Wellbeing

There Is No Finish Line
There Is No Finish Line 1080 565 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, my daughter ran her first cross country race. For those who aren’t familiar with cross country, at her age, it’s a mile and a half run in the “country” (i.e., on grass, through the trees, up and down hills, etc.).

She’s new to running and had never run any kind of race in the past, so this was all new territory for her. To help her prepare, we talked a little about strategy.

Most of our conversation focused on where she was in the race relative to the finish line. For example, one of the ideas that resonated with her was to remember that it is “only a mile and a half.”

She knew she could definitely run the length of the race, so the idea was to remember that the finish line was never too far away. She could push through the pain and struggle in the middle of the race because she knew for certain that it would soon be over.

I remember having that same thought when I ran half-marathons in the past.

“It will be over soon. Just keep running.”

Whether in a race, at work, or elsewhere in life, we crave the comfort and motivation that a finish line provides. We can endure anything for a short period of time, as long as we know when it will be over.

My Orangetheory trainers have a phrase they like to say just before asking you to do something difficult, “You can do anything for thirty seconds.”

Finish lines are powerful.

Why We Are Struggling

Last week, I listened to Brené Brown’s conversation with Amy Cuddy on her Dare to Lead podcast. They were talking about an article that Amy co-wrote for the Washington Post in August titled, “Why This Stage of the Pandemic Makes Us So Anxious.”

In this article, she and her co-author outline something called “pandemic flux syndrome” that they attribute as the reason so many of us are really having a tough time right now with where things are in the world, particularly related to the pandemic.

According to Cuddy, if you are feeling amped-up anxiety or depression right now, there’s a good reason for it. Listening to this discussion helped me sort out why the past few months have felt so challenging for me personally.

I suspect the same might be true for you.

The more I’ve reflected on what I learned, the more I’m convinced that our struggle with the pandemic has everything to do with our fixation on finish lines.

We desperately want there to be a finish line—a point when this is all over and we can return to some semblance of a normal and a predictable existence. The belief that there is a finish line can help many of us to get through the most challenging times in our lives.

Earlier this summer, we thought we were very near the pandemic’s finish line in the U.S. The July 4th holiday was supposed to be a declaration of our independence from COVID’s grip on our lives. We were ready to move on.

But that finish line turned out to be an illusion with no end in sight.

Ever since, we’ve been searching for the real finish line, desperate for anyone to tell us where it is. Our craving and belief in a finish line may be a big part of what’s dragging us down right now.

The Reality We Must Face

The pandemic isn’t a race.

There is no finish line. Not really, and not in the way we want there to be one.

There won’t be a day when we will wake up, open a browser, and see a news story declaring that today is the day it’s over.

Anyone who tells you that the finish line exists is probably just trying to give you something to fuel your hope and bolster your motivation to push through the ongoing challenges.

“Just keep running. You’re almost there.”

It seems that we keep running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist. No wonder so many of us feel so tired.

I think about my daughter’s cross country race.

What would have happened if they kept moving the finish line? What if the kids were left to just keep running in circles with no immediate end in sight? After working through their initial confusion, I’m betting it wouldn’t be long before many of them just gave up and quit running as they got progressively more tired.

Does that sound familiar?

People everywhere are quitting their jobs, moving to new places, making relationship changes, and more. These are all different ways of quitting the race. We are tired of running towards a finish line that never appears. So, we are trying to create our own.

Running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist is breaking us.

This Isn’t a Race (There Is No Finish Line)

It’s time for a mindset shift. I know I’m working on mine.

The pandemic isn’t a race. Things are shifting daily, and even when it looks like it might be nearing the end, another variant or another virus could emerge and erase all the progress we’ve made.

There is no finish line.

Figuring out the “return to office” and future of work isn’t a race. There is no singular right answer because even if you create the perfect plan and get it rolled out, something will change and disrupt the balance again.

There is no finish line.

We must learn to embrace the reality that we aren’t in a race; we are on a journey. Along this journey, everything is constantly changing.

Rather than try to “endure it” as we would the pain of a race, we must instead adapt and respond to it in a way that helps us find success and happiness.

What Is Helpful Now?

The idea of a finish line also implies that there’s a “new normal” on the other side of it. This leads us to believe that things will settle down and be somehow better when we get there.

It’s a mirage.

When we let go of the illusion of the finish line, we can stop waiting for it. Instead, we can start asking different questions and focusing on what we can do today to make things better.

Admittedly, this is no easy task. Whether you are trying to tackle this personally or figure it out for your organization, there are few easy and clear answers.

