Changing seasons can be a welcome invitation to change up our lives as well. Summer has landed and with it come shifts in the hours of daylight, traffic patterns and possibly your household schedule and “flow” with kids and vacationing family. We stay up later and see more of our friends; our life schedules may get fuller or less busy depending on what summer brings for you. Often it can be an easy transition with the support of warm sunshine and relaxed visits, but it can also sharply contrast with feeling like you are the only person ”stuck going to work” or who has to get to bed at a reasonable hour when everyone else seems free to do as they please. The time between now and when you are able to go on vacation may also stretch out, minutes may feel like hours as you count down to vacation, or you may feel panicked because you do not have the time you need to leave work in a “good place” while you are away. Summer can be a time of too many hours and not enough; push and pull, fun contrasted with obligations, hurry up and wait for time that evaporates far too quickly (that two-week vacation will be over in a heartbeat).
In part what keeps us from enjoying this natural change in life’s rhythm are our own patterns. It can feel very “heavy” to have to get up in the morning and go to work when your friends aren’t there because they’re away (and you are carrying their workload), or trying to get the kids off to a day-camp at the other end of the city, needing to work late to compensate for the later start. These are disruptions to our usual day and they can wear on us in ways we are not always aware of, until we start snapping at our loved ones or cutting people off as we get on the bus (or with our cars). Then we compound any feelings of guilt by telling ourselves we should be happier and in a good place because it is summer! Summer brings many great things, but there is also a flip side when we are feeling the pinch that comes with change (even temporary change).
So, what to do? Start with self-compassion; if you are feeling lonely and overwhelmed at work because you are minding things for others while they are off, give yourself a little treat. Do something you wouldn’t normally do, like eat your lunch outside or take coffee breaks that indulge in a summer flavour (ice cream or a cold drink, try something new). Even a small change, like making yourself a coffee before you hit the shower in the morning can give you more control in your day and feel quite decadent if it is not something you usually do. Savouring your vacation through anticipation can also be relaxing, as long as you make time to do just that, possibly as you take a more scenic route to work or by setting a picture of your vacation destination as the background to your computer desktop. If you are suffering from summer malaise think up one simple thing you can do to be kind to yourself and make it happen. You will find it gets you through the ups and downs that summer brings, allowing you to support yourself in this short season of change.
Have you ever been interrupted when speaking? How did it make you feel? Interruptions are becoming a staple in our interpersonal communications. It is not hard to find egregious examples of how we (as perfectly imperfect human beings) interrupt each other, and often these are difficult news items and video clips to consume because each and every one of us has been guilty of interrupting someone at least once in the last few days (directly by butting in with our voice or “loud” body language, or indirectly by not paying enough/any attention to what is being said). When we see these examples we feel the moral imperative of giving each other the respect we all deserve in conversation…and yet we know we may interrupt others in the future if we have something to say. Pay attention through the next 24 hours and see if you have a good understanding of yourself in conversation – how often do you interrupt someone?
If you would like to take this exploration one step further, see if there is a pattern to your interruptions. I’ll share from my own awareness exploration; I am much more likely to interrupt a child or family member then I am a stranger or business colleague. Comfort level is a factor here, but if I am being awake to the way this impacts my relationships with the people I love the most I can recognize the need to re-think how I show up in conversations with my loved ones. It also sets a terrible example when I assume interrupting one segment of people in my life is acceptable, when really it is not a conscious way to be in conversation with anyone. It points to the intent to listen to respond (versus listening to understand), essentially marginalizing another individual. Self awareness plays a very big part in managing this so we can be compassionate and attentive with each other, fostering mutual respect and trust; if this is something we practice consistently it allows others to practice this value with us. We admire those who demonstrate grace under pressure; managing the impulse to interrupt plays a part in this. It demonstrates respect, first for oneself and secondly for others. That is what makes those video clips of blatant interruptions so hard to watch – the absolute lack of respect. Who are you most likely to interrupt? It can tell you a lot about how you “show up” both at home and in your professional life.
