Monthly Archives: August 2017

Balance in Service

083117_tightropeBy Chelsea Elkins, Peace Corps Volunteer and Friend of Simple Intentions

My time working at Simple Intentions began almost 2 years ago and the bittersweet feeling that comes with a last day of work was just a few weeks ago. The significance of working for a company committed to disrupting workplace patterns of imbalance and burnout was not lost on me – as my own experience with burnout in the nonprofit sector still lingered when I started.

I was fresh out of college when I got my first job in the public health field, working as a Housing Specialist at a HIV/AIDS Center in Los Angeles. There were some issues with the role that are common with a career in non-profits: high workload, lack of resources, understaffing issues, a pay that was not quite comparable to my peers, and the mildly chaotic feeling that comes when an org with positive intentions simply can’t offer the funding and support needed to its employees. Those are all challenges that can be tricky to navigate but, with the right tools, are manageable.

After all, the reason why I took that job was I cared. I cared about the issue and about the population I was serving. I thought because I cared, because I was passionate, I’d be able to jump over any professional hurdles with ease. However, I soon learned that something as positive as passion can also be a driver of imbalance if you don’t set boundaries.

And that was my real issue: boundaries. Boundaries with my co-workers, with my clients, but mostly with myself. I fully admit to having a tumultuous relationship with ‘No’ and I was filled with remorse each time I used the word with a client seeking housing assistance.

“No, there’s nothing available.”

“No, your rental application was denied.”

“No, I’m sorry but I can’t help you.”

Though I wasn’t allowed to work overtime, I clocked in extra mental hours each night preoccupied with my clients sleeping on the streets and wondering who I wouldn’t be able to help the following day. As one might imagine, I began to develop a very unhealthy relationship with work.

I would dread Monday morning almost as soon as I’d step out the door Friday evening. I started to eat lunch anywhere besides the office, seeking temporary refuge at coffee shops or parking garages – until one co-worker pointed out while walking by one day, “Your car is not a lunchroom.” I had become Cady Heron on the first day of school, eating lunch in a bathroom stall.

My lunch habits did evolve and I eventually stopped taking lunch breaks altogether, instead scarfing down food in front of my computer in an attempt to manage my growing caseload. I was constantly anxious, adrenalin and stress hormones flooding – and I lacked the awareness to realize that I was spiraling out of control.

The road bumps that come with working at a non-profit suddenly seemed impossible feats as I had never been taught, never been equipped with the tools to protect myself from burnout. It wasn’t until a client stopped in the middle of yelling at me to ask if I was alright (my eyes had done the unthinkable and were shedding tears against my will), did I realize I had pushed myself too far. I had reached my

limit, a form of emotional exhaustion that years later would be described to me as a brutal climax of “compassion fatigue.” I gave my notice a few weeks later.

I learned a lot from that experience, although it remains one of my most painful failures. That was never the perfect job for me – and part of me knew that going into the role. But if I had some of the perspective I have now, I could have walked away with a better experience and less strain on my mental health. My story is not unique – a continual fight against stress and burnout can often feel like the norm in the nonprofit sector, or in any service oriented role regardless of field or title.

I find myself now with an incredible new challenge in front of me as I prepare to depart as a Peace Corps Volunteer to promote health and HIV Prevention in vulnerable youth in Lesotho. I know I will face many of the same challenges I came up against as a Housing Specialist. One of the differences this time is that I have the awareness to recognize when I start to spiral – and some knowhow to get my balance back before the spinning begins. A peer who works at United Way beautifully compared working in service to walking a tightrope. Below the rope is the knowledge that this work will always be needed. Most problems in our world will not be completely solved in our lifetimes. You can look down on this from two angles. From one angle, this knowledge can overwhelm you, depress you, discourage you. It can be debilitating and infuse a sense of futility in your work. You might be tempted to walk backwards off the tightrope.

But from the other angle? It can empower you. It’s a constant reminder that this work (whatever it is) will always matter – and it will always be important. You are empowered to continue your journey, whatever may come on the other side.

I looked from one side a few years ago and I think I’ll choose to look from the other side during this next chapter. My favorite thing I learned at Simple Intentions is that we always can choose and re-choose whenever we wish.