Here are a few things to consider as you chart a new path forward on this journey.

We need to take better care of ourselves and each other.

Living with constant change and uncertainty is hard. It’s okay to admit that this is challenging. And it’s frustrating that we can’t control what’s going to happen to us or around us.

The thing we do have some control over is how well we care for our well-being and that of those around us. Our well-being fuels our ability to show up and thrive regardless of the circumstances.

We don’t know how long this leg of the journey will be. We must take care of ourselves, to rest when we need it. No matter what lies ahead, if we are broken down and burned out, we will not be in any shape to meet it.

Focus on what is helpful right now.

A lot of plans made for this fall were built on an assumption that we’d be in the “post-pandemic” phase (i.e., we would be across the finish line). But that’s not what happened. And yet, I see many organizations (and people) trying to stay the course even when the finish line never appeared.

Instead of making plans for what happens “after the race,” we need to start embracing the reality that we have no idea when things will change again. So, let’s start asking a different question.

What would be most helpful right now?

This is a particularly helpful question when it comes to sorting out questions about where and when and how people should be allowed to work as we move forward. Debating if your organization is going to be an in-person or hybrid or remote workplace in the future may feel really important right now. But there’s a much more pressing question that should come first.

What do our people need right now to be able to do their best work in a way that supports their well-being?

If you focus on answering continually this question, you won’t need to worry as much about the future workplace question because you’ll answer it along the way. You’ll create whatever you need to support your people’s needs.

What Do You Think?

Are you feeling the drain of chasing a finish line that never seems to appear?

If so, how are you adapting? What are you finding helpful?

The journey is long and the road is winding. It’s not the end of the journey that should command our attention.

It’s traveling well.

We can do that together.

 

P.S. For those who are wondering, my daughter did great in her race. She ran better than she expected and learned a lot. She’s looking forward to her next race today. 🙂

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss
The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

While it’s been a long time since it first happened, I still remember the gravity of the responsibility I felt when first asked to supervise people at work. 

A manager has a profound impact not just on our experience at work but also on our life. When you get it wrong, there are real consequences for your people. 

How many times have you sat with friends and either complained or listened to someone complain about their boss? 

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

But the fear of being “that boss” can make it feel like you have to be perfect and not make any mistakes. And when you do make mistakes, it can feel risky to admit them.    

You are a complicated, emotional human being trying to manage other complicated, emotional human beings. That’s no easy task. 

You will make mistakes. 

One of the hardest things about being a manager is learning to balance that desire to avoid being a bad boss with the reality that mistakes are inevitable. 

The truth is that how we show up as a manager when we don’t get it right is just as important as getting it right in the first place.   

You Will Make Mistakes

After my burnout wake-up call last summer, one of the things I committed myself to as part of my well-being ritual was a daily meditation practice. 

One of the most powerful things you learn through meditation is to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the moment; awareness of how you feel; awareness of your thoughts. 

It sounds simple, but ask anyone who has tried—it’s much more challenging than it sounds. 

The benefit of cultivating this skill of awareness is that it allows you to be more present in your day-to-day experiences, allowing you to be more mindful of what you do and how you show up with others.  

One thing I learned right away about meditation is that you must let go of judgment in your practice. Mindful awareness isn’t natural for most of us, so meditation is a practice of trying and failing over and over again.

It can be easy to get frustrated if you don’t recognize that trying and failing is part of the learning. 

In nearly every guided meditation I’ve done, early on you will hear something like this:

“You may notice at some point that your mind has wandered and you’re lost in thought. That’s okay. It’s normal. Once you notice, just return to where you started and begin again.”

No judgment. 

Just validation that it happens and an invitation to return to your intentions and give it another shot. That’s the practice. 

Begin Again

As a manager, if your goal is to help others to do their best at work, support their well-being, and advance in their career, it will be challenging work. 

Managing is only easy when you’re doing it wrong. 

Becoming a good manager is like learning meditation. It’s not natural for most of us, so it requires lots of practice. And as you practice, you’re going to make mistakes.  

The list of mistakes I’ve made in my management career is long enough to be a book of its own. The goal isn’t to eliminate mistakes. They’re inevitable.

The goal is to cultivate an awareness of your actions as a manager so that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.  

When you say the wrong thing. Or you shut down an idea before you’ve heard the person out. Or you avoid a hard conversation. Or you fail to set clear expectations.  

It’s what you do when you make mistakes that matters. This is where meditation guidance is valuable. 