The flip side of this is knowing how to handle being interrupted – it can be hard to navigate this, especially as we are often caught off guard, focused on forming cohesive thoughts into spoken words when BOOM! Interruption. A colleague of mine demonstrated the best example of how to manage this circumstance. She was directly challenged by a peer during what was supposed to be a brief update on her team’s deliverables. Everyone else in the room received the courtesy of uninterrupted time to express their updates, now it was her turn. After the interruption, she took a deep breath, smiled and said “I appreciate that you are intrigued by something I have said, but I would ask that all questions and comments be held until my update is complete, as only then will I be able to give my full attention to addressing your concern.” She was not interrupted again, and at the end of her brief update she did address the questions and comments in the room. By asking for the time to really address them after her update, she was focused on providing thorough answers, rather than trying to juggle answering a question quickly, remembering where she was in her update and moving on. She respected herself first and all the others in the room as well. She also honoured the importance of the work they were doing together, behaving consistently with what she wanted from their working relationship. Win/win/win.
As leaders we hold a key role in ensuring our workplace interactions are built on mutual respect and trust. Being ready to politely and professionally defend your time in a conversation (or presentation) is a demonstration of self-respect and self-confidence. Helping others to do the same is core to modelling strong leadership behaviours. When interruptions occur (and the person speaking does not address the interrupter by politely asking them to wait), help others to remember the rules of engagement in meetings. If you are leading the meeting, request that the interrupter hold off until there is a natural point to address their item and invite the speaker to continue. Too often in business we see interruptions used as a way to see what someone is “made of”, if they can’t handle the interruption(s) then it is viewed as a challenge to their suitability for the role or participation in the meeting (even their place in the organization), when in reality it just means a colleague is being rude and no one is calling them on it. When interruptions occur we all have the opportunity to support a colleague by requesting that the speaker continue and address any questions at the end. Leadership is something we all have at our fingertips, when we choose to exercise it. Strong leaders are awake to these occurrences and ready to sustain mutual respect and trust in communal spaces, ensuring every voice is welcomed and no one needs to be interrupted.
Becoming aware of whom you are most likely to interrupt, and how often you do this is the first step to reducing the marginalization this creates. Standing up for yourself in clear professional terms helps to remind others that being given the opportunity to speak without interruption is important and necessary in sustaining professional relationships, keeping trust in tact. Taking this one step further and supporting colleagues in fending off interruptions allows everyone to speak without being interrupted. Practicing these simple steps builds healthier workplaces where mutual respect and trust can flourish - and we all deserve to work in places where respect is the foundation.
Summer is in the air, the kids are getting excited for the last day of school and workloads at most jobs are…well they are staying the same. There used to be a time when summer meant that work slowed down (unless you were working in an industry that catered to summer). Today, there is often no change in pace or workload, and going on vacation means you will be treated to an exploding in-box your first day back in the office. The struggle to hold on to your post-vacation bliss is real. We can easily lose sight of this important season in the midst of being busy, completely missing the anticipation of summer that we loved so much as kids (the count-down to that last day of school…). Particularly here in the northern hemisphere we need to maximize every drop of sunshine we get (blink and it will be winter once more). How we approach summer and our professional life is largely a matter of perspective and intent – there is room for you to both work and play in the few short months of summer we have, here are some ideas to let you do just that, enjoying all of what summer has to offer.
A very smart colleague of mine shifts her work habits for the summer by re-stacking her day. “Core hours at my place of work in the summer are 10-4, so that means I have to be in the office for those hours, but only those hours.”. She rises at the usual time, getting ready for work, and then she takes her morning coffee and her laptop out to her sunny patio and starts her workday there. “I know I’ll have to be into work for 10 AM, but putting in a few hours of work in the morning…enjoying the peace and sunshine on my patio feels decadent, a real treat, and I am just as productive, maybe even more so, because I shifted my day.” She is also rewarded with a 20-minute commute to the office instead of the usual 45 minutes because she is driving in at off-peak times. “I work hard to be able to afford a patio and other nice things, but all that means nothing if I cannot enjoy them…work to live, not live to work, right?”
Another colleague of mine is not so lucky, his place of employment’s core hours don’t change in the summer and are not flexible enough to allow him to work from home for a portion of his morning, but he is also taking advantage of the best of what summer has to offer. “Working in the downtown core has some disadvantages, commuter traffic and long hours are part of the culture here, so it is easy to lose sight of the advantages it does have.” He likes to take his lunch-hour (all 60 minutes of it) and enjoy the fine weather, parks and free outdoor concerts that are close to his place of work. “I always have my mobile with me, so it is not like I am missing anything critical at work, plus I am more energized when I get back to the office, invigorated.” He also takes along a few teammates from work, or uses the opportunity to do some professional networking at restaurant patios. “People are more open and creative when they are relaxed, more opportunities and ideas have opened up for me and my team because we take a few lunch-hours a week to go enjoy summer. It fosters a different kind of productivity that is really valuable.”
