Photo by Leighann Renee on Unsplash
A client asked me “How would I figure out if I loved my working life?” It’s a great question, and within it there is a lot of instinct, in some respects you just know if you do or don’t love your working life. But what about the part that isn’t instinctual, the part that has you wondering what does love of your working life look like? It’s about what motivates you.
As an example, a healthy attachment to your working life is one where you can give your time, effort, expertise and even your affection for your working life without having to worry that your employer will take advantage of you, close up shop (leaving you without a job) or fail to meet the commitments they made to you (i.e. they accurately pay you on time, support your ongoing development, etc.). There is a consistent and complimentary flow of needs and wants that you and your employer provide to each other, and going in to work is usually a pleasant experience. There are good days and bad, but they balance out and your well-being is well supported through your work. You are motivated by the positive impact your work has on yourself and others.
An unhealthy attachment to your working life is one where you are trying to appease your employer (or your loved ones…or yourself) by going in to work because it provides something you feel you desperately need but in isolation of what else may be needed (an income, social status, belonging, etc.). Unhealthy attachment doesn’t offer the complimentary flow of needs you see in a healthy working relationship, it is one-sided. This can be for a variety of reasons, it could be that you’ve over-extended yourself in a bid to find security at work (always being available, always saying “yes”) and your employer has come to expect this as the “status quo”, not recognizing it for the heroic effort it actually is. It could be the need to appease family expectations by remaining in a job or a workplace that isn’t challenging you or is burning you out (perhaps because the salary allows you to best meet family obligations). Your employer may not be ethical in it’s employment or business practices…the examples of what an unhealthy workplace can look like are legion. With unhealthy attachment the motivation to continue the working relationship is one of desperation, based on fear or anxiety (trying to hang on to what you have), or because of a need for your work to define you.
Unhealthy attachment can make us do some very bizarre things; as an example I became so attached to the idea of putting my education to good use that I took a job with a 1.5 hour commute to work (60+ km’s)…one way. It was great work experience, but completely unsustainable. The impact to my well-being was felt for almost a full year after I left that role, which of course I was only able to see in retrospect. My family, on the other hand, lived it daily. We will convince ourselves, for many well intentioned reasons, that what we are doing is right; when we are in the throws of attachment we do not have access to objectivity…or options. We cannot see “the forest for the trees” so to speak and get lost in tightly holding on to what we think we have or need. It’s important to note that healthy working lives have both balance and flow; there is no selfishness present (on your part, or that of your employer). You are open to new things (i.e. change), and comfortable with the fact that no employer is perfect. Your employer is also well intentioned, invested in helping you to learn and grow in your role, and all of this takes place in a sustainable way. No punishing commitments, unethical behaviour or ridiculous hours (or commutes).
Take a look at what is motivating you to head in to work each day, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can (ask yourself what it is you are attached to) to see if your working life is something you can love (and loves you back). Healthy attachment means you can have the working life you both want and need, giving to yourself and others effortlessly.
If you’d like to learn more on this topic, here is an article on attachment you may find useful (within the context of interpersonal relationships): https://www.powerofpositivity.com/3-differences-love-attached/
I’ve been contemplating feedback lately and the irony that the word has two meanings; to give/receive some form of praise or critique and the horrible ear-splitting noise that sound equipment emits when it is not yet properly set up. Feedback (in both senses of the word) has the effect of quickly grabbing our attention and eliciting some form of reaction or response. Feedback (again in both senses of the word) is also temporary.
As our careers progress, we become better at being able to receive feedback, but that doesn’t always mean we know what to do with it. Healthy feedback, delivered with compassion and our best interests at heart has the opportunity to help us grow and develop in our pursuits. However, one person’s definition of “constructive” may touch another person’s excruciating vulnerabilities (knowingly or unknowingly). I myself have spent weeks crafting a thoughtful summation of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, designed to enable collaboration on potential areas of development…and had it received with a visible flinch (cue the ear-piercing noise from a large speaker…). Both the giving and receiving of feedback has lessons for all parties.
It can be hard to hear (or learn) about our weaknesses, either because we don’t want to know this about ourselves, or because others can see it (sometimes it is both). The flip side of critique is praise; having someone recognize something we did as “well done” or “beyond expectations” is something we may crave. Oddly enough, we may receive praise with the same wariness we receive critique, not allowing it to really sink in because we may think this person is “just being nice” or because we fear the “new” standard of performance our success has just set. In many cases we will remember critique, but not praise, criticism having an “emotional weight” that is heavier then the perceived lightness of praise. So with that, would it surprise you to learn that over the great wash of time we are likely to receive as much praise as criticism? What we chose to remember and let touch us may not be balanced, but they do equalize over time (track it for yourself and see, but be prepared to be objective and let each touch you in meaningful ways).
