourselves away for the sake of belonging and then awakening sometime later with the roaring anger of resentment or the paralyzing fear of being discovered as a fraud.
We often think that hiding who we are is the safe thing to do when being who we are is our greatest strength. There are times when it’s crucial not to put ourselves in harm’s way and times when it’s important to bring ourselves fully forward or some essential fiber of who we are will wither. Everyone has had to face this choice, more than once; when to show up and when to pull back. Too often, we pull back; we hide, rather than show our true selves.
If we hide long enough, we can forget what we are hiding or that we ourselves are even hidden. And, the longer we hide, the more fearful we become of revealing our true selves and our actual desires. Eventually, who we are and what we want will no longer tolerate being hidden. Feeling suffocated, it will find a way to escape and set us free.
Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we resort to, to hide them. – La Rochefoucauld
Let me put this into context with Lon’s story. Before we started working together so he could accept who he was and what he really wanted, Lon suffered from great insecurity and couldn’t find the foundation of his own self-worth. He was endlessly seeking validation and recognition, assuming that when he made a great fortune he would finally feel “free” to do what he wanted. Meanwhile, his actual resources were being squandered in the intense activity that was necessary to keep searching for a sense of worth that no one could bestow upon him but himself. Whatever praise or success he received was always insufficient because he viewed it with unworthy eyes.
Lon was driven in the name of ambition and the need to be accepted. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work toward something or with wanting to belong. The harm comes when ambition is used as a tool to solve feeling unworthy. Or when the cost of being accepted is giving up who we are instead of entering true relationships that can affirm and enrich who we are.
The way our path unfolds depends upon which voices we listen to. Do we adhere to the expectations of others or do we honor our unique desires? Do we stay loyal to the voice that’s mapped our journey to a partnership with others we don’t respect or to the one that admits en route to the airport that we love eating dinner with our children, that we no longer want to travel for work?
Whether we stay our course or use one course to find another, the core question is: Why do we sometimes hear our soul whisper and sometimes ignore its shout? But one thing is certain; it’s harder to hear your soul while hiding.
Hiding who we are is often predicated on a strong fear of what might happen. We think, “If I show who I really am, I will be rejected or damaged or hurt.” Or “If I tell my partners I don’t want to travel anymore, they will lose respect for me, leave me out of the next fundraise and I’m likely to earn less.” When we are able to listen clearly, we remember that being who we are is prompted by an inner urgency that won’t let us escape the moment at hand. An inner voice informs us, “If I keep muffling this feeling, if I DON’T speak my truth, a part of me will die.” So, we tell it, “Later, not now.” And it shows up again and again, nagging. Or perhaps in the form of a crisis that demands our attention.
How do we know when to pull back and when to bring ourselves forward? How do we know when to come out of hiding? No one really knows. But one act leads to the next and the reward for speaking our truth, even if alone or to a trusted friend or coach, is that such authentic speech clears an inner path by which we can discover and build the courage to reveal who we are, what we want and it will lead us to the life we long for.
If you are not yet certain how to speak that truth of who you are and what you want, or are afraid there is no way to get what you want in your work and are hiding parts of yourself or your desires, call me. Let’s have a conversation about how to begin the journey to the life you long for and deserve. It really is possible. In fact, it’s essential. And, you know it. Don’t wait for your own version of a disaster to give you permission to own your life.
“The real work of our life is to be who we are everywhere – alone, in relationship, at work, and in public.” – Mark Nepo
On a scale of 1 to 10, how was your year? How do you plan to make next year better?
I’m a stickler for completion. Completing tasks, conversations, relationships. Most of us are not taught how to make endings, to finish old business, so it doesn’t follow us into the New Year. We close the books on our businesses, and do year-end reviews with staff, but somehow doing the same work to actively turn the page in our lives and our careers evades us. I have a solution.
For many years, I’ve been following a simple process to gain perspective on the year as it ends and to intentionally choose what I want to pursue in the year ahead. Even more effective than New Years Resolutions (which are soon to be broken anyway and usually made without much reflection or planning), I’m looking for patterns, beliefs and circumstances so I can consciously opt into which I carry forward and which I leave behind as I step into a brand new year.
You know my mantra is Chase What Matters, Do What Counts and this periodic review is the way I hold myself accountable to continuously enhance my life and to winnow out that which doesn’t belong anymore.
