Welcome to the Busy Season
It’s September and I have no idea if my kid has bussing to school or if he’s supposed to take public transit, or if he even has a locker (I think he had to sign up for that… somewhere). Every fibre of my being is railing against having to make lunches everyday (or nagging my kid to make them) and my work calendar has returned to its normal jam-packed status (both blessing and curse).
I’m sitting here grieving the loss of my less complicated summer life, and looking to see if I can afford to retire (not a hope, it’s a nice idea …and a great way to procrastinate). I’ve got “working life whiplash” as I emerge from the last leisurely long weekend of the summer and onto the adulting super-highway that we call “September”.
Welcome to the busy season! It’s right there, alongside the pumpkin spice everything and memes about how to change your life with the season. My mental chatter is abhorrent. I’m kicking myself for not having my stuff together and worried my kid will have a bad first week at school (what with no locker, no lunch and no clear way to get there…). I’m lamenting the permissiveness of my calendar that has me booked so beautifully and fully and asking myself what I was thinking (seemed like a good idea in August…).
I’m not being kind to myself at all in this moment, when a summer purchase catches my eye – I bought myself a set of sweary affirmation cards (I love irreverence) - the top one says “Not loving myself is total bulsh*t”.
I couldn’t agree more. Time to get real.
Busy season for me is risky because it puts me square in the path of hyper-focus – actually it’s more rabbit hole then path - and down I go like Alice in Hustle-land. So, deep breath for me, because this is where I change the narrative, and shift to keep a work life I can love in place (albeit one that’s different then my summer schedule). A very big part of me recognizes the irony in this, since I do truly believe that it doesn’t have to be like this AND I’m the only one who can make my working life sustainable, liveable and loveable. Practice what I preach.
Starting with kiddo. I need to remember that he’s a responsible, resilient, wonderful teenager who is more than capable of figuring out the whole locker situation with no parental guidance. He’s on it. He can also go buy a slice of pizza for lunch if he’d rather not make one. My husband is there to help carry this load, figuring out the whole transit thing, or being a chauffeur until the bus fog lifts.
Work is jammed packed, and I made a conscious choice to have it that way for specific and good reasons. I remind myself that if it is too demanding, I can reschedule bits here and there without letting anyone down (and there will be some natural give in my calendar when the inevitable re-schedules start appearing because, like me, others were a tad optimistic about their September availability).
I pull myself back from the over-identification with getting it ALL done and lean into the good that’s already here. I’m raising a soon-to-be adult, not a kid, and that investment is paying dividends (and building confidence in my teen). My husband has always been there for me, happily picking up whatever I lay down (and feeding my coffee addiction to boot – the Luke to my Lorelei). I am the boss of me by design, which means I can change my mind and adjust my calendar to ensure I give every one of my clients my absolute best without depleting myself.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR TO HAVE THIS FLEXIBILITY AT WORK. What is needed is an understanding of what hyper-focus looks like for you, and the impacts that has on yourself and others. That’s right, if it’s not good for you it’s also impacting someone else in a not good way too. Like being short with your staff or peers at work because you’re over-booked. Or working late hours that keep you from your family despite your summer commitment to stop doing that. Hyper-focus.
Yes, it’s the busy season but each of us can choose to make it sustainable for our well-being because not loving yourself IS total bullsh*t, and part of loving yourself is creating (and re-committing to having) a work life you can love. Let’s do this!
Working with Carleen I cultivated the ability to have compassion for myself, and learned to better appreciate myself, as well as the others around me. I am so grateful for our time together."
I had an amazing coaching call with a professional who was deeply frustrated at work. She’d screwed up the courage to have a difficult conversation with her boss, and it had gone well. She was shocked, but relieved and let her guard down thinking there could now be real change.
It didn’t happen. Her boss’s behaviour reflected what they’d discusses that week, and then things went back to the way they were. She felt betrayed. It had taken a lot of courage and emotional energy to have that conversation, and she really thought they’d come to an understanding.
She was trying to figure out what went wrong, and where to go from here.
Many professionals have this experience at work (maybe you have too). You reach your limit at work, you do the “adult” thing and have a difficult conversation with someone (your boss, or your employee, or a peer). Things look good, only to start sliding back to where they were. There is a lot of emphasis on strong communication skills (including navigating difficult conversations) in the workplace today, but one of the things that isn’t clear is why (once you’ve done that) these crucial messages don’t stick.
Whether it’s helping your employee to understand what’s expected of their work, or trying to get a peer to stop undermining you in meetings, these are the kinds of conversations that have an emotional factor to them, for you and the person with whom you’re speaking. It takes a lot to push most of us to a point where we’ll actually say something; the effort it takes AND its importance makes you think it’s sorted out. But important conversations are never a “one and done”.
