t’s been a journey for me to understand how I show up at work and a home for the last few years. Sometimes I’m successful in understanding, sometimes not. This is a departure from my early career, where I spent most of my time ''looking out'' rather than ''looking in''.
There is something different about humans who can take on complex jobs with lots of responsibility where others rely on you. Maybe you are an executive of an organization or a parent—both big jobs. You are responsible for leading. People count on you, and how you show up matters. You can take a room from sad and low energy to fired up and ready to go. You can also do the opposite. They are watching you. Be aware that your moods, words, and actions matter.
Over the last few months, I've gained some additional insight on showing up and thought I'd share it. For some reason, I still feel obligated to clarify that I don't get this right as much as I'd like.
When you want to quit, don't
It is getting harder. The weight is bearing down. You feel like you can't control what is happening. You don't think you can handle what is being asked of you. That is stress.
This is our internal dialogue on our ability to handle a situation. The good news, it's 100% you. Others may add to it, but stress is your reaction. This is true whether bullets are flying, babies are crying, or payroll is short. It's in your head.
The most dangerous thing about stress is what it does to our judgment. It clouds how we see the world, and we start telling ourselves stories.
I can't. I'll fail. I'll die.
Now we are misusing our imagination about monsters that may or may not be up ahead.
Stress is fear. Fear is perception.
Stress is your reaction. This is true whether bullets are flying, babies are crying, or payroll is short. It's in your head.
When walking in the forest during the day, you see everything. You see every tree, every bird, and detail—all in color and three dimensions.
As night comes, you start to lose clarity. The world flattens. You aren't sure what you see ahead. Is it a tree? A bush? A monster? This self-induced state, stress, takes us from day to night, from clear skies to cloudy. The fog rolls in, and we don’t realize it.
When the fog of stress comes, our focus changes. We don't see the trees for what they are, trees. They aren't monsters. We don't slow down to ask questions of ourselves or others. Our judgment gets worse. Things spiral as we keep spinning stories. Worse yet, it starts spreading to our people.
Clarity is understanding reality.
Be In Charge, Of You
None of this is easy. Life is hard. Our jobs are complex. And there is unknown.
General George Marshall was responsible for the US Army in WWII. Can you imagine the pressure? The stress? The never-ending wave of problems? Political, logistical, economic, and all the others. Then Pearl Harbor happens, and suddenly he has two wars. People are dying. Then his people die. Then his son dies. He keeps going.
General Marshall had to show up each day and get to work. Three things struck me:
Self Care: While selfless, he made time for himself. He found time to recharge, whether it wa reading, walking, or horseback riding.
Show Up...Well: He was a listener and asked questions. He was also tenacious, committed, fierce, AND selfless. It wasn't about him. He had to show up for the world. He was able to understand the perspective of those around him and what they needed.
Share: He shared the pressure with those closest to him. He told them when it was hard. He could lean on people. He was private, but he didn't try to do it alone.
When it gets more challenging, we try to work harder. That rarely works. Give yourself space. Go to sleep instead of answering more emails. They will be there in the morning. Go after it when you are rested. Sleep is an incredible tool to help remove the fog. Better sleep means you can see the path.
Exercise. Eat right. Sleep. Or do whatever it is that helps you remove the fog. Whatever you do, take care of yourself to take care of others.
Nothing is permanent; we will get through this too.
In Calm, There is Strength
Chancellor Merkel has this quote on her desk: "In calm, there is strength."
Whether we have the weight that she carried or are trying not to fail at being a parent, slow down. Work to see what is happening. Is it as bad as you think? How many other times has it been this bad, but it works out? What can you control? How are you misusing your imagination? What is the next right thing you can do?
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast
1. Self-care, every day
2. Stress is a perception
3. Slow Down - Respond, don't react
PS: When you think you can't control it, you might not. That's okay. Focus on what you can. And when you think you can't, you probably can. Do the next right thing. Every day is new.
Just talking through this here:
I'll leave you with a few words from others:
It’s only after you’re bored you have the great ideas. It’s never going to be when you’re stressed, or busy, running around or rushed. Make the time. -Naval Ravikant
Pay closer attention by slowing down. -Tara Brach
Asking for help is a power move. It’s a sign of strength to ask and a sign of strength to fight off judgment when other people raise their hands. It reflects a self-awareness that is an essential element in braving trust. - Brene Brown
Take care out there. And take care in there. - Kelly
PS: Recently, I shared my list for handling hard situations. It starts with ''Focus on what you can control.'' I also shared the four responsibilities of a leader related to the mission: clarity, alignment, resources, and inspiration.
We got up early. Found calm.