It allows me to revisit the pleasures from the year which has passed and begin to make sense of the disappointments and challenges. Even more, it points the way to issues that I need to seek some help on for the year ahead so I can live the life I intend. This simple act of closure and completion has been a key part of refining how I run my business and how I lead my life. It’s a tool I come back to throughout the year, as a blueprint for decision making so I continue to align my choices with what matters.
I have a handy two page list of reflective questions that guides me through a gentle process to close the year with a sense of ease and to outline proactive action steps for the year ahead. It’s been invaluable to me. You can find my version here and adapt it for your own use.
I’m looking forward to spending time with you in the New Year and to being of service as you Chase What Matters to you.
REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS TO CONTEMPLATE AS YOU TURN THE PAGE
CLOSING THE BOOK ON 2018
- What did I embrace in 2018?
- What did I let go of in 2018?
- What changed for me in 2018?
- What did I discover about myself in 2018?
- What was I most grateful for in 2018?
- When did fear hold me back in 2018?
- Where did I demonstrate courage in 2018?
- What surprised me in 2018?
- What made me smile in 2018?
- What were my 3 most significant accomplishments in 2018? For each, list the following:
- The skills that helped me to make it happen
- How my life changed because of it
- What I learned about myself
- How did I celebrate/acknowledge (or, if I didn’t, how can I do it for future accomplishments)
- What were my 3 most significant challenges in 2018? There may be more than 3, use the ones that come to mind first. They may have tested my limits, my patience or may be big or small. For each, list the following:
- How did I deal with this challenge
- What new tools or allies did I uncover that I could use in the future
- How did my life change because of this challenge (even if it’s not yet concluded, what would feel good from the challenge in the end)
- What was my favorite moment of 2018? (Get in touch with the sights, smells, sounds, who was or wasn’t there, what was I doing, what made it amazing?)
- What were the gifts from 2018? What really stands out and mattered to me?
- Is there anything from 2018 that I need to still let go of, say goodbye to or forgive myself (or someone else for) or just need to empty onto the page?
Summarize 2018 in 3 words
OPENING TO THE STORY YET TO BE WRITTEN FOR 2019
- What am I looking forward to in 2019?
- What am I feeling apprehensive about for the year ahead?
- What life lessons am I taking into 2019?
- What area of my life do I most want to develop in 2019?
- What part of myself do I long to nurture in 2019?
- Fast forward to December 2019. I’m sitting in a café, musing over the last 12 months, where do I want to be …
- … in my work and wealth
- … in my relationships
- … in my free time and my sense of meaning
- … in my body and my home
- 3 unhelpful beliefs I’m ready to release
- 3 duties or commitments I’m ready to let go of
- 3 interests, skills or hobbies I’d like to learn or improve
- 3 things about myself I positively love
- 3 ways I could be kinder to my body this year
- 3 dreams to bring to life this year (personal or professional)
- How can I bring more of a sense of calm and grounding into my life this year?
- My secret wish for 2019 is …
My Blueprint for 2019:
This year will be the year I finally ….
I will nourish myself with …
I will make more time for …
I will recharge my batteries by …
I will open my heart to …
I will pay more attention to …
I will learn more about …
I will release my attachment to …
I will say no to …
I will say yes to …
And, because of this, in 2019, I will feel …
I fully believe in the possibilities that await me in 2019 and all that it holds for me.
“I’m burned out,” Mitch told me. “Work shouldn’t suck this much.”
“How much SHOULD it suck?” I asked him.
I suggested he check out this humorous video about careers and burnout . It would be funnier if you didn’t see yourself in it, right now.
Children dream about their futures, they imagine things they can do to effect change, to have fun. They don’t voluntarily choose tedium and stress. They know that work shouldn’t suck. And, by the way, before you think to yourself that work isn’t supposed to be fun, research has shown that the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.
My client, Mitch, was convinced that if he switched firms and made more money he would feel happy and engaged again. Of course he would, for a little while. But the story would continue to be the same one he’d lived through three prior firms. Mitch’s stress was through the roof, he was sleeping less than 6 hours a night, felt frantic about finances and hadn’t had time for friends, let alone time for himself. He was constantly doing triage and felt like everyone else was driving the direction of his life, not him.
I broke the news to him that if he didn’t dive into what was driving his burnout, it would follow him to his new firm. Probably quicker than he even thought was possible.
“What do you mean ‘what’s driving my burnout”? It’s the crazy people I work with and the fact I’m under appreciated and underpaid doing it. That’s why I’ve gotta get out of here.”
“Perhaps,” I replied. “But what will YOU do differently in your new firm?”
