This made me smile. We need to stop taking the little things for granted.
This made me smile. We need to stop taking the little things for granted.
I love my work. I mean I really LOVE my work. Do you? Are you creative and compelled to excel? Do you find happiness in relationships with your work-friends and colleagues? Do you like being part of something bigger than yourself? Me too. Work is fun and meaningful and I am completely dedicated to writing, leading my team and advising leaders whom I respect.
And then there’s life — so much more important than work. It’s true, right? Work doesn’t even run a close second to the beautiful little children in your life, or even the teenagers who get on your last nerve. Work pales in comparison to your love for your partner or relationships with family and friends. I even include my dogs and cats in the more-important-than-work list. I love Tula, Keiki, Pika, Tiko and Tiger (also known as Mikey). And then there’s spirituality, learning, dedication to making our world a better place — all these make life worth living.
Some of us are lucky — we love our work and we have full, rewarding lives. It’s a wonderful thing. But we are busy. No breaks, no boundaries — texts from kids, tweets pouring in, emails all night… It never stops. Most of us have no idea how to manage it all.
There is no such thing as work-life balance. But we keep trying to live up to that impossible standard until finally we lose it. Or I should say, we lose ourselves.
We lose ourselves to the “sacrifice syndrome” — a condition that is more than burnout. It’s a way of life. Maybe it’s familiar: You’ve been behaving in ways that don’t fit with who you are. You snap at loved ones, make bad decisions, rarely smile, miss out on life. Or you move at the speed of light like super-man-woman-mom-dad. Maybe you take pride in your super-humanness, but deep down you know you’re in trouble. You self-medicate: two 16-ounce cups of coffee? Really? How many martinis or glasses of wine? Stress-eating? You are completely worn out, you feel trapped and you see no way out.
The sacrifice syndrome doesn’t strike out of the blue. It starts with an insidious form of chronic, intense stress that comes along with lots of responsibilities. We call it “power stress.” Leaders are especially susceptible because of the 24-7 nature of our jobs, too many toxic work environments, unhealthy competition and out-of-control achievement drives. This kind of stress is brutal.
Stress arouses the sympathetic nervous system and triggers the release of powerful substances like epinephrine, norepinephrine and corticosteroids. Blood pressure goes up and large muscles prepare for movement or battle. The immune system is compromised and the brain shuts down non-essential neural circuits, so we don’t take in as much information. We become less creative and old habits of thinking prevail. All of this has direct impact on our performance. We feel anxious, nervous or even depressed. This has direct impact on, well, everything.
Stress isn’t all bad — a certain dose contributes to focus, excitement and readiness for hard work and play. But we’re not wired to deal with “power stress” and when we are bombarded day in and day out for years, stress is dangerous.
It’s an epidemic. A Google search on stress resulted in 73,000 new or updated websites containing news articles, blogs magazines, programs or advice on stress in life. The Grant Thornton International Business Report survey of business leaders found that the net increase in work-related stress increased 28 percent globally in 2011 (less than 2010’s 45 percent increase, but still). A research study picked up in severalSouth African news outlets reported a loss of R3bn — or more than $300 million, U.S. — due to the effects of stress on workers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that for the first time in the organization’s history, stress was the most common cause of employee absence.
This epidemic won’t go away until we learn how to interrupt the sacrifice syndrome. Our companies can’t do it for us, neither can doctors, counselors or loved ones. We need to heal, and healing starts with learning how to balance sacrifice with renewal.
Managing the “cycle of sacrifice and renewal” begins with prioritizing well-being. You can start by cultivating practices that allow you to re-engage with yourself, focus optimistically on the future and connect compassionately with other people. You can start with mindfulness — tuning in to yourself, your environment and others.
Mindfulness is the first step toward renewal. And no, you don’t have to meditate for two hours a day, or attend a yoga class before work (nice, but impossible). You can start small. Find a few minutes every day — and I do mean every day — to be quiet, to breathe, to take in nature. Breathe and focus on gratitude, love and hope.
Like mindfulness, hope is a powerful antidote to stress. A vision of a better future, optimism and the belief we can make it happen helps to calm our nervous system. Think about your dreams. Help someone else achieve theirs. Pick up trash on the way to work. Talk to a child about what he or she wants to be. Actions like these, done mindfully and often will make a difference.
These actions tap into hope and your desire to help others. You can renew yourself by slowing down long enough to get in touch with your most primal and powerful nature — your concern for others and your desire to connect with them and lend a hand. That’s compassion. It’s as simple as asking someone how they are in the morning and waiting long enough to hear the answer. Find someone to mentor, and give them your time. Stop managing performance and start coaching.
Learning to live mindfully and to focus on hope and compassion will help you to ward off stress and balance yourself. It might not be easy, at first, because it is truly a new way to live. You’ll need to change old habits and resist the urge to pursue an impossible goal — work-life balance.
Remember — there really is no way to balance all that we do, until and unless we balance ourselves. You’ll find yourself having more energy, your relationships will be stronger and you will be happier.