  1. Recognize you’ve made a mistake. 
  2. Don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. It’s a natural part of the job. 
  3. Acknowledge your mistake. Apologize to the person if it’s warranted. 
  4. Remind yourself of your intention to be a good manager and what you learned through this mistake. 
  5. Begin again. 

Every time you do this, you’re not only becoming more skilled as a manager, but you’re also building trust with your team. When people know you will own up to your mistakes and make things right, it amplifies trust. 

Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t be afraid of them; embrace them and turn them into progress.

 

Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives

Sign about burnout that says things will be fine
The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me
The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you were likely along for the ride last summer as I wrote about facing burnout for the first time and working my way through it.

Your responses to those posts reminded me how important it is to “show our work” as humans. Particularly in a world where it’s so tempting to curate a finely crafted version of ourselves on social media that signals to others how much we have everything under control. 

And some people do. But most of us don’t. 

Behind the curated picture is a messy reality of joy, struggle, success, and failure, all mixed together. Sometimes, things are great. Other times they suck. And then there are those that are…meh. 

We get into trouble when we stop paying attention and being honest about where we truly are. It’s when we get washed away by our circumstances and forget to care for ourselves that bad things often occur. 

2020 was rough. 2021 hasn’t been any better thus far—and it’s going to be a while before that changes. That means that we (you, me, your family, your employees) are all likely facing some challenging stuff, even if we’re projecting an aura of “everything’s fine.” 

In the past few days, signs that things are not okay have been showing up all around me. 

A friend revealed she’s fighting depression. I’d talked to her recently and she seemed to be doing well, but that wasn’t the reality. This diagnosis was even a surprise to her. Mental health is tricky and dangerous that way. 

Another friend shared that she’s struggling with some issues on her team that she’s never experienced before. Trust and communication issues are popping up like a whack-a-mole game. She’s always maintained a healthy culture with her team, but people are raw. 

And then, an article came across my radar today about “hitting the COVID wall.” As I read it, it sounds a lot like “hitting the wall” is another word for burnout. Regardless, people seem to be succumbing to the circumstances. 

If we are to be compassionate leaders, we must be aware of the challenges and help support our people both in practicing self-care and throwing them a lifeline when they get swallowed up by it all. 

And, just as importantly, we need to take care of ourselves. If we aren’t whole and well, it’s really tough to support others in doing so. 

To that end, I wanted to share with you what I’ve been practicing for self-care to keep myself in a good place and prevent the burnout I experienced last summer. Before I do, a disclaimer:  

These work for me—that’s all I know for certain. It’s not meant as a definitive prescription but rather as inspiration for your own self-care practice or that of your team. 

Self-Care Practices to Beat Burnout

While I know a lot is said about how silly New Year’s resolutions are because people rarely follow through, I find the turn of the new year to be a powerful opportunity to punch the reset button. It’s a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean and recommit to what’s important. And that’s what I did this year.  

While nothing I’m doing now is new to me, per se, the way that I’m approaching it is. I’m keeping a simple daily journey where I essentially record my progress each day. Mainly, it’s a practice of self-accountability. 

1. Meditation

For years, I avoided even trying meditation because it sounded intimidating and complicated. But a few years ago, based on the urgings from a friend, I decided to try it. I discovered that it doesn’t have to be hard and is really valuable. 

Despite that, I’ve not been consistent about my practice. I’d do it regularly for a while and then stop. For 2021, I’ve committed to meditating each day, and it’s having a profound impact. 

Most simply, meditation is about cultivating greater awareness—awareness of both the world around you and how you respond to it.

Cultivating this awareness helps you stay in touch with what’s going on inside your head and heart. This, in turn, equips you to take action when needed. Meditation isn’t an end-all, but it’s powerful. 

If you aren’t sure where to start, there are some great apps to help you.  I’ve used both Headspace and Calm in the past. Currently, I’m using the Ten Percent Happier app. All of them are good, and they all have free programs to help you get started. All you need is the app and a little bit of quiet space to give it a try.  

2. Exercise 

In full transparency, I never stopped exercising even before my burnout. So, exercise alone isn’t an adequate self-care practice. I used to think it was. But, exercise for me is critical. 

And it’s been challenging at times during the pandemic to keep this commitment. A few months before all of this started last year, I’d become a member at Orangetheory, a group workout gym, and I loved it. But just as I was getting into the groove of it, it was taken away. 

