The Blessing & Curse of Your Mindset
I was geek-ing out on reading tips, hacks and deeply researched articles on how to lead more effectively, and it struck me that NONE of these things were hard to do. Yet, even knowing the three steps to providing effective feedback, or the 5 parts to having a difficult conversation, you still may not always get the outcomes you’re striving for.
Of course, there’s the need to remember to do them (and explains why my desk is littered with yellow sticky notes – maybe yours is the same?). Here’s what I’ve learned; knowledge can inform, but it can’t shift mindset.
This explains why, after reading a fantastic book on leadership principles, you still cannot apply them even when you agreed with every word. Knowledge lights the way for where you want to go, but it’s not as simple as just following the light to get it right. For that you need to look at your mindset.
Here’s an example from a past client who was trying to navigate a difficult conversation with someone they didn’t trust. Even though my client was working hard to be open, and follow the steps they knew would successfully support leaving this relationship intact, their lips were doing something completely unrelated to their intention. My client was so frustrated because they knew that during the difficult conversation their lips were twisting funny as they said the words that were the right thing to say, but were the opposite of their beliefs about this person and their relationship.
Unsurprisingly, their behaviour (facial expression) was not convincing, and so their results in this conversation were inconsistent. What this points to is the need to understand your mindset to get the outcomes you need.
Mindset is what nourishes behaviours and, as my clients’ story shows, is far stronger than knowledge alone. What’s difficult is our mindset is invisible to others, and (most annoyingly) sometimes invisible to ourselves as well. Mindset is also at the whim of your emotions, so even though you have a path (knowledge), your emotions may hijack your mindset and muddy the waters of your intention. For my client, emotions made it difficult for their non-verbal body language to consistently express their intentions, even with the mindset of being collaborative.
Emotions just happen, you don’t control what emotions you feel, but you can control what you do with them once you know they’re there (that’s the tricky part).
What the books (and articles, and TED Talks and podcasts…) can’t do is help you to see your mindsets and the accompanying emotional GPS that may sabotage your efforts – informational resources can only provide knowledge, not mindset shift. Without looking at what’s sourcing your mindset, it’s difficult to line up your behaviour. And mindset, like the roots of a tree, runs deep.
In my client’s case, they knew going in that this would be a difficult conversation, so they’d re-read the steps they wanted to follow to get to win/win. What they didn’t do was acknowledge the way speaking to someone whom they didn’t trust would make them feel. That’s what brought them into coaching and their work with me. When they learned how to work with their emotions, they were better prepared for the resistance their emotions threw up. When you don’t acknowledge your feelings, you are at their mercy. What I helped my client to build was a plan.
With their plan they were prepared for the emotions that difficult conversations brought up, allowing them to work with those strong emotions. The shift for my client was this: They built a mindset of compassion for their difficult person, as opposed to a mindset of “follow these steps”. The first mindset puts the person at the heart of what my client was trying to accomplish, the second put actions and result at the heart. No mystery then as to why my client’s first efforts fell short AND why (with a plan) they were successful with difficult conversations thereafter.
The next time you’re trying to apply something you’ve read and want to use at work, consider asking yourself these three questions to support applying that knowledge with the emotion, intention (and impact) you need:
These four questions are incredibly empowering - a simple way to check your emotional baggage while adjusting your mindset, setting you up for success (they come from the book Crucial Conversations; Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler).
While this looks simple, working with your mindset isn’t always easy. If you’re finding it difficult to have the emotional impact you want at work, working with a coach can help you become more influential and successful in your career.
When I started working with Carleen my work-life balance was out of whack, I was unsatisfied and beginning to question whether I was in the right role. Her practices helped me become more grounded, rooted in my work and I learned to source nourishment from the activities that I perform on a daily basis at work."
I’ve decided to open up a few spots this fall to do a new style of coaching program - custom 90-minute intensives for professionals who want to create a work life they can love.
If an intensive coaching session THIS FALL sounds like a great way to help you create a work life you can love, click to book. That’s all you need to do!
It started out as a bit of fantasy, a way to procrastinate on a day I didn’t feel like working. It was a post, or a meme, or some tidbit of inspiration I scrolled through on social media, suggesting I design my ideal day. How audacious! And just the kind of distraction I was looking for.