“I hear you. But the first six months, I’ve gotta be head-down, really driving it hard to show them what I’ve got. It’s gonna be a lot of ‘in the weeds’ work and then I can settle in and look at the stuff you’re talking about. My family is cool with that.”
Work is where we can make ourselves,
work is also where we can break ourselves.” — David Whyte
I’ve seen it for decades, how a move to a new firm with an increase in compensation actually does make clients happy. Superficially happy. For a short period of time.
Until the voice of their heart rises up again and says, “Are you kidding me? We’re still doing this?” Then they think “If only …” they worked at another place, made more money, (you can fill in the blank) THEN they would be happy. And they are, for another short period of time, until the voice speaks again.
HOW BURNOUT SNEAKS UP ON US
The 12 Phases of the Burnout Process were mapped by Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North (and not necessarily in this sequential order):
- Compulsion to Prove Oneself (turns into compulsion to work harder)
- Working Harder (to prove yourself, irreplaceability, doing it all)
- Neglecting Their Needs (no time and energy for anything but work)
- Displacement of Conflicts (inability to see yourself as the source – 1st physical symptoms begin to arise)
- Revision of Values (your job becomes your new value system, hobbies & friends and needs get sidelined)
- Denial of Emerging Problems (intolerance, aggression, sarcasm, talk about time pressure & stress as “status”)
- Withdrawal (social contact becomes minimal, isolation, alcohol or drug use increases)
- Obvious Behavioral Changes (along with rebuffing anyone who points out these changes)
- Depersonalization (self and others lose value, focus only on present time and future success, increasingly blunt)
- Inner Emptiness (in an effort to overcome this, an increase in addictive activity & exaggerated importance of work)
- Depression (exhausted, hopeless, indifferent & a sense that life is meaningless)
- Burnout Syndrome (collapse physically and emotionally, may have suicidal ideation as the only escape from the situation)
IS IT REALLY BURNOUT – OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE?
One of the questions I’ve been asking clients lately is whether what they are feeling is actually burnout – meaning they are fully depleted – or if it’s really “boreout” – a loss of meaning or purposefulness.
The literature and research on burnout seem to focus on its origin as stress and overwork.
Few of the people I talk to are actually physically exhausted from the actual work they do. These same people would easily tackle in their leisure time much more arduous physical endeavors than those they do in their work lives – that is, if they allowed themselves to HAVE leisure time.
So, if they’re not actually exhausted by the work they do, what is draining the life force energy from these people? It’s the constant effort it takes to ignore the internal questions …What’s the point? How does what I’m doing even matter?
I’m not one to say that our work lives aren’t stressful, but in most instances I encounter, the sense of being overworked and stressed comes from a sense of disengagement with the WHY of their work.
Time and again, I encounter people who ask me “Is THIS all there is?” or who say “I should be happy, I mean, other people would kill to have this job and this life I have.” And, often, they say – “If I’m going to give up this much of my life, then I damned well better make more money to keep doing it.”
The stark absence of meaning from what they are doing rears up and begins to gnaw at them, fueling this sense of unhappiness that may eventually even lead to terminal cynicism – about work, about their industry. In fact, often, about life in general and their cynicism that they even deserve to be happy.
SO, WHAT’S THE ANTIDOTE?
Research shows that the antidote to burnout (or boreout) is engagement.
Burnout manifests itself as symptoms of long term exhaustion and a diminished interest in work, in cynicism and inefficiency. It is that state of melancholy and listlessness known as ennui. The book Diagnose Boreout (by Peter Werder & Philippe Rothlin) calls out the absence of meaningful tasks, not stress, as what saps people. There is little incentive for people to approach their clients or employers or patients and say to them “What’s the point of what you are asking me to do? This is meaningless and it’s doing nothing to fulfill my potential or to improve the situations in life that most pain my heart.“
When a person is left questioning the meaning of their action and feels inhibited to make a change, the characteristics of learned helplessness take over and he or she becomes listless, disengaged, the sense of powerlessness increases and THAT, not the work itself, causes the stress.
Interestingly, “boreout” got almost no attention from the media. Burnout became the buzzword that has taken over. Entire approaches to reducing stress have focused for decades on attempting to alleviate the escalating burnout that is cascading across industries, generations and swaths of our workforce. Urging us to work more efficiently, to acquire things or experiences to counteract the stress. Entire industries are built upon servicing our burnout, instead of asking what’s really driving it and how to fix it.
The remedy for burnout is not changing firms, earning more money or taking a luxurious vacation somewhere. It’s wholeheartedness. Reigniting the embers of meaning and purposefulness in your work and in your life.
