Many years ago I was working for large multi-national corporation; I had been in the HR profession at this point for over 10 years when I experienced something profound. I was in Sweden on one of my first visits to get to know my new colleagues and meet with my new boss, a Vice President – I was jet lagged to say the least. Upon coming in to the office my boss did something extraordinary; he offered to make me a cup of coffee. I was speechless; I had never experienced this random act of kindness from someone in a senior leadership position before. There were kindnesses, it’s not that I had only worked for misogynists up to that point, but the kindnesses offered by my prior bosses were always carefully curated, never something as simple, or as potentially “servile”, as offering to make me a coffee.
I have never forgotten his act of kindness because it was based on empathy and it was intentional. He didn’t ask someone else to get me a coffee, he made me one himself with no reservations or self consciousness – he did it in a way that demonstrated this was simply what you would do for anyone whom you wanted to have a strong working relationship with, and who clearly needed a coffee. And he did it often, not just for me, or because I was new, if he was going to get a coffee he would ask if anyone else needed one too. It was the beginning of a very healthy and productive working relationship on a really amazing international team; in addition to being a wonderful boss he was a strong leader – I learned more working in that role then in the many that had come before (or since).
Kindness at work is essential. From holding the door open for the person coming behind you, or offering to help carry something when it is needed to assisting someone confounded by office equipment, kindness is the DNA that allows healthy working environments to come into being. Without it a key element is missing, meaning there is no foundation on which to build strong working relationships. Without kindness there is no trust or respect given and received, no principled way of working that establishes the primacy of mutual benefit. We’ve all worked in an environment where people are unhappy or it is “everyone for her/himself”; these types of workplaces rob every one of wellbeing and the essential opportunity to feel they belong. Very few can flourish in this type of environment (at least not without sacrificing their integrity).
It is difficult within the pace of the modern workplace to be mindful of how much small acts of kindness make a difference. From smiling at others as you are walking through the halls to asking after each other’s welfare. The margin of time available for this “social glue” continues to be winnowed away in a wash of tight deadlines and high demands (especially here in North America), but without it we are left with shallow and detached working environments conveying neither warmth nor joy. What this points to is even if your work is rewarding, and no one is being unsupportive, you still have a deficit of wellbeing at work – it takes more involvement than the minimum of social convention to make a working environment hum and thrive with vitality and energy. It takes kindness.
Each of us carries the responsibility to be kind, to look up from our work and see where we can make a small difference in the quality of someone’s day. We teach this to our children, do we consistently practice what we teach? When was the last time you did something to be kind to another person at work? Kindness is a curious thing, because the act of being kind has as many benefits for the giver as it does for the receiver. There is a stack of science behind why kindness is good for us, explaining how it makes our workplaces more productive, etc. – all of it pointing to the sad need to explain why being kind is a good thing (when did we turn into that society?). Be kind because it makes you feel good. Be kind because it costs you nothing and gives so many benefits to those around you. Start a kindness movement at work; one small act of kindness a day, intentionally yet freely given, with no expectation of return is all it takes. We each have this power.
Moodiness is something we all feel, as beautiful human beings (of all genders) our emotions swing and change based on many evolving factors in our day. How much of what we share with others at work about our feelings is based on mutual trust, respect and our own (met or unmet) expectations in the moment. Most of us manage to hide our disappointment and fears at work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t wrecking havoc within us, tipping our emotional landscape from neutral equilibrium into more negative energy-sucking territory.
We don’t control what we are feeling, the best thing we can do is find gentle ways to make ourselves aware of what emotions are present within us at a given time. This is not easy to do, it takes a degree of discipline and self-compassion (not to mention courage) to peek inside and really acknowledge the complete range of emotions that are making themselves at home in your psyche. There will always be a mix from positive to negative, with one or two taking “center stage” in different moments of your day; gratitude because someone brought you your favourite coffee, hurt because someone ignored your contributions in a meeting, overwhelm when given a new project, joy when it’s time to go home. Not all your emotions get equal billing in this production because these emotions either boost your energy, or drain it, physically and psychologically. We’ve all had that day when we were ready to call it at lunchtime and go back to bed. To support you in your work (and prevent those types of days) here are some simple steps you can use everyday to help keep your vitality, and your mood, on track.