As a runner, I turned to running and for the summer months, I ran a lot. But then, plantar fasciitis struck, and I’ve not been able to run for months. There are always roadblocks to getting more exercise, but there is always a way. 

When Orangetheory closed, they started publishing at-home workout videos. I’d never worked out to a video in my life but quickly discovered you could get a great workout at home if you open your mind a bit. 

We also decided to invest in a treadmill late summer so that even as the winter months closed in and the temps dropped, we could still run (or walk, in my case right now). There’s always a way to keep active. 

3. Diet

I’m a stress eater and drinker. When things are strained, nothing sounds more appealing to me than a pizza and a few beers. When I eat and drink like this, my sleep suffers. Then I get progressively more tired. 

When I’m tired, I crave carbohydrates and foods that aren’t great for my body. When I eat those, I don’t feel great, and I find it hard to do my best work. That leads to more stress, which leads to more poor eating and drinking.  

It’s become a common joke of the times to talk about your “COVID 19,” the weight gain many of us have added since the pandemic began. Mine was a COVID 17. I came out of my burnout and into 2021 weighing more than I had in years. This didn’t feel good at all, so I decided that I needed to control what I could. 

I know how to eat healthily. So, I made that change. I also cut way back on my alcohol consumption. While I can’t claim a dry January, I was close. As a result, my sleep is better, which makes it easier to control my eating and drinking. 

And, I feel better and stronger than I have in years. The COVID 17 is nearly gone. 

4. Clear Out The “Psychic Baggage”

Before you think I’ve lost it, let me explain what I mean by “psychic baggage.” One of the things I noticed coming into 2021 (perhaps due to more meditation) was that there were many things on my mind that required me to take some action but that I wasn’t doing anything about. 

One was a conversation with my son. Another was a relationship check-in with my wife. Several were as simple as emails sitting in my email box waiting on a reply. For one reason or another, I’d been putting all of these things off. And I realized that by doing so, they were occupying space in my mind that couldn’t be used for anything else. 

It was psychic baggage that I was unnecessary carrying around. And the weight of it was undoubtedly having an effect. So, I decided to start clearing it out. 

At first, I had to deal with the backlog. It was like moving through a checklist; but with every checkmark I added, I felt lighter. Eventually, I arrived at a place where I finished my initial list. The work now is not to pick up any new baggage. The mindfulness of meditation helps a lot with this. 

This practice is really about asking yourself, “what am I putting off that’s weighing on me right now?” This is a great journaling prompt (another thing I’ve been doing weekly). Once you identify your baggage, step into it and do what needs to be done to put it down. That doesn’t mean you need to solve the issue, necessarily—it just means that you take the next step. 

5. Self-compassion

Last but certainly not least is practicing what I preach on myself. I’ve written about the importance of compassion as a leader this year. That needs to first extend to ourselves. It’s about realizing that we are also struggling and won’t always get it right.

For me, this has been important. Despite my goal to not drink alcohol for the first two weeks of the year, watching the events of January 6 unfold on television derailed me. Self-compassion allowed me to extend care and forgiveness to myself, cut myself some slack, and start the next day anew.

We can’t always get it right. We are imperfect. But, we are worth the same care and concern we offer others. Be kind to yourself. When things don’t go well, forgive yourself and reconnect to your intentions. Then give it another go.  

The Key to Beating Burnout 

Wellbeing is a topic you’ll be hearing a lot about from me this year. If there’s one thing the pandemic has made crystal clear, it’s that we need to do a much better job caring for our people and ourselves.  

In the modern era of work, human beings are the mechanisms of production in the ways machines were to the industrial era. And while I know that sounds sort of harsh when put into words, it’s true. It’s our intellect, creativity, willpower, and motivation that drives our organizations. 

In the context of work, wellbeing is the degree to which we, as human beings, are able to offer our best contributions. It’s care and maintenance. And without it, we can never optimize engagement or performance. 

It’s also the degree to which we can offer our best contributions across all aspects of our lives. While many innovations will impact work in the future, none is more important than the progress we can make related to wellbeing.  

The best way to learn is to start with yourself. Experiment with self-care and learn what works for you. Then share your story with others as both inspiration and to act as a role model. 

 

Mark your calendar:

  • March 11, 2-3 p.m. ET – My What’s nEXt webcast in March will feature Mettie Spiess for a conversation about what progress we are making on supporting mental health at work (and what more we need to be doing). 
  • March 31, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. ETWellbeing 2021 – Humanity Comes to Work. This is a day-long virtual event I’m producing with AchieveEngagement and WELCOA that you won’t want to miss.