We often struggle to squeeze a Friday or a Monday off of work (or just trying to leave a few hours early) fretting about the work not done because of our selfish desire to enjoy a bit more of the good weather. As long we continue to look at time off as “nice to have not need to have” we won’t enjoy the time away from work. Once you have made the decision to re-stack your day or to enjoy your full lunch beak (or leave work early), commit to it or you’ll receive no benefit from it. You need this - you are worth it. Summer is a great time to build within you the capacity to take a meaningful break by putting your work down. Work will always be waiting for you when you get back, that isn’t going to change. Attend to how you treat yourself. Being compassionate and letting yourself enjoy all that this world has to offer you through simple acts of self-care, self-compassion and some childlike curiosity about what would happen if you went for a walk, feeling the sun warming your skin (instead of toiling away at your desk under florescent light) has much to offer you. It may surprise you with what it has to offer your ingenuity and productivity too.
The other great advantage to creating these little pockets of summer for yourself in your workday is you will be much more able to enjoy your vacation, leaving your work mobile at home and fully immersing yourself in free time and fun. If you only get one longer vacation a year (as many of us do) then this is something you need to practice in advance or you will spend the first half of your summer vacation trying not to think about work. The “muscle” of letting your work leave your mind while you are enjoying a snippet of summer during the week prepares you to be better able to let it all go when you leave on a vacation. No one may be able to help you with (or change) the exploding in-box, but letting it ruin your vacation is a real travesty. Practice letting your work sit by finding ways to enjoy your whole summer and your vacation will have a bigger impact on your well being, allowing you to tackle that wily inbox with gusto and heart when you get back to the office (sporting your fabulous summer tan).
Plan to enjoy every last drop of your summer.
None of us is perfect - this is not news…in my corporate HR career my favourite line of inquiry in interviews was to ask a candidate to describe a failing. Those that could not answer the question would stammer through something like…”I am not sure, I don’t think I’ve ever missed an important deadline…” and their lack of a real answer spoke volumes. Failure is inevitable. Employers ask these questions not to catch you out, but to see if you know how to fail. Knowing how to fail is very important, because no employer can promise you a working environment that won’t call on you to fail every now and again. Not intentionally of course, but mitigating circumstance prevail (as does Murphy’s Law), so when an employer wants to better understand how you handle failure (from a missed deadline to the collapse of a project), what they are really looking for is if you know how to fail. It’s a skill.
Knowing how to fail is key because we are all going to fail, not necessarily catastrophically or perpetually, but we all have a long line of mistakes behind us (and ahead of us). No one is immune. Everyone forgets things, lacks perspective, or makes poor choices from time to time. Those that put enormous energy into perfectionism, controlling variables so they don’t trigger failure, may take comfort in their efforts but that is only half the equation; failure also comes to visit us and it doesn’t knock politely at the door, it just barges right in (always at the worst possible moment). Fear is what drives us to sidestep our mistakes - directly by controlling them or covering them up, or indirectly through our “blind spots”. Fear of consequences. Fear of how we will feel about ourselves. Fear of how we may look to others. No one likes to be thought of as deficient in some way. Fear creates panic and suffering within us that blocks access to our gifts and better selves. However, when we turn into this fear, facing it, it drives us to better outcomes.
It has been said if you are not failing then you are not living. How willing we are to see our failings is key – it is this process of self-awareness that takes our very human failings and turns them into life-lessons. When you don’t know how to fail, you have little access to experiential learning. People who are willing to truly see themselves, including their flaws, are often curious, compassionate and courageous – all attributes that help them to rise above a failing and turn it into something positive. Mistakes and missteps (large and small) offer us insight into ourselves, and have something to teach us when we chose to look directly into the “eye” of our own deficiencies, but only when we do so with great self-compassion and interest about what they have to teach us. There is no wisdom without failure. Knowledge without experience does not offer us learning. Learn how to fail so you may become your best self. We will all continue to make mistakes; failure is (and always has been) a part of the plan. The objective then is to master the skill of making incrementally better mistakes; we do this by remaining open to learning from each of them.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley
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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 Face Book or Linked In.