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Creating Space

083117_CreateSpaceByLeAnn Elkins, Mindful Living Coach at Being is Doing and Friend of Simple Intentions 

We live in a world where a very common response to being asked, “How are things?” is “Oh, good, but I have been so busy!” Our lives are often FILLED from the moment we rise until we put our head on the pillow in the evening. In the business environment, we are rewarded for being busy and in fact, the busier the better as busy equals success (or so goes the story!). Our personal lives are also scheduled to the brim with activities and chores, making “busy” a common denominator in all aspects of life. 

Our busy lives contribute to how many of us often run on adrenalin, using it as the fuel that gets us through the day until the time comes when we actually crave the feeling that adrenalin causes. So, we find more and more ways to constantly get that “fix.” Some get their fix by filling up every moment of their day, while others may use intense cardio-filled exercise to get it, even a cup of coffee can provide the fix many of us feel we need to keep going. Because society respects “busy,” the media encourages “busy,” and the popularity of the “no pain/no gain philosophy,” we have learned to value “busy” ourselves. Many of us are living in a constant state of stress. Yes, adrenalin = stress!  

For some, this may be a new concept. Being constantly busy and filling up all of our time is actually causing our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones and operate in adrenalin mode, which can lead to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  

The good news is we all have a choice and we can choose to move from this state of adrenalin to a place of “space.” When we create space, we move towards a place where endorphins flood our systems and we experience ease, balance and vibrancy. What does creating space look like? It happens when we find ways to truly be more present as we approach the month, the week, the day and the moment. Creating space, while different for each and every one of us, can be as simple as: 

  • Taking a lunch break as well as mini-breaks throughout the day (close your eyes for a few moments and focus on your breath) 
  • Having a weekend with no or very few plans (and being okay with that) 
  • Eliminating or reducing caffeine 
  • Taking a mindful walk or a restorative yoga class (vs. an intense cardio activity) 
  • Doing nothing and not looking for ways to fill each moment 
  • Introducing rituals that support your well-being – whatever that means to you (baths, meditation, reading/writing, etc.) 
  • Being selective in accepting or hosting social engagements 
  • Slowly easing into sleep through a 30 minute “wind down”  
  • Walking/talking/BEING with family and friends 
  • Creating a no electronics policy at certain times during the day: 
    • Early morning 
    • Meals
    • Evenings after a certain hour 
  • Just slowing down (whatever that means to you) 

As Marianne Williamson mentions in Aging Miraculously, we need to go slower in order to go deeper. In slowing down and creating space we are not doing less – we are actually doing more as we allow ourselves the time and space to think and feel more deeply. 

When we create space, we give ourselves the gift of moving from a life of adrenalin to one of ease. What different choices will you make?

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Motivation

Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions081717_Motivation

I’m the type of girl who has on occasion actually added a job I just completed to my to do list – just to check it off. This is because I’m motivated by accomplishment. I don’t have to get recognition for doing the thing, although sometimes that’s nice. The satisfaction of completing an assignment is extremely gratifying for me. On the flip side, having unfinished items on my plate at work for days or weeks can zap my energy and motivation. Turning a sense of accomplishment into a motivator doesn’t always translate.

Some people are motivated by fear, some by pain (or the aversion to it), some by money. But those motivations don’t always live within our conscious mind. More likely they are background noise, causing us to take action without awareness. I’ve been turning over this idea recently of listening as a motivational tool. It goes like this: I can better motivate my workmates and myself if I first listen to their feedback, their objections and their needs.

This active listening falls into two categories. First, the actual data is valuable. Think like a reporter and fact-gather. Secondly, try to actually hear the words themselves, coupled with body language and tone to really understand what is being communicated. If a committee member says “challenge” or “issue” or “problem” in their report, they’re giving us a peek into their judgment of the situation. Listen to understand and then pause before giving motivation.

I worked with a magazine publisher a few years ago who was extremely gifted at making people feel heard. It was beautiful to watch her conduct an interview because the subject would open up in authentic and surprising ways – making for compelling storytelling. This tool of listening also served her incredibly well when it came to motivating a team of writers and designers. And it gave her a unique talent at selling ad space. By listening to clients and potential clients she was able to deliver exactly what would meet their needs in a way that hardly felt like sales at all. The key to her management style was listening, and it was incredibly motivating to each person in her circle of influence.

