When Great isn’t Good Enough

Even when we create miracles, sometimes the people who have asked for them aren’t able to receive them.

Life can be like that. And it’s frustrating. And somehow nearly amusing.

The smile hasn’t left my face in over an hour. It is an odd reaction, really, having just learned my major client will no longer be in need of my services.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Need and ability are too different things.

The client is no longer able to be in need of my services.

Despite the miracles created. Despite the level of effort. Despite the best foot put forward. Over. And over. And over again.

blueberrypieMy mama never told me life could be like that. She alluded to it with the “Did I ever say life was fair?” adage. But if you tried really hard, knocked things out of the park, did your very, very best, people were bound to reward you for it, right?

It turns out life is not about fairness at all. It is about the events and the moments to which we respond.

And my response is this:

Causality in this instance is misleading. You may do exactly what people ask and then they change their minds. Just like that. You did not cause their reaction. Something else did. And there you stand holding a steaming hot pie, that you thought might be blueberry, wafting a delicious aroma throughout the room that suddenly no one wants. Even though you strapped on your boots and hiked to the Andes to retrieve the berries. And then harvested the wheat to make flour until your hands bled. And ground the flax seeds until they turned to oil. And chopped down a tree to fire up the wood stove. And bent the iron cast to shape it into a pie form.

And you baked it and tended to it and stood proudly as it bubbled syrupy to the top.

The pie is burning my hands now. And yet my smile lingers, as if an inner knowing said: “You’ve been set free. You never wanted to be a baker anyway.”

When great isn’t good enough. Yes, life can be just like that.

Fear in Moderation

Fear is a tricky human emotion. It can paralyze you. It can keep you from your dreams. It can keep you small.

It can also keep you safe.

Fear can be your friend in just the right doses, but too much of it can kill you.

My friend explained to me how she recently used her fear to confront an abusive boss. Her workplace situation had gotten to the point of anguish so, despite her fear (or because of it), she knew something had to change. So she gathered up her fear and took it with her into the meeting. Her body shook, her knees grew weak, but her resolve remained unshaken.

Fear tells us we are in danger. But oftentimes it is imagined, not real. My friend managed to stake her ground and defend herself in a bad work environment. Her fear informed her that something wasn’t right. And after her meeting, the fear went away completely and she realized it was a lot easier to have that conversation than she thought.

Therein lies the clue. We often think things are going to be hard and then are pleasantly surprised when they are not.

Stress, for instance, is a subjective thing. Unless we are talking about physical strain, stress is typically induced by our thoughts about what is happening. It isn’t the actual event itself that incurs the feeling of stress. It is our thinking behind it that does.

Stress is fear-based. We worry that things won’t turn out, that what is unfolding is somehow not right. So we take action — or not. Depending on how we respond to things, we are either more stressed or we go into a full release, allowing things to occur just as they might.

I prefer the latter. Releasing takes off the pressure, allows fear to go home and for possibility to take root in even the most difficult situations.

Love your fear. That’s all it needs. It only grows when you let it consume you and that usually happens when we forget how helpful our fear is trying to be. It really wants our best, however irrational it sometimes is.

Fear can be a very good thing indeed. It has its place – in moderation, of course!

 

The Progress Principle

Being at a standstill can be the most frustrating experience for a recovering speedaholic like myself. Although I know there is power in slow, there are moments when setbacks make it feel like the world is going to end.

Apparently, I am not alone in this. According to Harvard’s Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, setbacks are one of the major causes of ennui and disengagement amongst workers.

People need to feel they are moving forward with things, even if it is slow-going.


Collaboration helps. According to the authors, deep engagement and creativity stems from a collaborative work setting in which you don’t feel alone. I know I always feel better when my team is sharing the burden of the work, not just me.

Real progress triggers positive emotions like satisfaction, gladness, even joy. It leads to a sense of accomplishmnet and self-worth as well as positive views of the work and, sometimes, the organization. (page 68)

Poor managers forget the importance of giving meaning to the work people are doing. In fact, most still think people are motivated mostly by extrinsic rewards such as higher pay, bonuses or other benefits. People are actually more accutely motivated by a positive inner work life; that is, when they feel they are contributing to something greater than themselves, feel recognized for it and can have fun while doing it.

The book outlines four ways to negate meaning:

  1. Dismiss a person’s work.
  2. Take away ownership from the person.
  3. Doubt that the work will ever come to fruition.
  4. Menial tasks for which the worker is overqualified.

The progress loop, on the other hand, requires, well, progress, a feeling that you are getting somewhere and that your efforts are meaningful. That fosters a more positive inner work life, which, in turn, contributes to more progress and so on.