Burnout is actually a form of depression – anger turned inward – because there is no available outlet for it to be externalized, for the person to say – “What you’re asking me to do is mindless, nonsensical and the talents and treasures I have are going to waste and I feel angry about that!“
Enhancing the engagement of people in the work they do, really evaluating the meaning and utility of the work they are asked to do is what cures burnout. Working on engaging the potential of each person in the company and affording them official recognition for their efforts. The sense of belonging, an ability to recognize that what they contribute is giving something back and that their risks to make things better are recognized. These are the values that, if left unmet or violated in one’s work leads to the frustration and sense of disillusionment that sets in and has been wrongly diagnosed as burnout.
The generally articulated worry is that attending to a sense of purposefulness will mean workers will stop doing what needs to be done. Bullshit! In his book Why We Work, Barry Schwartz reminds us that people are uniformly willing to do difficult, even boring, repetitive tasks if they see a benefit from their work. Over time, we have been lulled to sleep in thinking that doing mindless, endless, meaningless work is justified because the sole benefit is that we get paid. Not if we get paid and that only allows us to survive in monotony for another 10, 20, 30 years … all in the hopes that we will finally earn enough money and be able to do something meaningful when we retire.
It breaks my heart to hear someone say, “Well, I only have to do it for 7 1/2 more years and then I can retire and do what makes me happy.” Are you kidding me? That kind of life force tyranny wears away people’s souls and their hearts and traumatizes our children as they watch us and think that’s what their future holds.
REKINDLING THE EMBERS OF LOVE FOR YOUR WORK IS THE CURE
Gail Sheehan, in her book New Passages, coined the phrase Middlescence, as a period of second adulthood. A time when we ponder the questions we faced first in adolescence … Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I belong?
We look again for the meaning of our life and ask the questions Where am I and what has it cost me to get here? And, was it worth it?
The reason these questions arise is because there is a breeze that stirs the embers lying under this seemingly burned out core. It’s not that we are burned out, used up, left as ashes. It’s that we keep dumping ashes on top of our inner fire, smothering the embers, instead of feeding them good dry seasoned heartwood.
When a fire has used up all its fuel, what is left is simply ash, the burnt up remains – what was unable to be used.
That’s not where someone is who is asking the questions you are. Or where Mitch is. No, you are beginning to uncover the glowing embers that reside under the blanket of ash. The embers are the partially burnt pieces of fuel and still contain usable energy. Energy that is so deep in the center that the air and oxygen hasn’t yet reached it and caused combustion.
That’s why these questions are “burning” in you, nagging you day and night … Is THIS all there is? Your heart cannot believe that is true. In fact, it will NOT believe it is true. Even as you shovel another layer of ash upon it to quiet it. No, there is a gust of wind that picks up a single ember, or maybe even a shower of embers and floats it to something new that will catch the flame.
THAT is where you need to put your attention. On that single spark, the ember that is floating, for now, waiting to find dry tinder upon which to land. Your spark is not gone – and it will not be put out. Right now, it’s fueling your disillusionment and your inner anger that you haven’t yet vented. The anger that’s turning itself inward into a form of depression we call burnout. It may be that you don’t even HAVE to vent it; it will gain its flight somehow.
Embers remain for a long time even after it appears that a fire has died out. They are the more constant and enduring form of heat. Different forms of fuel catch fire and burn at different rates and different temperatures depending upon the amount of energy expended, upon the surface area exposed, upon the shape and size of the fuel. The combustible heartwood of your life is ALWAYS around you, it just doesn’t burst into flame because they haven’t been exposed to the spark.
What can we do to heat you up? To expose you to the things that will energize you. I promise that when you are energized, that spark will reignite those embers lying dormant within you.
And then, with your heart on fire, you will be a mighty force to be reckoned with.
Burn, baby, burn.
This week, conversations with clients have often veered into their views on the controversy surrounding NFL players “taking a knee” while the national anthem is being played. I’m less concerned whether they think the players should or shouldn’t be doing it, or whether they think the President should or shouldn’t be telling the NFL what their players can do. I’m mostly curious about what matters enough to each person I’m talking to that would make them consider taking a stand (or a knee) in their own life or work.
We each have moments in our lives where we get to (no, correct that, have to) decide who we are and what we stand for. Then comes the bigger decision, whether to take a stand, or to bow before something else that we allow to take priority. Every time, there is a choice to be made between doing what’s right in the moment, despite our fear and insecurities, including the possibility of public scorn, or following the crowd into the lukewarm waters of moral mediocrity and the false sensation of safety. The truth is, each of these decisions becomes the brick and mortar of the rest of our lives – either creating a strong foundation upon which to build a passionate, meaning-filled life to be proud of – or not.