The same method can be used when being self-reflective. Listen to the inner dialogue when the “to do” item rises to the top of the heap. Is this a have-to-do or a want-to-do? And am I resisting the work? Am I looking forward to it? And perhaps most importantly, why? By first listening to the inner dialogue, I am able to motivate myself in the most effective way.

Here’s a real-life example. Breaking bad news is always a chore and can easily be bumped lower and lower on the to do list in procrastination. But when I pause and think about why I’m dreading it, I can best prepare to move ahead. Am I avoiding conflict with the receiver? Am I afraid the relationship will be changed or severed? Am I personally disappointed and I need time to process that first before sharing the news? Whatever the answers, by giving my inner voice a beat to process the situation, I can then muster the motivation I need to push ahead.

My favorite motivators are passion and reward. One passionate team member can have a contagious effect on the group — with big results. But if we are not listening to the tone or the word choice, we could miss out on a person’s passion, and consequently miss a key opportunity to motivate.

 

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Quiz: Do You Feel Empowered at Work?

081017_QuizDo you operate from a mindset of empowerment or disempowerment? Take your work pulse with these seven true or false questions. 

By Jae Ellard, Founder, Simple Intentions  

1) True or False: “I have a feeling of clear direction and connectedness to the goings-on around me and understand how my work connects to the mission/purpose of my organization.” 

If you answered True: You are likely on the path to feeling a sense of overall empowerment. 

If you answered False: It might be time to reexamine the mission/purpose of your organization and explore more deeply where you feel connected or disconnected and begin to seek where there are paths for alignment. If you answered False, it doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, rather, pause and be willing to see it with new eyes. 

2) True or False: “I tend to feel as if time, resources, and support are scarce to do what I’m asked to do.” 

If you answered False: You likely feel that you have what you need to reach your desired outcomes. 

If you answered True: See it as an opportunity to be creative and explore out-of-the-box ideas to complete your goals, play with what if scenarios, brainstorm, even daydream—sometimes a small shift in thinking can create a new resource or avenue of support not previously considered. 

3) True or False: “I feel as if I have more to gain professionally through my work than I feel at risk of losing something.” 

If you answered True: You likely understand that taking risks is part of being a professional and have developed the confidence to know that a single meeting or project does not define your career. 

If you answered False: See it as an opportunity to explore what’s working, what’s going well, and what you’ve achieved, so when you do face risk, you are clear of all the past gains as well future ones to come. 

4) True or False: “The people I work with are open and collaborative—they want to share ideas and receive feedback.” 

If you answered True: You’re likely on a team where others feel empowered and where there is an elevated level of psychological safety, a cornerstone of a high functioning team, according to a study conducted at Google. 

If you answered False: See it as an opportunity to explore what your teammates are really thinking and feeling, ask questions, and be curious: conversation is the gateway to building an empowered team. 

5) True or False: “I feel energized and absorbed in what I’m doing and feel the value of achieving what I’m committed to more often than not.”  

If you answered True: You’re likely clear on your purpose and your actions are in solid alignment, and you might also be working for a leader/manager who recognizes your contributions. 

If you answered False: Begin to create awareness around what gives you energy and where you feel your contributions are valued. From there, see where this work is in or out of alignment with your values and goals and with that data, small shifts in behavior may naturally occur. 

6) True or False: “My work life feels like a house of cards—if one card falls, the house will crumble.” 

If you answered True: You likely experiencing a time of disempowerment, it might be time to create awareness around which card is most vulnerable and begin exploring options for support there. 

If you answered False: You’re likely in a time of empowerment. 

7) True or False: “I feel like my team has open, authentic conversations as needed about projects and the goings on of our work culture.” 

If you answered True: You’re likely steeped in a work culture where empowerment is a shared value. 

If you answered False: Perhaps your team is facing change, uncertainly, or the goals are not clear. Despite the turmoil, this period can also present opportunities to discuss what’s working and what’s not, allowing a chance for the team connect to some empowered moments, actions, and projects. 