Just like a frozen touch screen on an out-of-sorts smart phone, your human operating system needs to “shut down” for a few minutes and re-boot when it is out-of-sorts. Find a quiet spot and give yourself 10 minutes to re-set. Breathe deeply, be compassionate with yourself, you are a good person (even if you want to rip somebody’s head off, or cry, or slam something) – you’re just in a bad mood (which is a temporary state, not a lifestyle). Start with self-compassion; sit comfortably, breath deeply (because we don’t do that when we are wound up). Give your body the rich oxygen it needs to support you. Then, when you can feel your body relaxing, name the emotion you have been experiencing. It’s Ok to say it out loud in your mind (or in the room if you are alone), just because you are saying it doesn’t mean it will follow you, or define you, for the rest of the day (or your life). Now, look at that emotion without judgement; underneath that emotion is a deep sense of caring for something that deeply matters to you – what is it (this may take a moment – give yourself some time here)? Acknowledge it. From within this place of caring see if you can express your emotions skilfully (just to yourself – give it a try you have nothing to lose except your bad mood). Lastly, consider what it is you need to be able to attend to what you most care about with loving kindness. In doing this exercise, giving yourself the time you need to re-set, you honour your greatest strengths and empower yourself to act from a place of compassion and renewed objectivity. From this place you can effect change (if that is what is needed), and feel better about yourself and your work.
Why is doing this so important to our wellbeing? Some emotions are energy sources (gratitude, happiness, joy, etc.) and others are energy-suckers (anger, disappointment, hurt, etc.). We tend to dismiss the energy-giving emotions, and dwell within the energy-sucking ones because we want rid of them…and fast (ironically this prolongs how long the negative emotions stay with us, and how deeply they impact our energy levels). Using the steps above to help you re-set is a great way to shorten how long you experience a negative emotion (and the drain it has on you). Another way is to keep yourself balanced, acknowledging and celebrating the good and positive things in your day so they can better support you through the inevitable disruption that comes. We humans tend to forget the celebrate part, we may not stop during our work day to be grateful for what we have, or let others know what we appreciate most about them, or let the compliments we receive sink into our hearts and minds (we tend to bush them off as people “just being nice”) . We need to allow these positive happenings in our life to be felt and cherished so our energy bank gets deposits, not just withdrawals, at work.
Being grumpy isn’t a choice, but staying grumpy and allowing it to impact your whole day (and your life away from work) is. Sit with your emotions for a bit and let them show you what’s really going on…then both you and your emotions can move forward together supporting what you most care about.
“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose.” ~ Maureen Killoran
Growing up we are sent conflicting messages about what to do with our dreams; as children we yearned for a specific toy and received it on a birthday or other special occasion (as if by “magic”), and yet we were also told not to be demanding or greedy…don’t ask for “too much”. As a small child it can be hard to reconcile the magic of a wish that comes true with the adult insistence that we not voice all that we hope for - it being clear that asking for the toy you wanted was directly linked to getting it (magic or not). As we grow up the expectation to be selfless and undemanding grows too, dampening what wishes and hopes we share with others. It may feel selfish, commanding or insensitive to give voice to them, so these things live within you in silence. It is also vulnerable to bring into the light your deepest aspirations. Dreams and aspirations are very important; they allow us to strive for something just out of our reach, motivating us even from a place of vulnerability…but only when we have the courage to explore what it will take to make our dreams a reality.
So what dreams do you have for your working life? Dreams are hard to acknowledge, and I am not talking about the “I’ve won the lottery” type of dreams, I am referencing the ones you quietly shield in your heart, in the little locked room that you visit every now and again generating a longing that is almost too painful to bare…perhaps it is a yearning for greater independence in your work…more freedom to bring self-expression into what you do. Look inside, what dreams do you have a longing to see happen? These are not unreachable fantasies, but this can be difficult piece of personal development to undertake. Spending time thinking about your silenced dreams may be painful because they seem big and unattainable; there is fear here. Not brave enough to go after the dream. Feeling too inadequate to be successful or not feeling worthy of what achieving the dream would give to you. The fear of failing at the dream and having to give it up. It’s important to lean into the longing to see what fear is standing in the way of planning for your dreams…because the sad truth is you are the one putting it there. How are you standing in the way of making your dreams a reality?