So, this week, I have been asking clients this question:
What do you stand for? What matters to you enough to consider being an outsider,
to be willing to take a stand?
As is my custom, I’ve been challenging them to stand for SOMETHING WORTH STANDING FOR.
Stand for Compassion
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Don’t get me wrong, I know we all have good hearts and good intentions, but when push comes to shove, do you wait for someone else to take the lead or do you step up to the plate and do your part to make change? Do you excuse away harm, protecting your self-interest, by saying “That’s just the way it’s done. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.”
I’ve been thinking about a recent conversation with a client, Jeremy. One of his strengths is that he can find lots of ways to optimize costs in a transaction. When we dug into that trait a little more, he shared with me how successful he had been over his career in finding ways to cut out waste and streamline operations, really optimizing the bottom line for the companies his firm invested in. One of those particular optimization strategies he regularly turned to was cutting staff. Ah. It took me a couple of sessions with him before I was willing to gently ask how it felt to have been optimized out of his role with the company that had unceremoniously restructured his position out of existence a few weeks before.
Jeremy had come to me for help thinking differently about what he would do next. I asked if, perhaps, in the next position he took, he might find a way to use this experience to bring more compassion to the way he optimized profits, also seeing the impact it had on people. He scoffed and said, “Listen, I’ve got two kids and, not surprisingly, they like to eat – every day.”
I pushed back, reminding him that he was not in the class of employees who were actually worried about whether their children would be able to eat – we were talking more about the pleasantries of life like private vs public school, spring break trips to other countries, second homes. I challenged him to look at the privilege he actually enjoyed and to surrender the false storyline that his children would starve unless he continued doing “business as usual” in this harsh way. I asked him whether he stood for compassion. Not that the companies couldn’t become a little more profitable. But, how did he actually FEEL right now, being in the very same position as so many of the employees he had “optimized” out of their jobs. Could he find a way to do his job in a way that also brought in compassion?
I saw this sign at REI on Sunday afternoon:
“Shared Values not simply Share Value”
Yes, money is important, profits are important – but is it the ONLY important thing? And, before you cry that cutting those jobs saves other jobs, I ask you to consider whether the same sense of safety and security you are seeking in your work might also be important to the people who work in your companies? Have you convinced yourself somehow that you are more deserving of compassion than they are?
In the film “Up in the Air” George Clooney plays a hired gun, flying in to fire employees for other companies. As part of his own company’s cost cutting measures, they implement a system to fire employees remotely by teleconference to save the costs of sending Clooney to do it face to fact. After the suicide of an employee who was fired, the company returned him to the job, realizing that, even in letting people go, there is a need for kindness and compassion. Does it take something that drastic for you to bring compassion to the people you are optimizing out of their jobs?
Do YOU stand for compassion? Do you actually know (or even wonder) where those people WILL find other work, instead of simply optimizing them out and convincing yourself they will land “somewhere”? The department may be called Human Resources, but never forget the human part of the equation.
The reason I pressed this point with Jeremy and why I’m posing it here is because of the high likelihood that it will happen in your own industry. It happened to Jeremy, he just hadn’t realized he was a victim of his own optimizing efficiencies until it was too late.
Don’t check your values at the door when you go to work. They are a critical part of you and we need you to hold them dear. Stand for compassion now, before you are in the position where you hope someone else will stand for you.
Stand for Honesty, Dignity and Self Respect
Does your ability to tell the truth change with the crowd, what you hope to gain, or your mood? Are your standards of honesty more like a costume you wear when the occasion calls for it, then discarded when it feels inconvenient?
Another client, Mike, told me that he’s been struggling about whether he can trust the terms of an offer a firm has extended to him. What he shared with me made his pervasive sense of mistrust come into sharp focus. He’s grown accustomed to the half-truths and bald-faced lying that goes on in the industry as people try to gain advantage over each other. Because he knows that he often withholds information and conceals facts he deems unhelpful for his opponent to know, he has begun to assume that everyone else is doing that all the time, too.
Worse yet, he’s begun doing it at home. Because he knows his wife will be disappointed and angry if he tells her he will not fulfill a promise he’s made to her, he has begun to act cagey and hedges on making any commitments to her, assuming that by not making any clear plans he can avoid her anger or disappointment when he changes the plan. He acknowledged that instead it has made him seem unreliable, perhaps even untrustworthy, and the constant uncertainty he is creating is impacting his relationship with his wife and his children.