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Magazine] 

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What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

By John Rex, President at Rex Executive Leadership and Friend of Simple Intentions

0800317_ITGuyVirtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

It was awful to learn that Craig, from IT, had passed away from a heart attack while working late at the office. I didn’t know him very well, although over the past two years I had come to appreciate his ready willingness to help with my computer problems. Not being close to Craig, I debated attending the funeral service, but in the end, I decided to go. When my wife and I arrived, a colleague pulled me aside and anxiously asked, “Would you mind saying a few words about Craig?”, then added, “He considered you a dear friend.” Although I was a bit surprised by the request, I figured that several people were being asked to share their memories of Craig, so I said “sure” and began gathering my thoughts.

As it turned out, I was the main speaker at the service, followed by Craig’s thirty-something son. Only the two of us spoke to the small group of people in attendance. I don’t remember what I said about Craig, but I’ve never forgotten his son’s remarks: “I don’t really know my dad. He was never home. He gave his entire life to the company. I don’t know what else to say about him.” That was all he said, and then he sat down. As an extreme example of what can happen when someone overinvests in a single life priority, it was a profoundly sad moment to me.

Among the various important topics that my executive coaching clients bring to me, achieving work-life balance is almost always near the top. In fact, virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. I heard the same from people I worked with during my 20+ years as a CFO at Fortune 100 companies.

While serving as CFO of Microsoft North America, I led a global initiative to improve work-life balance for over 1,100 finance professionals. At the outset of this project, I read everything I could find on the topic; I also spent many hours interviewing work-life balance experts. Based on that research, our task force rolled out a worldwide training program that helped instill behaviors which ultimately improved work-life balance satisfaction by double digits. Following are the highlights I gleaned from the research, along with the associated tips we taught finance professionals.

Highlight #1: Work-life balance is a misleading term. It implies that work and life are two separate things and that one increases only at the expense of the other. The truth is, work is a subset of life’s activities and only one of the various important elements that compose a life.

Tip: Shifting your mindset to think of work as one of the several essential elements of an integrated life, rather than something separate from your “real” life, is a vital step toward finding satisfaction with the whole. To help shift your mindset, cut out the term work-life balance from your vocabulary and replace it simply with life balance.

Highlight #2: Because our individual values define what matters most to us, apportioning time to activities that are congruent with our values is key to living a balanced and satisfying life. Since each person’s values are unique to them, no two individuals’ criteria for prioritizing time will be the same.

Tip: Know your values so you can thoughtfully prioritize the activities of your unique life. Explore and record your values. A close friend, partner, or coach can help you with this.

Highlight #3: Given that most vocations involve dependencies upon others, sharing our boundaries for work can significantly reduce confusion and false expectations, which in turn lessens the pressure to extend work beyond the outer limits of our values.

Tip: Meet with your boss(es), peers, and subordinates and discuss your mutual aspirations for life balance. Share important personal routines (“I drop my kids off at school each morning.”), communication preferences (“For urgent matters, text or instant message me.”), boundaries (“Sundays are my faith and family days.”), and so on. Ask for each other’s support. Memorialize your agreement via email or an informal “contract” or team charter.

Highlight #4: When it comes to juggling professional and other tasks on a given day, I have found that most people fall into two groups – those who compartmentalize tasks and those who mix them. Compartmentalizers prefer keeping work in one bucket and other activities in another. When they are at the office, they avoid mixing non-professional activities with the workday. When they go home, they avoid taking job-related work with them. By contrast, mixers prefer – and sometimes need – to alternate professional and personal activities throughout the day, both at the office and away. From my observation, neither of these styles is better than the other; they’re just different.

Tip: Determine whether you compartmentalize or mix tasks, be OK with your style, and communicate it to those you work with (see Tip #3 above). A close friend, partner, or coach can help you identify your style.

In addition to the tips I have shared, many of my executive coaching clients ask about techniques for better managing their time. Two valuable resources for improving productivity, both on and off the job, are David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the website lifehacker.com.

If I learned one lesson from Craig the IT Guy, it was that the priorities we choose in life matter – and not just to ourselves but those around us. As I work with my executive clients, I continually strive to keep their particular values at the forefront of our coaching agenda. If I can help them more thoughtfully make choices aligned with their values, my hope is that someday they will look back on their life’s journey with a sense of satisfaction and wonder as they consider a life lived with integrity and purpose.

Note: Some identifying details in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

[This article was originally posted on Rex Executive Leadership]

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