Archive for May, 2008

Overworked? Share the Pain

I was at an event the other night and struck up a conversation with “Michelle” who was looking stressed and a little exhausted. She told me she’s been regularly working 65+ hours per week—she was not happy about it.

When I asked her why she was working so many hours, she said they just keep giving her more work. I could tell right away that Michelle was the glue person at work. The one who stays late, gets things done, doesn’t complain too loudly and generally holds everything together. The problem with the glue person is that they tend to fall apart (pun intended).  

I have this theory. Humans won’t substantially change their behavior unless they feel some degree of pain. I explained to her that while she’s in “pain” in terms of how many hours she’s working, no one else at her work is feeling that pain. Even though she is telling her superiors she’s too busy, they are not directly feeling the pain of her workload. Hence, they aren’t highly motivated to act. This doesn’t make Michelle’s superiors evil, they simply aren’t uncomfortable enough to make alleviating Michelle’s workload a priority. Simple human nature.

Instead of continuing to absorb an unsustainable workload (or burn out, or quit) Michelle’s new mission is to share the pain. Once her bosses feel some of the pain—which could come in the form of missed deadlines, customer complaints, or simply having to spend more time helping her prioritize—they will become more motivated to make a change. Her pain will now be their pain. My favorite tool for doing this is called—well, I don’t have a fancy name for it, but here’s how it works. The next time Michelle’s bosses assign her a new project, she says:

“Sure, I’m happy to work on that. I have these 6 other projects I’m working on, so if I take this one, two others will need to move out of my queue. Which ones would you like to move?”

This strategy is brilliant on so many levels:

  • Michelle still appears to be a team player by demonstrating willingness to take on new projects.
  • She now can decide how many projects she can do within reasonable working hours.
  • Her bosses get to choose what they want her to be working on making it hard for them to argue with the line she’s drawn.
  • Michelle’s bosses now clearly understand what will not get done (feeling her pain!) and are placed in the position to have to deal it.
  • By the same token, if something slips through the cracks, Michelle is not to blame because everyone has agreed upon the priorities.
  • Michelle is no longer resentful because she’s now actively managing her workload (and her superiors).

The key to making this work is to stop working so much. If you try this, you might have thoughts come up like I should be handling all this or I’m letting people down. Question the truth of these thoughts—who are you really letting down if you keep working like this? How much longer will you last? How is the quality of your work? How’s the rest of your life going? Exactly. Work through those thoughts and hold the line. Then enjoy your newfound free time and plucky attitude.


May 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm 2 comments

Are you destined to live in a van by the river?

I just had to share this awesome post from Martha Beck’s blog. Pam Slim (Martha’s lead blogger and prominent blogger in her own right) breaks down what Martha calls our “lizard” fears. These are the tapes we constantly play in our minds. The greatest hits of our lizard fears go something like this:

“I’ll never fall in love.”
“I’m going to be a bag lady.”
“I’ll never succeed.”
“I never get what I really want.”
“I’m not good enough.”

Any of these sound familiar? Pam does a great job of explaining where these fears come from and how to quiet your own inner lizard. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post and check out the hilarious vintage Saturday Night Live video of Chris Farley playing Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. Priceless.

Read the post >

May 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm Leave a comment

Remember who you ARE


My mom (my original life coach) is, to state it plainly, badass. She taught me what it is to be a strong, loving woman in this world. Even though I’m a “grown-up”, I freely admit that when the chips are down, I call Mom. Here’s a story about one of those times.

I was working for a startup on a shoestring budget and my job was to spend this treasured budget to acquire new customers. I came to dread the Tuesday marketing meetings where I would be relentlessly questioned by the CEO about the latest numbers, strategies and tactics. I would stammer answers and feel incredibly defensive and victimized by his “attacks.” I wanted to quit, but since I didn’t have another job to go to, I felt stuck.

I called Mom. I told her my tale of woe and mistreatment over lunch. I noticed she was looking at me like, “who are you?” She was frankly a little mystified that her strong, talented and extremely capable daughter was allowing herself to feel attacked by anyone. It was then that she looked me right in the eye and from a place of complete love and belief in me, delivered a message from the core of her being right into mine:

Remember who you ARE.

Whoa. I felt like I snapped back into myself. My response was, “Oh YEAH.” I immediately calmed down and was able to see the situation from a completely different perspective.

I hadn’t been speaking up because I was afraid of getting in trouble or getting fired. I realized that by not speaking, I was creating a worse-feeling situation than getting fired. I had nothing to lose by not speaking up and that I certainly was not going to allow someone to bully me in a meeting. I also realized the CEO was stressed because he was on the hook for the company’s success and I just happened to be in charge of one of the major outgoing expenses. His intensity on the topic was a reflection of his level of stress; it had nothing to do with me.