I am not saying anything is possible, there are limits and realities that do stand in the way, so the next thing to check for is objectivity; is your dream based in the here and now, leveraging the strengths you hold today…or is it based on some imagined future state where you are a whole different and more perfect person? Any dream that starts with wanting to be something you are not (or with the world becoming a more perfect place) is not a realistic dream. This is where the work of separating wants and needs comes into play; obviously everyone would love to be more credentialed, experienced or free of mortal constraints, but that isn’t what dreams are made of (those are wishes). Dreams are about what is calling, the yearnings you have based on your current strengths, values and principles…what do you want to see put into the world that makes a tangible contribution to both yourself and others? Separating wants versus needs is important because your needs (like being fulfilled at work) will have a “call to action” associated with them, and once you can see how these needs benefit both you and your employer, many things are possible within your current role. Manage your expectations, not all of your needs will fit into what your employer has to offer you long term, or even in your current role, but ensuring you look carefully at your dreams and acknowledge the needs you have (versus the “nice to haves”) will ensure you can realistically plan for them (in your current role and all that follow).
Living your dreams is about looking into your future with an awareness that supports your today and tomorrow. With that commitment in hand, you will make your dreams a reality without unnecessary chaos.
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." ~ Walter Disney
We all know someone who lost their job due to a circumstance they didn’t foresee or welcome. It can be heartbreaking to watch, and we don’t always know what the best path forward is in supporting someone during job loss. A good start is to try and see the world from their perspective. When you are used to being employed, and then suddenly aren’t (due to lay-off or an illness), you lose an important part of yourself. Your usual routine and daily constants are interrupted; you no longer get up with purpose and schedule (showering, grabbing breakfast and a coffee as you head out the door). You no longer have part of your identity; you cannot with conviction say to others "Oh, I work in..." or "I am a..." when meeting people socially. You cannot share anecdotes about your workday, or have it be central to the conversations it usually is (like with a spouse in the evenings), or feature your current work when you are introduced to new acquaintances (while out socially or at a family event). You lose a part of yourself you didn’t know was there, and it hurts.
What this illustrates is without the constancy that is our working life we can feel very adrift, purposeless and irrelevant. This also means that additional challenges in our day have more time to wreck havoc in our minds, it's harder to find something meaningful to engage our brain in and push out the worry, stress and noise that comes with being off work (especially if there is an illness involved, or financial pressure). So we find ourselves in a place where we have no routine and we are unable to summon our best selves because we are feeling scared and lost. In this place of vulnerability it's easy to lose sight of the fact that being off of work is not a permanent circumstance; it feels as if the world has gone on without you and really doesn't care ("they never called me to ask questions...I guess my work was not that important after all...").
This is part of the process of grieving a job (especially if the individual really liked her/his work and how it made her/him feel). It follows similar steps to the bereavement process by bringing us denial, anger, bargaining (which may come across as passive aggression i.e. “I’m FINE!”), despair (hopelessness) and then acceptance. As with the bereavement process every one crosses the threshold of each step in their own way and time and this process cannot be rushed. What is left for those of us supporting someone going through this process is to be compassionate and empathetic. Don't offer solutions or sentences that start with "at least" (“at least you can look for a better job, I am stuck in mine…”. Don't paint a silver lining for them “You’ll find something even better! Maybe it’ll have a better commute!” Just listen and let this person know they are not alone, you are there for them and that you care about how they are feeling in this moment in time.
It does get better, and when someone who has recently lost their job is surrounded by empathy and loving-kindness it can make a very big difference in reaching acceptance...perhaps not in the moment, but in time.