So, in the midst of a day that was anything but ideal, I wrote out what my ideal day would look like. I figured out when I would preferably like to get up, what I would do (ideally) as a morning routine. When I would start work, how my work day would flow, how much time I had to complete my work (focus time). How much time I would be in meetings or collaborating. What lunch and breaks looked like (remember those?). I identified my ideal stop time for work and what my after-work routine could look like (in a perfect world). My ideal evening was sketched out, including when I would go to bed and how that routine unfolded.
It was a lovely dream perfectly customized for me. And I didn’t take it very seriously, realizing (with a jolt) I’d spent waaay too much time day-dreaming, I rushed back to reality to complete the work I was getting paid to do. That was many years ago. But this little “ideal day design” thing I did on a lark to procrastinate had some sticking power to it. The ideal, the dream I had sketched out, made itself a home in my head. It kept popping up when I had an opportunity to make bits of it happen as my career and worked changed over time. It didn’t die, somehow it became the “north star” in my career planning – and that was a very good thing.
So how did that happen?
As silly as this exercise appears to be on the surface, it does make you think through some things, and recognize those needs you may not normally connect with or advocate for in your career. Let me give you some examples.
These two things are basic examples of human needs, ones we often ignore or compromise because that’s just not the way the work world works. True, but does that mean you give up on the ideal? Continue to compromise? That you don’t consider the opportunity in making some changes that could have big benefits (from a productivity perspective)? This is what my brain kept asking me, and they were damn good questions.
With these questions swirling around, I realized over time how I could make changes within the established 9-5 envelope of work that would benefit me. I shifted how I scheduled my time, prioritizing and protecting time when I was at my most creative so I could get my focus work done with more attention and effortless quality. When I was less likely to be able to focus on nitty-gritty details, I opened my calendar up for meetings, welcoming the energetic benefits I get from being with others. With the pandemic I realized working from home maximized my productivity, well-being and physical comfort. When I sketched my “ideal day design”, I had no idea these things were even possible, but my work output, desired impact and income all went up over time with these small changes – and my employers never questioned my engagement or the way I scheduled my time.
These changes (and their benefits) informed the work I said “yes” to, and what I said “no” to. Having something worth protecting in my work life (my productivity, well-being and overall job satisfaction) meant I could better hold the boundaries I needed to make room for work that challenged me, and take on less of the work that didn’t. I also had a much clearer picture of what was possible for me at work, and where I was headed in my career. It helped me understand what kinds of problems I wanted to solve at work, and who had them.
The “ideal day design” was instrumental in helping me to make gradual changes that have shaped where I am today. It’s contributed to gaining more clarity around the investments I’ve made in myself professionally (including switching professions). It continues to inform where I’m going next in my career, and why that has meaning for me. AND it always puts my well-being at the center. At its essence, this one little exercise provided a safe place to recognize my real needs, and the time to consider the tangible benefits to listening to those needs. In short, it helped me get real.
We tend to think of career planning and self-actualization as needing a big, step-by-step blueprint. I’ve always thought that’s what I needed. But as it turns out, meaningful career planning, that plays to your strengths and takes you to all the places you really want to go, is all about figuring out how to get what you need, so you can keep doing all the things.
Best of all, you earn more at work when you put your needs first. Major AH-HA. And I’m not the only one who’s experienced that unexpected benefit; my clients do too.
I didn't understand the link between my earning potential and happiness at work, but I do now! All thanks to working with Carleen."
I was networking with a phenomenal human last week, diving into an exchange of experiences and stories, etc. It was one of my first “in-person” coffee chats since the pandemic and it felt SOOO GOOD to be back to doing this in a way that feels really meaningful! Networking is key to a vibrant professional life. AND most of us struggle to make time for it; yet, it offers so much more than simply meeting with people.
