We’re in tumultuous times. Such unprecedented times. Times of uncertainly. We’ve all heard the ads and the reporters and gotten the emails and seen it on the telly. Frankly, I wish people would find more creative ways to talk about what’s happening in society and the world and also look at the possibilities that come from how we can each build upon ourselves – to take the tumultuousness and see about creating intentional happiness – in the times we’re in.
Last week The New York Times Magazine featured a series of essays on “What We’ve Learned in Quarantine.” One of the essays talked about the process of caterpillars turning into butterflies, highlighting that we typically talk about the “before” of being a caterpillar and the “after” of emerging as a butterfly, but spend little time looking at the messy and crowded process of being cocooned inside the chrysalis itself. Sam Anderson writes:
“It turns out that the inside of a cocoon is – at least by outside-of-a-cocoon standards – pretty bleak. Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self-imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar – a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).
Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin…. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but over the last 10-12 weeks, I’ve found myself in various stages of this caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. I’ve put opportunities in my path to force thinking, conversation, and growth. One of these is a course on well-being.
Through this course, I was introduced to an awesome tool to determine my Signature Strengths, which are basically the top characteristics of my emotional quotient (or EQ). (If you have the cash to spare, I highly recommend getting the expanded results at the end to learn more about your strengths at all levels.) If you know me even a little, you won’t be surprised to know that Kindness was my number one strength and that Leadership and Love of Learning also made the top five.
I could have easily read the report and put it to the side, but as part of the course I was taking, I was encouraged to stretch my strengths. For the last four weeks, I have been flexing my Signature Strengths, focusing on one each day and finding ways to deepen my understanding of each trait and to use that day’s strength in creative ways.
As I stretch myself in the daily actions of exhibiting kindness, learning more, recommitting to the principles of servant leadership, finding beauty around me, and deepening my social intelligence, I find myself making sense of the growth goo into which I have been submerged and intentionally solidifying into the person I am becoming. The person I want to be.
This is, by no means, and easy process. Growth sucks sometimes. We are brought face-to-face with ingrained aspects of ourselves and the lives we live and have to make decisions on if we are going to continue down the path we are on or if we are going to pivot. In creating intentional happiness for us and the world around us, it is ultimately up to each of us to ask ourselves the questions:
Am I happy?
Am I making others happy?
Are my actions hurting or helping?
Am I a force for good in the world?
What can I change today to make myself a better person and the world a better place?
I left my job a few months ago. I had been sitting on this decision for a while. I liked my work. I was invested in our mission. I enjoyed interfacing with many of my coworkers. What I didn’t love was a continued expectation for excessive overtime, that work was to take precedence over personal and family commitments, that almost complete projects were upended (more than once), and the repetition of “we’re family” was part of the workplace culture. (It’s not healthy, I promise, and having leadership that uses that language puts workers – you and I included – at a disadvantage with our time and financial value because “family” workplaces expect employees to give more (or all) for less.)
I’ve burnt out before.
Burnout is no joke. Dragging out of bed and through the day bleary-eyed. Difficulty concentrating. Taking hours longer to complete a task because I. Just. Can’t. Move. Any. Faster. Having to bribe myself to go to work. All the signs were starting to show. What was most frustrating for me was that I had tried to address my concerns about unmanageable workload early on (starting more than a year before giving my notice). During one exchange when I asked how my boss would like me to prioritize certain types of tasks, I was (unhelpfully) told, “It all just needs to get done.”
All of these individual things aside, I knew months before I finally left that the time was approaching. It took me a while to get all the pieces in place. Was I in a financial place where I could leave? How long could I manage to be unemployed without incredible strain? Was it the right time? Would things get better? Should I give it another chance? How much longer could I go before burnout really got me? I’m sure there’s a point in my life where I would have up and walked off a job. (Actually, I have up and walked off a job.) But this was not that place or time.
I have value outside my job.
We’ve been conditioned (very much so in the United States and also in other parts of the world) that our job – the type of job we hold and rank within it – determines our value as a person. I’ve been to countless networking events and social parties where the first question I get asked is, “What do you do?” I’ve tried to flip this on its head by replying with my hobbies, but the follow-up question is always, “No, what do you do for work?” I realized probably close to a decade ago that this question is very much a matter of people determining each other’s status and worth in society and have made a concerted effort to flip the script on this question by opening my ask with something else. Really, anything. “Do you have any pets?” “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What are your hobbies?” The possibilities are endless.
Know Your Priorities.
In reality, our work is only a part of us and what we do. For me, work ranks third in what I view as important in my life.
1. Family: Myself, my immediate family, my chosen family, those for whom I would literally drop everything no matter what.