It is difficult to respect ourselves when our core is as insubstantial as drift wood floating on the sea of societal norms and pop culture, or worse, of expediency. It leaves us with nothing we can stand on. Only if you’re anchored to something fixed and solid can you build something tall and magnificent. So, anchor yourself to the truth. There’s nothing more solid than that.
Tell the truth, even if you think others aren’t. And, insist upon it from others. Choose trustworthy partners and business associates and refuse to work with those who aren’t. We actually CAN turn around this culture of deception, but only when we hold ourselves to our standards and take a stand for the truth.
Reclaim your dignity. Resist becoming a doormat on which others wipe their feet. Refuse to be the sole giver to a bottomless pit. The boss wants you to work until midnight again because there is more work than you could possibly complete in a normal workday? Read the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Henry Cloud. It is not a badge of honor to surrender your self-respect and your quality of life for advancement. You are abandoning yourself and, if you won’t stand for yourself, who do you think will?
Standing for something means centering yourself on principles. It means committing to live by those principles. It means leaving the crowd whenever they stray from those standards. That bedrock of core principles will return a sense of self-respect to the image in the mirror as they are consistently applied over time.
Stand, Even When No One Else Will Stand With You – Be a Leader
Standing up to be counted is a daunting thing, but life cannot be lived well if we live it slouched.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Returning to the NFL players, you may recall that Colin Kaepernick first sat quietly during the playing of the national anthem. He did that for three games without much controversy. And, he was alone in his protest. Then he chose to make a more public showing and “take a knee.” In that, his fourth act of protest, he was joined by another team mate (Eric Reed) and eventually by others as they began to use their platform of visibility to open a conversation for those whose voices were not being heard.
Someone must go first, someone must be brave.
In the financial services sector, one woman, then another and another, came forward to tell of sexual harassment. When enough came forward, firms began to take steps to address the issues, although many in those firms had stood silent as the harassment when on, not wanting to get involved or call attention to themselves by taking a stand.
Refuse to be the silence that sinks deep into the heart like a knife. Develop an inner core that prevents indifference and apathy, one that holds you firmly to high standards and self-respect.
Whether you agree with the method each has chosen in this essay, can you find a place in your own life where you are willing to take a stand for what matters to you, even if no one else stands with you?
Decide what you stand for and stand for it! Be a man or a woman who stands for people, for relationships, for those in need, for honesty, for something that matters. Stand for something greater than your own self-interest. Stand on principle and for truth and human decency whether others follow or run or condemn.
Be someone your children and friends can be proud to know. What do you stand for? I’d love to hear it and, better yet, to see you standing tall.
The callous use of a common phrase in someone else’s blog on Tuesday shocked me.
The writer used the common acronym “ROI”. But he couched it as “Relief on Investment” in describing how to choose a charity to support victims of Tropical Storm Harvey, which has just devastated south Texas. My anger flared.
How the hell did we just equate relief of people’s suffering with an investment philosophy? Yes, money matters. But is it what matters most?
Let me invite you into a discussion about how you invest when tragedy strikes, and how my client Dave is learning something from it that’s transforming his job search.
Watching the news and social media feeds coming out of Houston, many of us are alternating between pangs of grief, guilt and gratitude. Gratitude that we are watching from a distance, safely ensconced in our dry homes with our children and belongings surrounding us. Grief as we witness the suffering of those being plucked from the still roiling waters, their faces contorted with pain and loss and confusion. And guilt as we try to discern how we can help.
The good news is this – we WANT to help. Our hearts break as we watch others suffer. We feel helpless and wonder how we can best help. Should we send money? Dry socks? Food items?
The urge to help arises spontaneously. Thank goodness. We are wired for empathy. What’s more, it actually benefits us when we help. Recent studies in epigenetics indicate that helping behaviors actually improve immunity and that we can pass on that enhanced immunity to our descendants. What? How great is that? Helping someone can help you AND your as-yet-unborn-grandkids? Looks like it.
Read on to see how the metrics you select affect your returns as you invest.
My client, Dave, told me during a recent call that he’s exhausted from his months-long job search. He admitted he is losing hope and is becoming dispirited by how often people “forget” the promises they’ve made to him. The person who told him “I’ll call you back later” and never does. The acquaintance who promised to make an introduction to a connection, and never seems to respond to his email nudges. He’s growing increasingly angry and feels invisible and forgotten as the days and weeks march past, without an offer, and a sense that people are beginning to avoid his calls. He told me, “I’m someone who’s used to getting shit done, and I’m fed up with having nothing to show for my effort day after day!”