For example, during this conversation I had an AH-HA that could only have hit me through conversation with someone who wasn’t familiar with my work. I mentioned that I work with mid-career professionals to help them create a work life they can love, and as we got deeper into what that meant my lovely companion looked at me with genuine surprise and said “I just realized, I’m mid-career!”. They didn’t count themselves amongst the many who are mid-career because it didn’t feel like they were in the “middle” yet. It made me realize that not everyone uses the term “mid-career” in the same way.
We have so many societal references to “mid” and “middle”; mid-life crisis, mid-way, midnight, etc. The term seems to reference the mid-point of something, but with respect to your career, “mid” is a relative term. Mid-career is a reference to that broad and deep part of life when you’ve been working in your chosen profession for a few years, but before you’re committed to retirement.
Yup. It’s THOSE 25 or so years of working life. One of my friends charmingly describes this as the part of life where you are “old enough to know better, but still young enough to want to do it anyway!” Far from being the literal mid-point of life, it starts in your mid-to-late 20’s and continues right through to the day you commit to a retirement date.
FOR MOST OF US, MID-CAREER SPANS A QUARTER OF A CENTURY (25 years 😳).
That’s a long time. Which is why it’s so important to make yourself a priority and to feel good about the way you’re investing your best years at work. These are the years you’re going to grow the most AND THAT INCLUDES YOUR EARNING POTENTIAL. They are also the busiest years of your life! Marriage/partnership, professional demands, kids, mortgage, health concerns, aging parents, travel, retirement saving. This is the part of life where all the really big events happen, and not always at a convenient time or pace, because you will be more “time-poor” during this period of life than ever before (without the flexibility, or energy, to do “all-nighters” to get things done at work). Oh, and if this wasn’t enough, you need to prove yourself professionally in your career (over and over again).
In this part of life, you will experience some of your highest highs and your lowest lows. You’ll be pulled in so many directions, on so many days, you’ll wonder how you’re still whole (or standing). You’ll make compromises that impact your wellbeing, for the wellbeing of others.
It's simultaneously demanding, and rewarding – feeding you a dopamine high that keeps you coming back for more. Mid-career will provide your biggest accomplishments right alongside your most epic failures. You’ll learn more lessons during these 25+ years than in any other part of your life; you’ll screw-up, learn, fail again, succeed, learn, fail and so on, and so on.
AND because there’s so much to do, so much to accomplish, you’ll lose sight of yourself sometimes in the process. The biggest struggle for professionals during this time of life is to make/keep prioritizing your needs in the midst of competing work demands, looking after others, once-in-a-lifetime career opportunities, etc. All the while telling yourself it’s “just for now”. “Just until this project is done!” “Just until I get the promotion.” “Just until we have less debt.”
There’s always a “just until”. This is why I choose to work with mid-career professionals, because there has never been so much at stake for you with so few resources to help carry the professional load while juggling your one beautiful and precious life. Because there are some other “just untils” … just until you’ve lost something, or someone, you cannot get back. Just until your body says “no”. If you’re doing full-time work as a professional today, you are more at risk of burnout than any previous generation. That’s not me being dramatic: (Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html).
There is a way to navigate working life without burnout; but there’s no quick course you can take, or any other kind of educational “magic bullet”, that prevents it. It’s something you, and only you, can attend to for yourself. SPOILER ALERT, professionals who are passionate about their work can be as much at risk for burnout as those who are disengaged. If you’re mid-career and concerned about burnout, I’m here to help.
Because I believe we are all in this together, and none of us is getting out alive. Enjoy your mid-career; make this one precious and amazing life you get the healthiest it can possibly be.
Being coached by 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."
How to Stop Powerlessness at Work
Powerlessness at work is devastating. Any professional who shows up each and every day with passion and expertise and then finds they are not able to move the needle forward in a meaningful way will try and find another way. BUT, as a professional, you know you can only go into those meetings, and be shot down, so many times before it effects your credibility in the organization. This deeply impacts self-esteem.
I don’t know about you, but when I feel powerless, I get cranky and it’s taken me years to figure out that anger is my early warning sign, made all the worse because I hid my anger. You can’t be angry at work and keep your professional relationships intact. When work was a hot mess, I needed something to go smoothly somewhere in my life. So, I channelled that anger into trying harder at work, working longer hours, but that didn’t make things better, it just made me exhausted (eating emotionally and abandoning all self-care). Since I didn’t have control at work, I tried to have it at home, which (of course) just made things at home almost as bad as they were at work. I was putting so much pressure on myself and my family that no one really wanted to be around me at home.