2. Community: The people and places with whom/where I collaborate and in which I invest my time, talent, and treasure in order to leave the world a better place than I found it.
3. Career: A job (hopefully one I like a lot) that allows me opportunities to share my abilities and positively impact our mission as a whole. The vehicle that keeps a roof over my head and food on the table and allows me to fully invest in #1 and #2.
It’s taken time to find my own value (yay, life experiences!), but as my own understanding of my value as a person has matured, my patience for people who don’t respect the autonomy of others (be it in learning or communication style, preferred hobbies, style of dress or physical expression, etc.) has gone down. I am a baker. A pianist. An activist. A bookworm. A yogi. A gardener. A cat mom. And so much more.
Even with all the uncertainty that comes with not having another job lined up, I knew it was time when the time came. I was on the precipice of burnout. I wasn’t feeling valued. When I did set my end date, I gave a statistically long amount of notice. I was honest in my reasons to leave in the hopes that systemic change could happen for others. I hope I set my team up for success. I wish no ill on my colleagues and hope that their work towards the mission continues successfully.
Quitting can be scary and that’s no lie. There’s the aspect of not knowing how others will react when you give your notice, what they will say about you (to your face or behind your back), or if you’ll simply become a pariah for the last few weeks you’re there. And it was scary. But it was also an incredible, empowering step in staying true to myself and doing what I needed to do – for me.
The closer I got to my last day, the prouder I was of myself for making this choice. The closer I got to the uncertainty of what was next, the stronger I felt in my decision.
I’ve carefully selected a handful of fields I feel I will really enjoy. I’ve curated a list of important interview questions to make sure I’m valued from the beginning (including questions about work/life synergy, workplace culture, the cohesiveness of mission/vision/values, and more). I have some incredible friends helping me on this journey and while I really don’t know what’s next, I know I can do it.
For me, hope is one of the most important emotions that we can feel. In times of uncertainty, it can be a rock that keeps us going, allowing us to bounce back from difficult situations. And, in the current social, environmental and political climate, I think that hope has become more significant than ever.
So, how do we define hope?
What is Hope?
With this in mind, I think it’s also fair to say that hopeful people are usually the optimists in the room. But while this can often be labelled as ‘naive’, hopeful people are able to face even the most negative times with a positive attitude. And, because of the many health benefits of optimism, hope can significantly improve our mental health.
What Hope Shouldn’t Be Confused With…
Hope is not blindly expecting good things to happen without putting in some work. If you want the ideal outcome, you have to do something about it and maybe even get others on board. Take climate change for example… if how can you honestly expect people to take it seriously if you aren’t doing anything to prevent it. Hope has to be followed by action and we are all responsible for contributing to the outcomes that we would like to see.
The idea of ‘blind’ or ‘false’ hope comes from wanting an outcome without wanting to contribute to making it happen. And that can be particularly detrimental as nothing can happen from the will of wanting.
Why Hope is Important For Life
Well, life is tough. There are many obstacles and they often come when you least expect it, which also means that having goals isn’t enough. You have to navigate around life’s obstacles while trying to get closer to your aspirations. Hope allows you to approach life-problems with a strategic mindset set up for turning a stressful event into something successful, increasing the chance of your goal being accomplished.
As Psychology Today states: “Hope is much more than a feel-good emotion, it’s a dynamic motivational system. Hope leads to learning goals, which lead to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life?from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business.”
“Those lacking hope, on the other hand, tend to create mastery goals. People with mastery goals choose easy tasks that don?t offer a challenge or opportunity for growth. When they fail, they quit. People with mastery goals act helpless and feel a lack of control over their environment. They don?t believe in their capacity to obtain the kind of future they want. They have no hope”
To put it simply, hope is a driving factor in your success. It allows you to see obstacles as an opportunity to learn rather than the force of the universe acting out against you. Hope is empowering and enables you to tackle the complex issues while setting yourself up for long-term success.
Why Hope Is Important Right Now
I opened up by saying that hope is important, especially with the conversations that are happening across the globe. And, I’ll close by reinforcing that statement.
Whether we are thinking about the potential outcome of Brexit, Trump’s next steps or the devastating impact that humans are having on our environment, hope is the one thing that will not only bring us together but allow us all to have a significant impact. While it is easy to feel powerless, it is important to remember that we all have the capacity to do great things. The amazing leaders of the past did not just end up where they are by chance. They planned, they manoeuvered around difficult setbacks and some of the ploughed right through them. It’s up to us to do the same.
My brother was the first of my siblings to have children, and whenever I think about the legacy that I leave behind, I want to know that I created a slightly better world for my niece and nephew to live in, just as my parents and grandparents did for me. Their success motivates and inspires me, it makes me hopeful as I know that I have it within me to make the future a bit better for the next generation.
