Over the years I’ve come to realize that everyone in their own unique way is completely bat shit crazy. I say this tongue in cheek, but then again, I’m dead serious. We’re all our own little version of nuts! We have fears, anxieties, blind spots, and insecurities. We all talk to ourselves and have voices in our heads. In fact, that voice is speaking to you now. What’s it saying?
“What the hell is this post actually about?”
“What color should I paint the bathroom?”
“Man…was he in a fowl mood this morning.”
If folks really knew what kind of inner dialogue occurred within our minds at any given moment, we’d all be locked up with the key thrown away! But the beauty lies in the fact that this is a common thread that unites and connects us all as humans.
Now imagine yourself at work. Think about all the people you see in a given day. Now think about all the random interactions, personalities, and dynamics that occur every second of every day within those walls. People are walking in and out of meetings, passing each other in fleeting moments of smiles, handshakes, and social niceties. Simultaneously, they’re also trying to reconcile and navigate the myriad of insecurities and “voices” that are influencing them internally at the same time. This is what makes our organizations such dynamic and complicated places to understand. It’s also what makes them so fascinating to work in as an executive coach and strategic consultant.
If you think about how much time we spend either asleep or at work, it’s a vast majority of our time on Earth. I decided long ago to leave the study of sleep up to others, and instead chose to embrace years of schooling, training, and “in the trenches” work trying to understand the dynamics of the workplace. I dove into the fields of executive coaching, management consulting, psychology, culture, systems theory, strategy, Organizational Development, operations, and conflict to name a few.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (February 2015) the average American worker, between the ages of 25–54 works 42.8 hours per week. That’s 8.56 hours per day (for a 5 day work week). The average American also sleeps approximately 6.5 hours per night. Combined, that’s a total of 15+ hours out of every day.
Through those years I’ve come to realize a few things. Themes and patterns emerged. One of them is that organizations are filled with people, and people are messy. We’re dynamic, emotional, and at times completely unpredictable. Entire fields of study have been created to better understand human psychology, and I in no way claim to be an expert. However, I do know that each and every one of us creates a story and a narrative about what it means to be “me”. We do this in order to connect the dots and make sense of the world around us. Our version of reality is actually based on layers upon layers, and years upon years of experiences.
To this end, much of our reality is just a complex story we’ve stitched together over a period of time that we now accept as “Truth”. Much of the story we create is a reactive and defensive response to experiences and people that cause us pain, fear, or discomfort. We build walls, moats, and fences in order to protect ourselves from the experiences that we deem threatening.
The reality is that many people also perceive the workplace as a threatening environment. There’s office politics, meetings we don’t care about, and people we have to put up with that just rub us the wrong way. Because we feel threatened, we put up defenses. We become reactive. We try everything we can to minimize our exposure to the people and things that cause us discomfort…and it’s exhausting work.
The amount of energy we spend trying to avoid exposure to negative experiences is enormous. Especially in the workplace. If we spent a fraction of our time actually improving our ability to process conflict and tension, our lives would be truly transformed. Our societies and workplaces would be revolutionized, because they would be filled with people who embrace discomfort, are able to let go of things easier, and who focus on leveraging their strengths, rather than constantly try to mitigate weaknesses.
The New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Singer articulates this notion very succinctly in his book, “The Untethered Soul.” It’s well worth the read and is the book I’ve highlighted and dog-eared the most in 2017.
The breakthrough comes when we accept the reality that we are all a little bit crazy. This acknowledgement and acceptance is incredibly liberating because it frees us from the insurmountable pressure to be something we aren’t…or will never be…and that is PERFECT. Nobody is perfect. Nobody has their shit completely together. Despite what your boss, professor, spouse, or parent would like you to believe, they too are as gloriously flawed and fallible as you are.
Accepting ourselves and others as fallible beings helps create space in our lives. Space to no longer run around with our super hero cape on all day. We no longer have to bear the burden of having all the answers. Space to focus energy on what really matters…becoming the best version of ourselves.
By becoming more accepting of ourselves, we also become more accepting and empathetic of others. We begin to give ourselves and others some latitude and flexibility to be less than perfect. This is critically important if you’re a leader in an organization, but equally important as a parent, friend, or family member. We now allow people to experience and learn from their mistakes and missteps. We are more willing to forgive. We become less judgmental, fearful, and pessimistic.
By becoming less pessimistic, by default, we become more optimistic. Optimism in organizations and on teams creates a fertile breeding ground for insight, innovation, and possibility.
The sooner we accept that it’s up to each of us to proactively take control, ownership, and accountability over our lives, the better life will be. Nobody is going to roll out the red carpet out for you. Wendy Palmer, who holds a 6th degree black belt in Aikido, is the Founder of Leadership Embodiment, is an accomplished author, and a 40-year mindfulness practitioner has said,
“The best thing you can do for others is to pull your own shit together”.
As simple as that sounds, it’s incredibly insightful advice. It means that we should place more focus on becoming the best versions of ourselves, and less attention on worrying about what everyone else is doing or thinking. In practice, this is learning how to harness and leverage our strengths, as opposed to hiding and mitigating our weaknesses. It’s about having the courage and vulnerability to accept and embrace our flaws and shortcomings. It’s about being kind to ourselves and becoming more comfortable in our own skin. It’s about building more bridges…and fewer moats, walls, and fences. Only then, can we truly go out to make the world a better place for others.
No matter what your experience and upbringing has been, your actions, decisions, and mindset are yours. As humans, we’re nothing more than a culmination of our decisions and actions. Every decision and action we make, large or small, has consequences. Our decisions and actions put us on a trajectory, and no amount of blaming and finger pointing are going to make your life better. Hoping for a better past is a futile exercise.
Do you want to know who can make your life better? You! Do you want to know who can help you overcome the obstacles in your life? You. Go look in the mirror and see if you like WHO you see. If not…do something about it. Make a better decision. Stop making excuses. Put together a plan. Commit. Be disciplined. Find support.
There are countless stories of people who have grown up faced with the worst scenarios imaginable. Death, abuse, war, drugs, prison, fighting, depression, etc… The ones that made it out, and were able to rebuild and continue made a decision (or a series of decisions) to do something different. To make a change. To turn hardship into fuel for motivation. To turn fear into a tailwind. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. But if you’re waiting for someone to come save you, then you’re going to be waiting for a lifetime. Nobody is coming to save you! This life of yours is 100% your responsibility. Plan accordingly.