This was my first encounter with professional burnout. Stuffing my anger down meant, predictably, I ended up needing a leave of absence from work for health reasons. Stepping back from work meant I could start to see the pattern. I was tired of being angry. I was heartbroken by my negative impact on my family and my health. I was done with being exhausted and in physical pain. I had hit the wall; I had no options left and nowhere to turn.
This is the connection between powerlessness and professional burnout. It happens to professionals in different ways, through different experiences than mine (physical and emotional), but powerlessness is there. Powerless to say “no”. Powerless to get all the things done well. Powerlessness to protect your family/team from chaos. Powerlessness to deliver on what you know you can do.
I reached out for help and it was one of the best things, because asking for help is the first step out of powerlessness. I immediately felt lighter! Best of all my health habits and family life had a chance to repair and support our well-being again. In seeking support, I learned so many important things that are not taught in a classroom, or modeled by others at work. It’s like there were these little secrets that no one talked about, but were instrumental in creating a work life I could love.
So here are the secrets.
I also needed to learn to deal with “so what”. Back to work after my leave, I was talking to my coach about something that had infuriated me; some dumb-assed-ness I just couldn’t believe was happening at work. And she asked “So what?”. I was shocked into silence because that wasn’t a supportive statement. I asked her what she meant, and what she explained was life-altering for me: Things were not always going to make sense at work; people were going to remain blind to what I could see, no matter how hard I tried to show them, or how much I worked on my communication skills. These were not things I could control or change, so what? What was my move?
I didn’t have one, except hard work. And that was slowly destroying me. I needed to build other skills that would empower me in these circumstances.
This began my exploration into understanding that when I was shot down or ignored at work it did not have to leave me powerless. Working hard was a defense mechanism, one with very limited effectiveness. What powerlessness signaled was the need to have a conversation where I explored what that was all about, accepting their behaviour/decision as “what is”. That didn’t mean I agreed with this other person (or let them walk all over me), but pursued a fuller understanding of their point of view. AND the only way to get there was to suspend my judgment of this other person and my assumptions about what was going on. Only without judgement, assumptions and defensiveness could I create the psychological safety needed to have meaningful conversations. This led to deeper understanding that meant I started to see invisible-to-me barriers; removing them creating empowering options for myself and my team.
Along the way to learning these “secrets” I fought against them with everything in me. Why should I be the one who had to do this? Why did I need to be more self-aware and they didn’t? My boss was supposed to be supporting my well-being at work, not the other way around! It all felt completely unfair, which it was. And it wouldn’t stop being unfair unless I did something to help myself. I learned how to have different conversations. When I was told work my team had been doing for 6 months was no longer relevant AND was holding us back, I found myself calmly saying that I wanted to understand that perspective better. Through inviting conversation, I learned that there was a perception issue about my team and what we did that I could now easily address. I was also able to share what my team had learned along the way that was incredibly useful to the organization, even if the end work product was not. It was far from ideal, but the outcome was greater mutual understanding and awareness that meant I stayed empowered and my team got the respect they deserved.
Learning these things wasn’t easy. But it has been worth it.
These things are not taught in a classroom, or at work. We don’t talk about how to radically accept “what is” as a way to keep our power. We don’t discuss how acceptance is not the same as agreement, nor how it feels completely counter-intuitive to use acceptance as a way of empowering ourselves. Far from making you a push-over, acceptance empowers you to see things more clearly and ask better questions - pushing through misunderstanding and assumptions. Acceptance allowed me to put healthy boundaries in place to keep my self-esteem intact when there were things I couldn’t control (like the unhelpful thoughts and actions of others). Acceptance allowed my team and I to flourish, even when things were a hot mess at work.
Use these secrets. Keep your power, you’ve earned it. If you’re struggling with feeling powerless in your work, I can help (and please, ask someone for help BEFORE you burnout).
Working with Carleen, I don't hate my job anymore! And I didn't have to change employers."