In the case of my client, it was a conversation to get her boss to stop “dumping” critical work on her at the last minute. Often, she would get a casual e-mail from her boss letting her know a key piece of work needed to be completed by the next day – work my client knew would take hours to do (which wasn’t possible before the deadline). Work that her boss had known about days or weeks before, but failed to pass on to her until the “11th hour”. It meant she had to work ridiculous hours, or just outright failed to meet key deadlines (through no fault of her own). My client had reached her breaking point. She wanted a plan.
We talked about how that first conversation with her boss supported an understanding, recognizing the value of having had that first conversation. But there then needed to be on-going dialog, repeating the message, to get the message to stick. In the case of my client, we discussed how she could reference the commitments they’d each made in that first conversation to then have further conversations when that commitment wasn’t reflected by action. My client and I worked together to ensure she had the words, and the courage, to continually repeat what she needed to say, communicating with her boss to highlight the many different ways that need came about at work. It took a few weeks (and much patience). In the end they decided a new workflow was needed, so that her boss (who was good at many things, but didn’t really understand the time implications of some of the work requests from other parts of the organization) wasn’t a bottleneck.
Now my client had lasting change. And it didn’t negatively impact her relationship with her boss (or her career). In fact, her boss was even happier with her work than before because all those conversations lead to making the boss’s life easier too. Along the way my client was worried she couldn’t keep going back with the same message, but as it turns out, that was never a problem.
Respectful repetition is the key. While it may feel like you’re a saying the same thing over and over again, the people you’re communicating with need it and may experience your message not as repetitive, but an ongoing dialogue. It can be hard to see why things can’t just be sorted out with one clear conversation, especially when these types of conversations feel exhausting to have. But the reality is you need to repeat yourself, to remind, re-commit and re-confirm mutual understanding. As organizational psychologist, speaker and author Adam Grant says “Good communication requires repetition… When you’re tired of your message it’s just starting to land”.
Carleen has provided me with an excellent sounding board, practical tools tailored to my learning style and has helped me in working towards my personal development objectives as a leader in an organization facing change."
Years ago, I spoke with a woman who felt trapped in her life. She worked in her current job to pay the bills and provide for the financial safety and security of her family… and she had long grown out this work. She hated the internal bickering, the posturing that was necessary to get anything approved. The influencing that had become almost manipulative because of the toxicity in her workplace. She wanted out, but wasn’t in a position to leave.
Her faced softened when she told me how she wanted to step into something completely different, and how she had plans to start her own business. A business where the employees would be respected, and wouldn’t have to worry about internal politics to get the right things done. But that was a dream for the future. Right now, she was living in a nightmare. It had all come to a head when a friend of hers pointed out that in staying where she was, she was normalizing the awful culture her organization role modeled. As the leader of a large team this was keeping her up at night, because she felt her friend was right.
Impossible situations happen. I could give you some toxically positive line about silver linings and possibilities in this type of situation, but we both know that’s bullsh*t. What this woman needed most was compassion, and that’s what she got.
This is what compassion looks like when you’re in an impossible situation. It’s making sure that it’s not harming you or anyone else. I completely understood her moral concern about remaining as a leader in a company that had lost its connection to it’s values. We talked about whether she felt she’d lost her connection to her values, and she’d said “no”. “I make sure the stupidity doesn’t impact my team, that part feels right, but it’s a battle every day.” We then explored if it was harming her, and again she thought about it and said “no”. “It’s draining, it’s not meaningful and I often feel there’s a lot more we could accomplish if we’d work together as leaders, but I’m able to hold others accountable for treating me with respect, it’s just an ever-present task and I know it doesn’t have to be like this. I’m getting worn out.”
My heart ached for her. So, I asked about the constraints, the pieces holding her in place, and as we spoke about it, it was clear that they wouldn’t be there forever. While that didn’t help her in the here and now, it was something to work with. Specifically, this: remaining in place coexisted with getting to her goals, it’s was all about the timing. But it’s also hard holding on to two very different (and opposite) things, and it happens in many ways in everyone’s life. Here’s a different example that may help illustrate the duality of living between two opposing needs. I remember when my father-in-law was in palliative care, and my husband flew out to be with him while I stayed back to look after our son. Standing in line at the grocery store it hit me how at odds everything was! While I was meal planning and shopping, the man I loved was facing one of life’s most difficult circumstances (the death of a parent). But it wasn’t possible for both of us to be there, and by looking after everything at home I was doing the best thing I could for all of us – but holding those two things in the same existence was mind-blowing.
And that’s the reality of it. Both your career and life will demand you move in a counterintuitive way from time to time. Just remember, stuck is very different than standing still.