I’ve suggested to Dave several times that he commit to an act of service each day. A way to connect with others to offset the sense of invisibility, disconnection and purposelessness – both his and theirs. He’s an investor by profession, I suggested he revisit the question of what capital he is investing right now. A way to reset the metrics by which he evaluates his returns and whether he achieved something each day.
Repeatedly, he tells me he’s too busy, too focused on what he needs to do to help himself, too something.
In a recent call, I asked him if he was aware of the irony of his situation.
“What do you mean?” he responded.
I told him I thought it was ironic that he was so frustrated that no one would lend a hand to him, that they all seemed so busy, self-absorbed and unwilling to extend themselves to him while he was in need. That no one was investing any energy or attention in him. Yet, he was directly refusing to look for ways to be helpful (to invest himself) in simple, easy ways to anyone else – insisting that he only had time to do things that he was certain would result in a direct personal benefit for himself. I suspect that Dave stopped investing in his friendships, his community, his health and his spouse long ago – using his bank account as the primary (perhaps sole) portfolio in which he tracked his investments or returns.
He accused me of “not getting it” – reminding me that he had to focus all of his energy and effort on his own job search. He reiterated that he couldn’t afford to put anyone else’s needs before his own.
I remained silent on the line. He said, indignantly, “You must think I’m a jerk.” Then a little softer, “Really, I’m not, I just have to stay focused here.”
I gently reminded him that the simple acts of service I had suggested to him, over our many calls, were things that would not impact his ability to look for a job. Things like:
1. Making eye contact with a stranger on his commute – allowing someone else who felt “invisible” to feel seen.
2. Offering a smile of understanding and encouragement to a father dealing with a child in the midst of a tantrum at the grocery store – that moment of “Hey Buddy, hang in there, it gets better.”
3. Asking the name of the man who refills his water glass at dinner, making eye contact, and thanking him by name – an act of acknowledgement of someone else’s act of service which benefited him in the moment.
Still he resisted my suggestions. I nudged him a little harder.
“Dave, you tell me that every day your sense of disappointment grows, that you see nothing to prove that all your effort that day mattered. Don’t you think other people experience the SAME sense of disappointment, frustration, invisibility – that SAME sense that they worked hard all day at something while feeling that no one else appreciated their efforts? Why are you so adamant in your refusal to offer to someone else the very proof of their humanity, presence and worth?”
He had no answer for me. I chose not to remind him of the fact that I had been doing these calls with him for free since the beginning of the year. Me, reaching out to him every couple of weeks, just to see how his search was coming along, offering encouragement, listening to his experience and pain, offering alternately what I thought he needed most (my ear, my shoulder or my mouth), never asking him for anything in return. At the end of every call, he sounded calmer, more able to endure the often-long-and-frustrating process of finding a job. He usually told me, “Denise, I feel so much better after our calls. Thank you for doing this for me. It helps.”
The truth is this. I learned a long time ago that, on my own worst days, the investment I make in helping someone else is what can lighten my own load and lead to greater returns than simply those I log in Quicken. Together, through simple acts of kindness, we shine light on the path for each other.
We’ll come back to Dave’s story in a minute.
Last night, I overheard two women sitting behind me in a restaurant here in Scottsdale discussing what they could do to temporarily foster animals who were separated from their owners in the Houston flooding. The couple at the next table joined in and said they would help and also had an extra bedroom they could offer to a family who had been displaced. In twenty minutes, ten tables joined together to create a small symphony of open-hearted goodness directed toward people they didn’t know, but could tell were suffering.
When I joined the chorus of voices, I suggested we consider doing all of that for the people we saw hurting in Texas AND here in our own community. There was a pause as people uneasily looked into each other’s faces. I could tell they wondered whether offering to help in one instance obligated them to help in other instances, too. There was a moment of fear. Would we be asked to do too much if we actually started helping here – where the people had faces we couldn’t as easily turn away from later? It, oddly, seemed easier to simply be moved in the moment by the nameless faces we saw in anguish on the media. We all knew that once the nameless/faceless in our own communities had names and faces, it would be harder to ignore their needs. To pretend we didn’t see them. Seeing people and then ignoring their needs challenges our sense that we are good and caring people.