My challenge to you? Go out there and do something to create the world that you want to see. Dare to dream. Fight for hope. Create your version of the future.
The thought of filling yourself up after a long day can be exhausting. That said, I?ve been spending more and more time focusing on the concept of filling myself up so that I can serve better and serve more. Let?s be honest, work can be incredibly draining. The 9:00-5:00 isn?t really only 9-5, and so many workplaces are building in the time for lunch, so you actually work a full 40 hours instead of 37.5 (let?s talk 8:00-5:00 or 9:00-6:00 instead if you get a full hour break midday). For those of us who commute, add an extra 30 minutes to an hour onto each end of that, and it?s no wonder that we?re depleted (sometimes even before the day begins simply at the monumental 11 hours in front of us, and that?s assuming we have no plans or evening meetings after work).
Yes, work can go quickly, particularly when I?m working on a project that is absolutely inspiring me. However, it?s still give give give. So many of us have been taught that we need to put others first, that making/taking time for ourselves is selfish or greedy. Truthfully, taking time for myself is what allows me to have more energy to do better and give more to others. This is where that thought comes in each day: What have I done today to fill my cup so that I am not drained later or tomorrow? Whatever you choose, remember it?s all, completely unapologetically, all about YOU.
I have three things that work for me that might work for you, too.
Do something small for yourself every day. Sure, you spend 24 hours a day with yourself, but did you do anything today to benefit you first? Small can be making tea in the morning or before bed, sitting quietly for 15 minutes as you enjoy it, and making yourself the top priority, or it can be treating yourself to breakfast on the way to work. Figure out what makes you smile and do that thing.
Work it out. I find exercise to be a great way to energize myself while also burning off any negativity I?m carrying. Go to yoga, take a walk at lunch with a coworker, or put on a workout video for 20 minutes at home. More into meditation? That’s great, too! We’re simply glad you’re taking time for you.
Make the whitespace. Say no. We talk a lot about boundary setting here at BizGalz, but I?m going to say it again. It?s. ? Okay. ? To. ? Say. ? No. ? For real. Boundaries are totally acceptable and it?s okay to have some nights in (if that?s your thing, although I know other people fill themselves up by being social butterflies). Be true to you. It?s 100% okay to say no and to keep some unscheduled time for yourself.
Whatever you do, whatever you choose, unapologetically make time for you. How will you fill yourself up today?
It?s no secret. I am a proud Mom. My tween is on the honor roll. She made the basketball team at a new?school. She has this amazing philanthropic spirit. And most days, my daughter can tolerate hanging out?with her YouTube-confused, middle-aged Mom.
After her birth, I was prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. Teething. Potty training. Pre-algebra?homework. But even in a modern society, I never imagined to be surrounded by road blocks ? in and out?of work.
We as women continue to battle obstacles most men rarely experience. These hurdles are not limited to?the workplace. We have been raised in a culture where men are historically placed in a higher echelon.
However, not all of the blame lays with society. I recently attended an event where two female CEOs?spoke about love and children and left the audience with no actionable lessons. They stereotypically?walked right into the clich?d ?working mom? trap.
Then there was the Dreamforce panel in which the moderator – a woman – ignored the successes of its?female participants and proceeded to patronize them throughout the interview.
Being a working mom, I often am asked, ?How do you do it? Isn?t it hard??
Let me tell you what is hard. Work is. Parenting is. But you know what else is difficult? Pitching new?business to a potential client. Drafting a blog post when you have the worst case of writer?s block.?Driving through rush hour traffic to make a parent-teacher conference.
So my question is, ?How do any of us do it??
I have the same ambitions as my childless co-workers. And often our careers for all of us are the vehicles?towards we achieve those goals. Yes, my family life undoubtedly will trickle into my work. I can leave?work but I can never ?leave? my family. But I also put in extra hours to hit a deadline. I will consider?relocating my family if an opportunity arises. These are all choices any employee would have to make.
Parenting is rewarding. But so is my career.?I have been fortunate. I have worked for organizations that are very family-friendly. But I never expect?an advantage because I am a Mom. I want the same flexibility and considerations to be extended to my?coworkers with no children. Juggling work-life balance is a struggle we all have ? men, women, single,
married, parent or not.
I am committed to my job and pride myself in producing the best work I can. I want to succeed in my?career, not for my daughter, not for society, but for me. Being a strong role model is simply an added?perk.
So why must I prove myself as a working mother to others? If my employer is satisfied with my work,?then shouldn?t you be too?
Work does not change my identity.
I am a Mom. I am a community manager. I am a friend. I am a?volunteer. I am multifaceted. I am Monina Wagner.