It happens to everyone. Out of the blue something takes place (or maybe you saw it coming) and you are triggered, bringing up feelings of anger (or one if it’s “cousins”; frustration, exasperation, irritation, dissatisfaction, etc.). This is the “anger bus” and once on it, there are limited opportunities to get off (it’s a fast moving bus). When anger happens at work it can be incredibly difficult to sort through the flood of body responses (tense muscles, facial expression, increasing heart rate, etc.) and the mental chatter (“NO! You can’t do that to me!” …your favourite expletive here…). It’s a challenge that arises unwelcomed in our day, and even if we anticipate that something may make us angry, our feelings of vulnerability can be made worse by our own failure to be unaffected by our anger. Consider this - anger is not an emotion we have a choice in receiving, it’s just going to happen (whether we see it coming or not) so be deeply compassionate with yourself in your anger and know it’s what you do with that anger that counts and shortens this agonizing “bus trip”.
The first step is admitting to yourself that you are angry – this takes some practice. Depending on the circumstance, you may let that anger rip lose and alert those around you to the fact that you are angry (possibly alerting yourself as well). You may deny you are angry (“Oh no! I can’t be angry…that feeling is not allowed!”) and then have it wreck havoc within you, making you feel a whole series of other emotions you’d rather not feel (shame, sadness, vulnerability, fear, anxiety, etc.); or you end up somewhere in between (remember, you didn’t choose to get on this particular bus, but you are there now). Recognizing that you are angry is the first step to being able to do something constructive with it; but it takes practice to be able to build for yourself a reliable signal (like the indicator button you find on buses) that says “this is my stop, I will be getting off soon”. This step requires that you intentionally name your emotion (I am angry) as soon as you recognize it. Learning to do this for yourself is worth pursuing, being able to name this emotion is incredibly freeing (just like being able to signal when you want to get off a bus is freeing). Naming it gives you choice; not acknowledging how you really feel robs you of that opportunity (one only we have the power to give ourselves).
When you are angered it is the way you act on those emotions that will dictate both how you feel about yourself and how others experience you on this ride. There are really only two options, to respond or to react. In a situation where you are choice-less about feeling something unwelcome (like anger or it’s “cousins”) reacting is an incredibly human thing to do. This happens when we are not aware of our emotions; we are hopped up on adrenaline and unmet expectations (a potent combination). Examples include being verbally un-thoughtful or becoming silent and withdrawn. Rarely do you feel good about how you handled something when you’ve reacted to it. However, the “anger bus” puts us in a place where we have to make a decision about what we do next – hit that signal button or stay on for the whole route. If you are able to give yourself the few moments you need to acknowledge that you are angry it provides the choice needed, and it is the only way to get off this particular bus. In response mode you can ask for more time (to process your feelings), you can let someone know you are feeling angry and calmly introduce them to your concerns, you can be more objective about why the other person may be behaving in this unwelcomed way and quickly clear up a misunderstanding. But these options only exist when you help yourself to identify this emotion. Reaction or response, the choice is always (and only) yours.
Everyone has hung on to anger long after the initiating event has passed, or perhaps you didn’t realize you were angry about something, suddenly becoming aware of it; anger can manifest in a variety of ways (slow burn or quick flash) and for a variety of reasons. When something has made you angry, whether you liked how you handled it or not, you are still faced with yet one more decision before you are truly able to disembark this bus; do I hang on to my anger or do I let it go (the anger bus has stopped, do I get off)? Often if the issue has been resolved through responsiveness (a misunderstanding cleared up, or compassion and objectivity applied) it is easier to let anger go and not have it impact you now or in the future (off the bus you go). Reactions on the other hand tend to perpetuate anger and further conflict, which leads to bitterness. When left unaddressed anger turns into resentment, which in turn distances us from our ability to experience joy and happiness at work, or in many other places in our life. There is a great quote that sums this up nicely: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” (Malachy McCourt, 1998).
In letting go of your anger, being able to become more objective about what happened, or being more compassionate (with yourself and with others) you will find your way off the anger bus and future trips will be shorter and less destructive to your well being. Put another way: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” (Anonymous).
This blog was inspired by Rabbi and Psychiatrist, Dr. Abraham Twerski and his identification of the three phases of anger – it is a great resource for anyone looking to get off the “anger bus” with grace and courage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdj9MBZBLGU
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.