Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Posts In the Values Category

Be Grateful for the Good and the Bad

Grandpa and Greg Thanksgiving 67

Grandpa and Greg, Thanksgiving 67

It was easy for me to be grateful last Thanksgiving.  There was good food, a nap, football, and time with family and dear friends.

But as a viral Facebook post showed, the holidays can be particularly difficult for some people. It read: “Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness.”

Is there a place for gratitude in those situations where the glass is only a quarter full? My spiritual practice has taught me to be grateful even for the bad things. Sometimes it takes work, but I have yet to find something I could not be grateful for.

Someone close to me once said – “How can I be grateful after all the tough things that have happened to me in my life?” And he did have many challenges in his life, like an unwanted divorce. My answer:

If those things had not happened, you would not be married to the person you are today.

I was met by stunned silence. He is happier in his second marriage than he ever was in his first.

The practice of gratitude was and is new to me.  And it is a practice – every day I try to remind myself of something that I am grateful for, even on the crappy days. It isn’t always easy, but when I do it often points to a way out of the mess.

And how about those times when the glass is 3/4 full – does that guarantee happiness, or even gratitude?

In his book “Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis points out that the world is full of an infinite number of things we’ll never have.  The question is, where do we focus our attention, on what we have, or what we don’t have?  Morinis doubts that all those rich celebrities in drug rehab are feeling like money and fame have solved their life’s problems.

A friend of mine, a VP in Silicon Valley told me how stressful it is to live in a big house in a wealthy neighborhood   It takes a lot of work to keep up on the clothing fashions, to be seen at the right places, and to keep the car ultra clean.  He has recently downsized to a smaller home in a quiet neighborhood and is loving life.  It’s not the small house per se, it is the attitude of appreciating what he has.  Once he started thinking about what was important to him, it became obvious that he had more house than he needed.

Being grateful for what you have is a guarantee to make you feel at least a little better.  This does not mean that you have to be satisfied with a bad situation, but looking to what makes you grateful is a clue to where to spend your energy to make things better.  One popular approach is a gratitude journal, to write down things you are grateful for every day to help turn your consciousness to the good that is already in your life.

Gratitude is a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it will become.  If things are going well for you, practice gratitude to  strengthen the muscle to help you through the tough times.  And if you’re in the tough times now, a dose of gratitude can be that ray of hope.

My model for gratitude is my late grandfather.  He graduated high school in 1932 – the height of the Great Depression, and he was not able to go to college.  Grandpa was a brilliant man, who knew as much history as some college professors I’ve met.  But never once did he complain to me about not being able to go to college.  He worked for the toll system of Connecticut, and I was always waiting form him to lament the missed opportunities in his life.  It never happened.

“As long as I get to be here with your grandmother, I’ll be happy Greg.”

Grandpa died two weeks after my first child was born thirteen years ago. In our last conversation , he said to me “Lots of people live to be grandparents, but very few get to be great-grandparents.”  Not a peep about his failing health.

I miss my grandfather, but I am so very grateful he was and is such a big part of my life.

What Does the Fox Say At Work?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE

What does the fox say? It’s a question 144 million plus have been asking on YouTube over the last few months. (And if you really want to know the answer, you can see it here.) The song describes what a fox looks like, and runs through a bunch of gibberish versions of what a sound the fox makes. Is it funny? Yes, a bit. (Although if you ask my tween daughters, they will tell you it is hilarious.)

When I hear the song, I think of a different kind of fox, the fox in Aesop’s fable the Fox and the Crow. This kind of Fox is a flatterer, someone who can convince you of anything. In this respect, the song “What Does the Fox Say” gets it right. When we are watching the video, we sing and laugh along, and we may even parrot what we hear to others. But if we stop and think about it, we say to ourselves Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

Have you ever had the experience at work of being talked into something that turned out to be really stupid, either for you or for the company? And then, the person who talked you into it is nowhere to be found. I write about the Fox in Busting Your Corporate Idol, because the consequences of trusting the untrustworthy are monumental.

The Fox is particularly dangerous, because he or she will say whatever you want to hear. The Fox is primarily out for him or herself, but unless you have dealt with this type of person before, you may not be aware.

I worked for years with a Fox, but didn’t know it until things got rough, and I was left holding the bag. In many respects, it was my bag to hold, BUT the Fox had advised me what to put in the bag, and where to carry it. So when the Fox went out of their way to point the finger at me, I wanted to cry fowl.

I stood up at a meeting to explain it all, and all that came out of my mouth was “Ring ding ding ding ding dingeringeding.” It made sense when the Fox said it to me. I should have known better.

Who Else Wants Two Weeks Paid Vacation Before the Start Date?

Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02

Chaplin should have taken 2 weeks off before starting his new job

I heard a crazy idea the other day: Offer people two weeks of paid vacation before they start work. Literally before they start work. After you finish your previous job, your salary and benefits begin two weeks before you come into the office. It is called a Pre’cation, the brainchild of Jason Freedman, who wrote about it on his blog 42Floors.com.

Freedman has an aversion to vacations. He is a serial entrepreneur, going from startup to startup. He gets into each company so much that he never wants to take a vacation. He ascribes this behavior in part to the very nature of a startup. He writes, “Startups are a mission; a belief that something impossible is actually possible.” But he also noted “that doesn’t mean startup people don’t need vacations – we clearly do.  If for no other reason than our best ideas come when we’ve been able to disengage from the problem in front of us.”