For this brilliant woman who was stuck, we talk about what that included and what it excluded. She realized, as an example, that she was not standing still. She was making valuable contacts in her industry, contacts that would support her career goals down the road. She was also being supported by her organization with tuition costs to complete her professional designation, one they would benefit from greatly and so would she. We decided to work together for her to drive the most benefit out of the work experience she was getting (navigating difficult people), and help her to be mindfully aware of how better to support employees in a toxic workplace (keeping her team healthy and engaged).
I would never advocate that anyone stay in a harmful workplace. I do recognize that sometimes you have to stay someplace that’s not ideal in order to get where you’re going. But it doesn’t need to be a career-killer or rob you of your wellbeing. It can be the springboard to something amazing when you can hold on to two opposing realities at the same time (it was for her)… AND you don’t have to do it alone.
I learned a lot about myself and Carleen was professional, caring, intuitive, and motivating. I really enjoyed the time with her and practicing her exercises daily. I would highly recommend Carleen for your personal journey it's worth it!!!"
Let’s talk about “quiet quitting” because I’m struggling with the way it’s being portrayed by the media and organizations.
Quiet quitting is not new. In the past it was called presenteeism (being at work, but checked-out). Today it’s characterized as a way of stepping back; putting work and career back into the frame of working the hours you’re paid for, and living your one beautiful and precious life for the rest. It has some positive and negative associations with it that need to be explored, particularly if this is something you’re considering in your career.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article “If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting’ Here’s What That Means” some individuals expressed how quiet quitting didn’t have any negative impacts on their work outputs or performance feedback. In some cases, they received increased positive feedback by letting go of their hyper-focus on work. For other’s quiet quitting is a way to pull back from a job they aren’t planning to stay in much longer anyway.
There’s a wide-spread response to “quiet quitting”, with it being characterized (at best) as a lack of engagement or (in some media) the way employees “selfishly” put their own needs above the company’s. Neither of these are positive characterizations, or sitting well with the truth of what’s really needed – employees giving voice to the reasonable boundaries they need between their work and life.
It does feel like an act of glorious rebellion to reduce working hours back to the 35-40 per week that you’re getting paid for, especially if your hours are more like 50-60/week (working overtime for free). Ask yourself this: What, or whom, are you rebelling against? It’s an important question, because many professionals (and I count myself among them) have consistently worked extra hours without being asked to. It’s an unspoken expectation, sometimes of yourself and sometimes from others.
I’ve quiet quit too in my career, and had the same positive experience that others have shared. When I chose to stop hyper-focusing on work, I also gave myself permission to stop over-identifying myself through my job. I became more pleasant to work with, and was relaxed enough to increase my problem-solving abilities. This came with working fewer hours because I relaxed my vice-like grip on getting things done. I accomplished more in less time. No one noticed me “pulling back” - while that’s what it felt like I was doing, that wasn’t the actual impact and I received more consistent and positive feedback about my work. But I could only see this in the rear-view mirror of life, and I didn’t learn anything from it at the time. Instead, the lesson got lost in the “fear’ that I would be “found out” for quiet quitting. I just couldn’t see that I’d actually improved at work.
This is a big risk of being “quiet”. Doing this in isolation, quietly, is not the way to make change sustainable for yourself. Labels, characterizations, etc. distract from what’s needed to effect lasting change that supports a working life you can love: having a deeper conversation where your needs at work can be discussed to the benefit of both you and your employer (which is anything BUT quiet).
Putting boundaries in place to support your wellbeing is a positive aspect of quiet quitting, but it’s not sustainable if you’re doing it invisibly. Talking about what you need empowers you to make needed changes, feel good about them and know your manager/organization can get behind them too. There’s a learning curve here for organizations – a necessary one - or they will continue to tread on the wellbeing of employees (knowingly or unknowingly) until these kinds of conversations consistently, take place – making this the “norm”.
Truth is, all of us have the responsibility to assert how we want to live our lives, and that does not have to mean being consumed by career and work – holding on too tightly to something, like work, often means you’re at greater risk of missing the impact you most want to have there. However, quietly pulling back isn’t a sustainable way to make this happen in anyone’s career. If you’re unhappy, identify what’s making you unhappy and talk to your manager about it (or change the things you control – like hyper focus). Doing this creates intentional change that supports what you need to enjoy the work you have today, and into the future – so you create a work life you can love.
The only way the workplace gets better for ourselves and our kids is if we stop doing things in silence, and start having meaningful conversations about what’s possible when we’re not “hustling”, but connected to the work we do. Do not go quietly. Go with the full confidence of knowing your life is worthy of healthy boundaries, and the majority of employers are reasonable, overworked, people who just want to be happy too.
Through our sessions and assigned coaching practices, I could accept new challenges, be open to continuous improvement, face uncertainty with curiosity and foster positive relationships for collaboration."