Tuesday rolled around and I was much calmer. The intensity ramped up as the CEO leaned toward me and asked the usual questions. Then, I did something different. I leaned toward him and appropriately but strongly reminded him of the importance of keeping a civil tone in meetings. (The body language of the other meeting attendees would’ve been hilarious if the situation wasn’t so charged—they all looked like they wanted to bail out through a trapdoor in the floor.) An amazing thing happened—he immediately sat back and calmed down. It seemed as if he too had forgotten who he was. Later we met privately and were able to have a very open conversation about how to better communicate.

I still left that job—this was the beginning of my own career transition—but I was able to leave on very amicable terms with the CEO and more importantly, with my self esteem intact.

On this Mother’s Day, I would like to say thanks Mom for making sure that I remember who I am and for providing a loving reminder when I seem to forget.

May 11, 2008 at 9:10 am 2 comments

You hate your job–could the problem be YOU?

back at yaYour job is the worst. You have to work way too much, your boss thinks you’re stupid, you hate the commute, and the latest corporate initiative du jour makes you want to commit hara-kiri in your cube.

I’m going to introduce a dramatic concept—YOU are the problem. This is actually great news. This means that you have the complete power to change your workday experience without one thing around you changing. By the same token, if you wait for everything and everyone at work to behave perfectly before you decide to be happy, you’re in for one hell of a long wait.

Here are 3 tips for taking control of you—and your career.

Judge your co-worker, judge yourself
Notice how many times a day you judge your co-workers—it could be anything from thinking that Fred eats too many doughnuts, to being annoyed by Missy the brown-noser, to chafing at your CEO’s indecisiveness.

Ever heard of “spot it, you got it?” It means that when you spot an annoying quality in someone else, it’s because that quality is acting as a mirror to something you dislike within yourself. It could be Fred’s doughnut-feasting abandon annoys because you don’t allow yourself any treats without feeling incredibly guilty. Perhaps Missy makes you wish you were as outgoing and friendly. And maybe you use the CEO’s indecisiveness to talk yourself out of acting on your own bold ideas. The best way to prevent your co-workers from annoying you? Spot their behavior and figure out what it’s telling you about yourself. You’ll realize it’s not your co-workers’ mission in life to annoy you and you may even treat them with more compassion. (Which may change the way they interact with you—I’m just saying.)

Who are you trying to please?
Why are you working so many hours? Why do you always have to do an A+ job? What if all your emails and voice mails don’t get answered? What happens if the project isn’t done on time? If you are attempting to please someone other than yourself, then these questions have your heart hammering.

These questions may trigger thoughts like:

  • I have to respond to all of these emails so people think I’m on top of it.
  • I need to be online at 10 p.m. because my boss is.
  • I’m the only one who can herd all the cats to keep this project going. If it fails, it’s my fault.
  • If I do less than an A+ job, others won’t view me as an outstanding achiever.

While these thoughts may feel like absolute fact, they are not. These are subjective thoughts about a given situation, and you can change them. Want to reduce your stress and aggravation? Change how you’re thinking about work. This doesn’t mean just think “happy thoughts” no matter what; it means thinking about your job in a way that puts you firmly in control.

Here are some new thoughts you could try on:

  • Responding to emails or not bears no reflection on my capabilities.
  • Just because my boss is a workaholic doesn’t require me to be.
  • Am I really the only one that is keeping this project afloat? What does that say about everyone else involved? Am I really that important? Is everyone else really that incapable? Does the project have to be done 100% my way?
  • If I do a B- job, most people won’t even notice and I’ll be much happier and have more quality time to spend with my family.
  • Doing a B- job at work means doing an A+ job in my life.

Do you really HAVE to do that?
Pay attention to how many times a day you tell yourself you “have to” do something. This is a lie. Every task without exception is a choice (ok, except breathing and other autonomic body functions). You may do some tasks because you don’t want to get fired, have your car repossessed, or have your lights turned off, but the fact remains these are choices you’re making. Instead of feeling victimized by your have-to’s, take back your power and actively choose what you will and won’t do. Ask yourself what the consequences of not doing that action would be and if you can live with them; don’t do it. Test the boundaries at work—what could you really get away with not doing?

Each of these three tips requires you to step back and examine your thoughts and assumptions about who you work with, why you’re working the way you do, and what you really want to accomplish. The beauty is that all of these things can be controlled and changed solely by you without anything else at work changing. This may not be your ultimate job and your workplace may be truly toxic, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel like a victim. Employing these three tips consistently will make you feel better no matter what the circumstances—and isn’t that what it’s all about?

May 5, 2008 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

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