Freedman started offering new employees two weeks of vacation before they start, as a way to make sure that everyone has some time off and arrive rested. In some ways, a Pre’cation is no different than a signing bonus: a company expense that comes prior to an employee doing work. While the Pre’cation isn’t mandatory at 42Floors, there has been 100% adoption of the practice so far.

Who wouldn’t take this offer? (In fact, I’d worry about someone who didn’t). The real question is, what type of company would offer Pre’cation? A company that wants to attract the best talent, and a company that wants employees to bring their best to work.

I think the Pre’cation is exactly the kind of radical new idea that we need to make the corporate world both more efficient, and more humane. It is easy to dismiss this idea as something that could never happen in your industry. However, imagine that your biggest competitor adopted this policy. Which of these three best describes your reaction?

  1. Good! Let them waste their money.
  2. Crap, this will help them attract better talent.
  3. Hmm, I wonder if there is a job there for me.

I don’t know about you, but I was tempted to look at the 42Floors jobs page, and I don’t even know what that company does.

What do you think?

Image Credit: Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02 By alyletteri via Flickr CC

Lessons From Jason Collins: Coming Out As a Parent in the Office

Mother With Child by Mzacha via rgbphoto Face hidden to protect her career?

Mother With Child by Mzacha via rgbphoto
Face hidden to protect her career?

Jason Collins article is the first active professional male athlete to come out. Collins wrote a first person account of his life before coming out, and how he feels now. He stayed in the closet for fear of consequences to his professional life, and as a result “endured years of misery.” Now, Collins is looking forward to living an authentic life. The feared backlash is no where near what it might have been, and the majority of the feedback, at least in public, has been positive.

As I read Collin’s article, I was reminded of how hard it can be to tell the truth in the corporate world. And I don’t mean telling the truth to your boss or to customers about a work issue. I mean telling the truth about yourself.

Where I live, in Silicon Valley, it is common to have openly gay coworkers. But there are many people who are living in the closet, hiding their authentic selves at work for fear that it will impact there career. What closet are they in? The parenting closet.

For example, for many years, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg secretly left at 5:30 to pick up her kids because she was concerned about the impact of being perceived as a “working mom” on her career. In the words of Collins, “It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret.” Granted, Sandberg’s secret was not as big as Collins, but it must have been a drain on her.

Corporate executive Karin Hurt wrote on her blog, Let’s Grow Leaders, about the difficulty of keeping her divorce secret. She had just been promoted to a major leadership position in a fluid post merger environment. Plus, her new position required frequent travel to another city.

Hurt wrote “I had been very deliberate about keeping that hidden. Even my new boss did not know what I was going through. I had heard enough discussion about the concept of “single moms” needing extra care and support so they could come to work on time and not call in sick when their kids were sick. I thought, I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of single mom… I’m an executive. I’d better just keep all this to myself.”

Collins wrote:
“By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort.”

Hurt wrote that when she was discovered as a single mom, there was a backlash.

“You lead all these meetings where we work on programs to make it easier for single moms… and NOT ONE TIME… do you mention that you are one. What else aren’t you sharing?” Another teammate of Karin’s told her “we are starting to wonder about you. You know all about us, but we know nothing about you.”

Collins wrote “A good teammate supports you no matter what. In professional sports, it really is all about teamwork.”

We talk about teamwork in the corporate world. In a thriving workplace, people have a shared sense of mission, and e support each other. There is one little drawback – in my experience, you will be supported as long as you act a certain way. A corporation can breed a sameness, an unwritten code of conduct about how to act and even how to dress. Try showing up at Google wearing a suit and tie. You wouldn’t feel comfortable, and you wouldn’t fit in.

So it was a logical act for self-preservation for Collins, Sandberg and Hurt to keep part of their lives hidden. Attitudes have changed dramatically over the last few years about being gay, and it is wonderful that Collins has enough support to feel he can be successful as a gay athlete.

And with leaders like Sandberg and Hurt, now is the time for women not only to Lean In, but to come out as their authentic selves.

Change Management and the Golden Calf

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By Brbbl (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Calf is a story about the peril of a leader pushing change too quickly.  As you may recall from the book of Exodus (or from the movie The Ten Commandments), Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in dramatic fashion.  God has brought Ten Plagues on Egypt, and parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape from the pursuing army of Egypt. Yet, the people quickly lost faith when Moses was away for too long.

When Moses was absent from the Israelites for 40 days and 40 nights, the people grew afraid and asked his brother Aaron to construct a Golden Calf to give them an object of worship.  This is one of the most infamous cases of fair weather friendship in the history of the world.  After all, the power of God was just demonstrated through dramatic miracles that delivered a people from 400 years of slavery.  But these miracles, which everyone must of seen with their own eyes, were insufficient to overcome the strong cultural bias towards idol worship.

If we set aside the questions of divinity, this story says something powerful about culture: an entrenched culture cannot change overnight, even if an overwhelming set of evidence is presented that is should. During their time in Egypt, the Israelites had fallen into idol worship. And after hundreds of years statue worship, it was too big a jump to start worshipping an abstract God that no one could see.

The solution in the Bible is to create a Tabernacle  an intermediary structure that was kind of like the Egyptian temples, yet worshipped God. This same principle applies today.

If you are trying to change the culture of a company, or to change yourself, a dramatic change is exceedingly difficult to pull off. It is better to create an intermediary goal, something similar to what you are doing today, but a significant distance towards what you are trying to achieve.

And if you are hoping the culture of your company will change, even a great leader like Moses may not be able to pull it off.