Setbacks are the major progress killer, leading to negative emotions and disengagement.

Great leaders are catalysts for positive change or even emotional nourishers.They recognize the human component and its importance in their organization.

Never underestimate the power of sincere acknowledgement. If someone in your life is doing something you appreciate, tell that person. It’s amazing how you will rock their world with your words.

The human connection is so valuable in our lives. If you feel disconnected from your job, consider how you might measure some progress in it. Reach out to a colleague. Exchange ideas. It can take you out of that vicious cycle into a virtuous one with more joy than you can imagine.

Tell Me What Pet You Own and I’ll Tell You Your Future

Did you know workers with dogs are more likely to hold senior management positions and that those with snakes and other reptiles most often reported having a six-figure income?

I swear I’m not making this up.

CareerBuilder, a constant source of creative workplace data, conducted a survey that examined pet ownership in relation to chosen profession, compensation and job satisfaction.  The nationwide survey was conducted between August 17 and September 22, 2010 and included more than 2,300 workers with pets.

 

Key findings include:

 

•Workers with dogs were more likely to report holding senior management positions (CEO, CFO, Senior Vice President, etc…) •Workers with snakes/reptiles were the most likely to report earning six figures.

•Workers with birds were the most likely to report being satisfied with their jobs.

In terms of career paths, owners of certain pets were more likely to report being drawn to certain professions:

•Dog owners were more likely to be professors, nurses, information technology professionals, military professionals and entertainers

•Cat owners were more likely to be physicians, real estate agents, science/medical lab technicians, machine operators and personal caretakers

•Fish owners were more likely to be human resources professionals, financial professionals, hotel and leisure professionals, farming/fishing/forestry professionals and transportation professionals

•Bird owners were more likely to be advertising professionals, sales representatives, construction workers and administrative professionals

•Snake/reptile owners were more likely to be engineers, social workers, marketing/public relations professionals, editors/writers and police officers

Okay, so we have two guinea pigs and are soon to add two rabbits to our household. Where exactly does “rodent” fit into the ladder of our success?

Whatever the pet, it’s proven to have a soothing effect. So if you’re living the rush-rush life, look into getting an animal to share some of your time. Truth be told, animals always go at their God-given pace.

Why shouldn’t we?

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,301 U.S. workers with pets (employed full-time; not self-employed; both government and non-government) ages 18 and over between August 17 and September 2, 2010 (percentages for some questions are based on a subset, based on their responses to certain questions). With a pure probability sample of 2,301 one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 2.04 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.

 

About CareerBuilder®

CareerBuilder is the global leader in human capital solutions, helping companies target and attract their most important asset – their people. Its online career site, CareerBuilder.com®, is the largest in the United States with more than 23 million unique visitors, 1 million jobs and 32 million resumes. CareerBuilder works with the world’s top employers, providing resources for everything from employment branding and data analysis to recruitment support. More than 9,000 websites, including 140 newspapers and broadband portals such as MSN and AOL, feature CareerBuilder’s proprietary job search technology on their career sites. Owned by Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE:GCI), Tribune Company, The McClatchy Company (NYSE:MNI) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), CareerBuilder and its subsidiaries operate in the United States, Europe, Canada and Asia. For more information, visit www.careerbuilder.com.

WATERFALLS © Robert Bialota | Dreamstime.com

Recessionary Health Benefits

WATERFALLS © Robert Bialota | Dreamstime.com

According to a new CareerBuilder survey, the recession has had a lot of people reviewing their habits and turning toward a healthier lifestyle.

Forty-seven percent of workers report they have been packing a lunch more often to eat healthier or help save money. As for smoking, 44 percent of workers who smoke said they are more likely to quit smoking given today’s economic conditions. In addition, one-in-five said that they have decreased the number of times they smoke during the work day (21 percent) or actually quit altogether (20 percent).

The CareerBuilder survey was conducted among more than 4,400 workers between May 18 and June 3, 2010.

The downside I have seen is that people are taking less time to eat lunch. Instead of resting, many people are utilizing their lunch hour to run around like a mad person. While I agree with the 10% that opted to walk on their lunch break, 16% chose to work through it.

Nearly one-third (32 percent) report they take less than a half hour for lunch, while 5 percent take less than 15 minutes. Ten percent never take a lunch break! Nearly one-in-five (18 percent) typically don’t leave their desks during their lunch break and eat in their workspace 5 days a week.