At the end of the day what other people offer to us, and think about us, is fluid; it may change over time and hold both positive and negative aspects of our way of being. What we are left with then is…ourselves. We cannot always change the way others experience or perceive us because we do not control them, nor are we experts on others (much as we may lead ourselves to think otherwise from time to time). We are only in control of ourselves, and we experts on ourselves too. Acknowledging feedback (both positive and negative) is part distortion and part education and requires us to be the stewards of our own development, knowing what is objective and reasonable to consider, and what is not, allowing the right things to touch and influence us at the right time for the right reasons. Without both praise and critique we would have a difficult time discerning the right thing to do, it would be like walking in a blinding snowstorm with no reference points to guide the way. We need both to shed their different lights on something to allow us to see what is being called for…the answer becomes visible through their shadow and light, allowing us to see and know our unique path.
“Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they're less defensive about it.” ~Adam Grant
Other blogs on this topic you may find useful:
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I have a friend who recently received a promotion and she was ecstatic! For her it was the culmination of years of personal and professional development and she not only felt ready, but was thrilled to know her organization felt she was too. Fast forward a few months and her eagerness had turned into wariness as she ran into some significant challenges she didn’t anticipate. There is a saying that goes “what got you here won’t keep you here”, and it is true of many things; a promotion, committing to a relationship (personal or professional), etc.
The “entrance” conditions to access what we need (like promotions and important relationships) require us to be mindful and adjust, but that is only the tip of the iceberg; the real work begins once you “get there”. Adaptation (as opposed to adjustment or application of skills) requires us to look at ourselves with self-compassion and objectivity, and consider not only the skills we may require, but how we want to be experienced (by ourselves and others) in this new context. It means changes to our behaviours, which in turn touches on our emotional intelligence, values, perceptions and beliefs. In dynamic circumstances, like those found in relationships and workplaces, adaptation takes place on a continuum: healthy stretch into something new, or (at the other end of the spectrum) a stress-filled breaking point. The difference is in how motivated we are to continue taking steps into this new frontier, and whether or not it was our choice to go there in the first place.
In our working lives we will have many opportunities to adapt to different circumstances and it is a choice only we can make (consciously or unconsciously); this choice makes the difference in how we experience the change (stretch or break?). We may also adapt for many reasons; to enable our success in our chosen career path or adapt for our own self-preservation (willingly or not). Acknowledging your reasons for adapting is very important, because it affects the outcome as well as how you feel physically (think energy) and mentally (self-esteem/well-being). Being adaptable requires not only a measure of self-awareness but also resilience; self-awareness to help you to see when you are not at your best (and the impact of that to yourself and others) and resilience to find the energy and willingness to uncover a viable path forward during stress and challenge. Resilience is born of an open mind and growth mindset to help overcome the inevitable obstacles that will arise along the way.
My friend did find resilience and was able to ask for help enabling her to adapt to her new role, which she now enjoys immensely (contributing to her self-esteem and overall well-being). What is key to remember when you are adapting is the all-important word “yet”. As in “I am not there…yet”. That mindset is an indicator of both adaptability and resilience, and it means you will get there in the end.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. ~ Winston Churchill
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
Did you know our emotions are happening constantly? They are released as electrochemical signals in our brains, and interpreted based on how we perceive the world around us (Joshua Freedman, The Physic of Emotion; Candace Pert on Feeling Good). An emotion is neither "good" nor "bad". Even though there are emotions we want to feel and others we don't, our emotions are neither inherently good nor bad, they are simply expressing a need. As an example, anticipation and apprehension are two different emotions; the first feeling most of us associate with happiness and the second feeling we tend to associate with fear. Both are responses to something that is known, so you could think of them as being two sides of one coin. All our emotions interrelate to each other in this way, which is why emotions are messy and complex. The purpose of our emotions is to direct our actions. Being the wonderfully complex creatures we humans are we need an equally complex navigation system. Our emotions arise as an expression of need, grabbing our attention and pointing us towards action. As an example, fear helps us to ensure we meet a hard deadline at work, allowing us to continue our career and working relationships; joy helps us to celebrate that we made the deadline and share good fortune with those around us, strengthening our ties to each other. Emotions are a compass, guiding us to what is most needed in the moment, whether we welcome that need or not.
Our bodies respond faster to our emotions than our brains do. Emotions create a somatic (body) response before our brain catches up. Odd, as this all starts in the brain, but it serves a very useful purpose; allowing our feet to move before our brain has to consciously tell them to; you may have experienced this in an emergency when several things all happened at once (you heard an unexpected fire alarm and then next thing you knew you were moving towards the exit). What this means at work is our bodies give off subtle signals to others about how strongly we feel long before we are aware that we are having an emotional response to something (like clenched fists). These signals can be very understated and unnoticeable to those who don't know us, but for anyone familiar with our usual way of expressing ourselves, it may be obvious. As part of owning your truth, recognizing when your body is responding to something is a rich source of information. We can be very unconscious of what our bodies are doing, even when it is an explicit act, like clenching a fist. Our bodies will tell us our truth if we are listening, and our truth (once expressed) enables our bodies to relax, even during times of stress.
Accessing our truth means staying with our emotions, realizing we are experiencing one, naming what it is, becoming curious about what it has to tell us and then understanding our truth within it. The “ah-ha” moment attached to recognizing your truth in any one moment offers you the chance for relief, letting you breath deeply in your new awareness, relaxing tense muscles and making you feel better emotionally and physically. The truth really does set you free.
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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.