I told the other diners, the truth is that we have resources enough to do both – help the people of Houston and help our own neighbors. And so do you.
We were people of unusual privilege at that moment – eating dinner in an upscale Scottsdale restaurant on a weekday evening. Before you get all defensive and guarded up, thinking you’ll have to take in a homeless man off the streets just because you feel compelled to send money to Harvey’s victims, take a breath and keep reading – that’s not what I’m suggesting (although you may end up there on your own).
The returns from helping others happen both in the moment and long term.
We experienced it following 9/11. Do you remember how the common impact of tragedy shocked us out of our self-centeredness and brought us to the support and relief of our neighbors and strangers on the street?
Small, gentle acts that eased our own sense of panic that the world was suddenly out of control and which restored our common humanity. Knowing we weren’t alone helped to restore the sense of resilience, to ease the immediate strain. These small (and great) acts were happening in the midst of crusty, gritty Manhattan and in communities across our country and around the world. Several years ago, in The Netherlands, my European peers at a conference each told me precisely where they were the moment they heard about the terror attacks in New York, more than a decade earlier. Their faces shone with a humble beauty as they told stories of helping neighbors or displaced American travelers, just so they could feel like they were doing something. Each of them said it made them fell less helpless and more hopeful. The reward was tangible, even years later.
Many of us experience that same sense of helplessness and have reached out to the people closest to us in acts of localized kindness as we’ve witnessed tragedies across the globe – the tsunamis, earthquakes, terror bombings. We change our Facebook profile pictures to show our solidarity with victims of distant tragedies, we open our wallets to aid organizations. We even travel across the country to cheer for Batman as he transforms an ordinary city into Gotham City to fulfill a final wish for a cancer-stricken child.
We can transform that same care into regular acts of humanity and kindness to the strangers right around us – those who have recently lost a job, or have a parent with dementia, a difficult child throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, or trying to hide tears from a great disappointment in their marriage. Opportunities to invest small bits of ourselves abound and offer returns that far exceed the monetary ones we train our professional eyes upon – all doable without compromising our abilities to excel at our work.
Evidence shows that giving and receiving support brings down the cortisol response – the one that is triggered in the wake of trauma – both that which happens to you directly and that which you witness vicariously (er, by seeing it blasted on the news and through social media). It’s the same cortisol response that you experience when you’re stressed about money or the deadline at work or whether you’re going to be late picking your kid up from daycare. But, it turns out that simple acts of kindness – both given and received – can also help lower that cortisol response and restore your sense of ease and safety in the world, allowing you to return to your regular rhythm and productivity. It also is transforming your genes and those of your descendants. Guess what? It’s actually good for you, your family and your business for you to be kind.
Ever notice how you feel better when you have helped someone? It’s called the Helper’s High, an endorphin boost. Guess what else? That benefit extends in both directions – both the helper and the recipient get the boost of endorphins and the drop in cortisol.
While making a donation gives you a little blip of it, actually engaging in the act of helping another living being gives you and them more of it. We needn’t wait until there is a disaster to help. That small action, smiling at the parent of a mid-tantrum toddler, keeps YOU from getting more stressed out and improves the likelihood the parent will be able to make a good decision in that moment and later on at work.
Finally, back to Dave… He’s actually a good guy, he just got caught up in using the wrong benchmarks of success. Of course, money matters and it’s important. But, as Harvey helps us see, when tragedy strikes, the metrics that matter are the ones that reflect where we regularly invest ourselves.
I think Dave’s getting it. Helping others helps his self-esteem and that improves his interactions with potential employers and networking partners, enhancing their likelihood to help him. It’s a feedback loop. But, like many of us, when we’ve been knocked down, Dave could use a little help restoring his belief in the goodness of the world, just like the people in Houston right now.
So, I’m asking you – my readers – would you be willing to help Dave? Or, perhaps, you’ll turn your abundant spirit of kindness toward your own local version of Dave and drop me a little note about it.
It’s inspiring to see the stories unfold before us on the television and social media … the owner of a furniture store who opened his doors so those who had been displaced by flood waters could sleep on the mattresses and couches; the restaurant owners who started cooking and serving the food they had on hand, without worrying about getting paid; the man who wept when he was given a pair of ill-fitting but dry socks; one stranger hugging another, perhaps whispering “You’re not alone, I’m with you”, as they silently rock each other amid the rubble.
Kindness is what matters and it’s always there, ready to be shared.
Small investment, big return. When you benchmark your ROI against it every day, you’ll find it heralds a success greater than any other you might have thought you were chasing.