So while people are smoking less, they are taking fewer breaks as well. The ultimate health benefit to scaling back is when we realize the only way to sustain our energy throughout the day is to take a reasonable amount of time to slow down.

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Friday-Free Summer Days

Do you work less during the summertime? Take this poll to see where you land on the spectrum of slow summer days!

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What is productivity anyway?

Productivity is a term with deep implications in Western society. If we obtain it, we are considered successful. If we don’t, we are not. While writing my book, The Power of Slow, I examined why we do the things we do such as obsessive email checking or excessive television consumption. It’s not particularly productive, nor does it add to our well-being. Why do we spend so much time with our gadgets in a virtual realm of connectivity? We ignore the people standing right beside us, interrupt them when our phones ring, and talk more animatedly into a headset than to our fellow peers in the next cubicle. In effect, we waste the units in our personal bank account of time, often engaging in useless activity.

Where are our manners? Where is our mindfulness for ourselves and others? We are in danger of becoming drones in a drama of our own making. We need to act fast in order to slow down.

The amazing thing about letting go of our perceived control over things is that miracles unfurl the moment you create the space for them to appear. We often hang on too tightly, pushing possibility to the farthest corner of the room. When we unplug, we allow an opening of light to seep through our homemade darkness.

During the early stages of writing the book, I unplugged for two weeks without Internet access. I gathered up my family, who had already begun showing signs of book fatigue by late August, and took them to the Adriatic coast in Italy for some fun in the sun. Saddled down with seven books, I had read and highlighted every single one by the last day of vacation. In fact, I was so relaxed, I began to have ideas I never would have had if I were sitting in front of my computer.

Living the slow, I strolled along the pool one day when it hit me. I could actually hear the sound of my own flip flops as they slapped my heels in rhythm to the burbling water before me. Inspired, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few ideas about walking speed and the pace of life. The flip-flop principle of checking how fast we walk by noting the speed of the slap was born. Many more ideas followed in rapid succession. In fact, the modernized fable of the unplugged tortoise and the online hare hat later became the prologue arrived right on time as I banged out chapter after chapter while sitting in a hotel room in Budapest.

The beauty of the Internet is a writer’s ability to work and live virtually anywhere. With this malleability comes the danger, not just for writers, but for any transient worker, of an unabashed, hyperconnectivity that zaps our life force for all its worth. Admittedly, I had one media interview (ironically about slow living) while in Italy, and a client call while in Budapest. These minor distractions reminded me that there is a world waiting for us all whenever we choose to visit, but that how we live now is all there truly is.

When E-mail kills…

My dear friend Guy sent me a link to a story on InternetNews the other day. It addressed the spate of suicides and suicide attempts at France Telecom (a key brand of Orange) in the last year (22 with 13 attempts).  The CFO of the company, Gervais Pellissier, admitted that 24/7 connectivity, thanks to contemporary hand-held devices, has increased employee stress levels exponentially. The very telecommunications industry that spawned our hyperconnectivity is the very one to meet its own demise.

“When you were an average employee in a big corporation 15 years ago, you had no mobile phone or no PC at home. When you were back home, work was out,” he said.

orangeWork was out. Done. Finished. And now people are finishing themselves off as they realize twenty-four hours a day is not enough. Somewhere along the line, people forgot that every business is comprised of people, not just machines.

I claim we have an abundance of time, but we need the heads of corporations, such as France Telecom, to realize there is also a limit to our availability. Just because I have 24 hours a day doesn’t mean the company owns it all.

Ironically, France has the most vacation days in the world. Yet people are ill-equipped to handle the expectations our 24/7 world has placed upon them. We need to return to a state of civility and normalcy in which our time-off is our own.

Just because we can answer the phone at midnight doesn’t mean we have to. I plead for more sanity in our workplace.

Enough is enough.

Work-Life Nation: Success, Serenity and Significance 24/7

Take five minutes to watch this incredible report by Judy Martin on the new workplace. It’s a stellar reminder of how many possibilities we have to live the power of slow in all we do with flexibility, trust and a value system in place.

Create the opening

Mini-vacations are the best. You unplug for a few days and race back to your everyday life with a sense of renewal. You’re gone long enough to appreciate your work without being overwhelmed by it.

This past Easter weekend was one such weekend. The weather was amazingly warm and inviting. We spent hours upon hours outdoors, barbequed, drank great German beer, and soaked up the long-awaited sunshine.

hammockReturning to work today, I was more productive in one afternoon than I had been all last week. People called to reconnect, reporters responded in a timely fashion, and it seemed we all benefited from a little time off.

 Create the opening, then walk through it.

The power of slow has once again proven its worth!