By Tom Morris
Many people have told me recently that the most unsettling thing about the world right now is the amount and degree of uncertainty we all face in so many ways. A thick fog surrounds us and keeps us from having any clear view of what’s next.
Politics has become its own reality TV show, with unanticipated plot turns whose implications no one can guess. The economy is a wild roller coaster of unpredictable volatility. Unforeseen international problems seem to crop up now at an alarming rate, and with challenging consequences that catch us unprepared.
In the middle of all this confounding dynamism that’s undeniably swirling around us and keeping us all off balance, there is a powerfully calming and focusing perspective that many of the most successful people seem to have naturally. And it’s a point of view that anyone can cultivate effectively.
It starts with what may be a surprising insight: We need to consider the possibility that uncertainty is a gift.
If everything in life was laid out and known in advance, if everything was already understood and nailed down, static and immobile and sure, then there could be no novelty or pleasant surprises. There would be no room at all for creativity, originality, innovation, or adventure. There would be no place for genuine freedom. There could be no chance of attaining any new, unanticipated, unheard of, jaw dropping, astonishing, and deeply satisfying form of greatness as a true personal or organizational accomplishment. Plus, half the things that make us laugh could no longer do so. You’d see any punch line coming a mile away, or more. There are many things, it turns out, that we’re better off not knowing. And where there is anything unknown, there is uncertainty.
Uncertainty about big and important things in work and life can affect us in either of two opposite ways, and how we react to it is ultimately up to us. It can, of course, send us into a state of high anxiety and shut us down. Caution itself can come to dominate a business or a life and paradoxically become catastrophic as faith gives way to fear and brings us to a halt. This is all too often the impact that widespread uncertainty has. But there is nothing necessary about this unfortunate reaction. There is another option available. Uncertainty can stimulate us to explore and learn, to be curious and courageous and cultivate a realistic, robust faith, to join hands with others and partner up in new ways, and to use the ancient and fundamental motivating force of hope as a beacon in the mist.
There is a profound truth that should be the lens through which we view the world around us. It’s an insight that we all too often forget.
Each of us is a work of art in progress, and so is our journey together. Uncertainty is the canvas on which all our lives are painted. There are small immediacies, close by, of which we can be sure enough, and some larger universal truths that I think we can know, but for the most part, we play out our destinies and do our work against a backdrop of unknowns. And, throughout the entirety of the human journey, we always have.
The world has seen challenging times of heightened uncertainty before, and circumstances far worse than we face now. It’s worth using our imaginations for a moment to remember this.
Most of human history hasn’t been a walk in the park, or a picnic with champagne. More often than not, this world has been what the poet Keats once called “a vale of soul-making” — a place of great difficulty where we’re challenged to develop the hardiest and most valuable of our potential character traits. The fires of adversity that human beings have faced over the centuries have been the forces that alone could refine, expand, and strengthen their souls. Our ancestors made it through those times successfully enough to allow us to be here now. We have their genetic endowment, and all the wisdom that they had available, plus even more. We can make it through our times as well, and even in such a way as to flourish beyond our greatest longings.
Those who have come before us and done well in times of great uncertainty and challenge have typically found their proper success through concentrating, not on what they couldn’t control, but on what they might indeed be able to influence. And they have done seven simple things well.
The most successful people in all of history have known, sometimes intuitively, and sometimes more explicitly, that they should use in all the challenges they faced what I like to call “The 7 Cs of Success.” These are ideas that are especially crucial for times of great uncertainty.
In any difficult situation, new opportunity, or ongoing endeavor, we need:
(1) A clear CONCEPTION of what we want, a goal vividly imagined.
(2) A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain the goal.
(3) A focused CONCENTRATION on what it takes to reach that goal.
(4) A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision.
(5) An emotional COMMITMENT to the value of what we’re doing.
(6) A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on course.
(7) A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.
This is the age-old recipe for success in uncertain environments that has stood the test of time. It will work in our own lives and businesses to facilitate satisfying and sustainable achievement regardless of how the coming election plays out, despite the almost daily vicissitudes of the stock market, and come what may in faraway lands.
A good measure of uncertainty can actually be amazingly fertile soil for implementing this framework of ideas, for success in planting and harvesting the bounty of which we’re capable, and even beyond what we might have imagined. Outer uncertainty reminds us of the importance of all our inner resources and nudges us back to the basics of human achievement. We’re forced to work smarter and to refocus our energies in dynamic and collaborative ways. And then, great things can result.
It could be that the pervasive uncertainty around us makes the world look a bit dark right now precisely because you and I are here to shine our light into that darkness and help others to see the path forward a little better. Maybe we’re here to encourage others to let the uncertainties around them spur them on to new, inventive forms of success, attained with the courage and persistence and faith that have always led the best people to their best results, throughout the entirety of the human journey.
Without some darkness, we’d have no real work to do. Uncertainty allows for heroic effort, pioneering action, and distinctively human achievement. This condition that we tend to dislike, regret, bemoan, and even fear may ironically be the thing that allows us to do and become all that we most admire. And of that, I’m pretty certain.