2017 has been quite a year. From the seemingly volatile political climate, to the ousting of prominent sexual predators, to the repeated poundings by mother nature, unless you've been living under a rock it's likely you've been personally "rocked" in one way or another. Whether you want to believe it or not, macroeconomic shifts have a special way of creeping into our daily lives; and before we know it can leave us off-kilter, wildly obsessive, and confused as to what really matters.
Over a decade ago, one New Year's Eve, I pulled together a list of "life affirmations" (allegedly after two glasses of champs). The goal of the exercise was to benchmark my progress as a human, while pushing the "reset" button in terms of areas that needed attention. This has become an annual tradition, and while it's generally been a humbling experience is also a good reminder of who I really want to be in the world when all of the demands and noise subside.
While affirmations are certainly useful for one's personal life, I think it's also important to understand how they play into a work setting, since many of us spend a tremendous amount of time dedicated to our careers. Truth is, when we ignore ourselves and prioritize everything and everyone else, we usually end up a big pile of messiness on the floor.
Below are my top 5 affirmations for life that can be applied to your career, along with insights from a few "silence breakers" I know...all of whom seek that delicate balance of doing what matters while being who matters.
Let's make 2018 one for the record books in a positive, healthy way. Shall we?
#1 - I will never again over-give as a way to prove my value to someone.
What does this look like at work? Generally speaking, this involves taking on things that have nothing to do with how your performance is measured, yet no one else is willing to do. You believe it will lead to being noticed: Promoted, given a raise, or a seat at the table.
What ends up happening: You end up tired, resentful, and unable to perform the duties for which you are getting paid, which actually prohibits all of the things you were hoping to accomplish. No one was ever given a promotion for cleaning the dishes at work. I'm not saying don't be helpful or pitch in...but it should not interfere with your core duties or drain you of energy.
Tiana Laurence, Investor, Founder and Author of Blockchain For Dummies gives great advice: "The most important thing to do is value your own time. Part of appreciating your time is not allowing others to have it without your willing consent. This is hard when saying 'no' may mean losing your job or incredible opportunities that you want, but it's absolutely necessary if you don't want to end up emotionally (and physically) drained."
How to avoid over-giving? Set very clear boundaries upfront about your role and how your performance is going to be measured. (Hint: I've spent the last five years at a tech company dedicated to PR Measurement; and we cracked the code on that. If PR can be measured, everything can. I promise!) Set realistic expectations and ask for a clear path in terms of career advancement.
Laurence adds: "If your work week is an agreed upon 40 hours, and you are working with a boss that keeps piling things on your plate, ask to sit down with him or her and list out each project; break it into how long it will take you to do each, and then ask for clear prioritization. If things take more than 40 hours a week, ask what can be removed from your plate, either through delegation or cutting tasks entirely."
#2 - I will never again disregard my own feelings and needs for the perceived feelings and needs of others.
What does this look like at work? If something makes you uncomfortable - it could be as small as the way others talk negatively about colleagues all the way to sexual harassment - you bury your feelings and keep quiet for fear of seeming like a drama queen or "too emotional."
What ends up happening: Your respect for others and yourself begins to diminish which can lead to bitterness and toxicity at work. It's also likely a distraction and can lead to less productivity, which is also bad for business.
"As I navigated through my early career, I had a series of negative female bosses," shares Holly Coltea, Co-owner of barre3 Nashville. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world and that I was doing my best work; and then I would enter HER office. I would become anxious and my body would literally have an adverse physical reaction. I thought it was something I had to just grow out of, but until I wised up and realized that I could have supportive bosses who encouraged me and had my best interest at heart, it was a continual uphill battle."
How to avoid disregarding your own feelings? If you are feeling uncomfortable for any reason, at first observe the feelings and your needs without being emotionally reactive. In other words, don't react immediately. Pull together your thoughts about what has happened, and then ask your HR department or your direct report for a meeting to discuss it. If they are dismissive, then find another person in your organization who you trust, and tell him or her. If it happens again and is dismissed (or nothing changes) it may be time to escalate the issue higher up the (legal) food chain, or explore other career opportunities.
#3 - I will never again dismiss my own knowing.
What does this look like at work? This is very simple: You shove your intuition aside when you fundamentally know something is amiss. It could be that you get the sense your company is committing fraud, or that you're about to get fired.
What ends up happening: First and foremost, you are dismissing the beauty of being a human being, while going against your true nature. You will expend more emotional energy attempting to avert your "own knowing" than addressing your feelings head on. For women in particular, this is often a very difficult thing to accept, especially in male-dominated environments.
Joy Gendusa, CEO of Postcard Mania, gives a first-hand account of what happened when she dismissed her intuition: "We work off data and statistics, so when my three senior executives advised me to cut the marketing budget to increase profits, it was based on what appeared to be solid statistical data. But it felt wrong. For the first time ever - and the last - I went against my own knowing: Never cut promotion. We cut our budget by 20 percent. At the end of that month our revenue plummeted by more than 30 percent. To recover we had to increase the budget more than our normal 18 percent of revenue. Listen to your intuition."
How to avoid dismissing your own knowing? Depending on what your intuition is telling you, it may be that you have to do very little - it may be a simple conversation with someone to clear the air. On the far end of the spectrum, it may mean doing some investigation, then alerting the authorities.
#4 - I will never again avoid asking the questions I need to ask because I am afraid to hear the truth.
What does this look like at work? If you think you're being overlooked for a promotion or a special project at work that's clearly in your wheelhouse, you never bring it up for fear of rocking the boat. Often times, these things are not done purposefully, it is merely an oversight or a lack of organization on behalf of leadership or management.
What ends up happening: This "avoidance" is likely coming from a place of insecurity or lack of confidence. If you don't face down these demons now, when will you? By not asking questions you end up reinforcing old (and undesirable) habits and patterns that won't serve you personally or professionally.
Adds Coltea: "If you are afraid to ask for what you need or want at work, then re-frame the conversation in your mind and make it about transparency. This was a huge lesson for me when I began leading teams of people. If the goal is less about 'getting what you need' and more about having a clear vision and understanding of what is needed, it's often easier to broach the subject. Without transparency, you won't feel like you have purpose."
Another issue often faced by women is a fear that we are asking for too much: "In the past I've allowed myself to stay in a position that was below my capability, convincing myself that it was inappropriate to ask for more. And I know I'm not the only woman to have gone through this. Often, we're more worried about sounding demanding or overconfident than getting what we deserve," remarks Jennifer Wangers, founder of ENTITY, a platform for female mentorship, education, and community.
How to avoid not asking questions you need to ask? Talk to a career coach or therapist to get to the root of the problem. Also ask yourself: "Who would I be without this hang up around hearing the truth? What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?" Chances are, the answer won't be as horrifying as you thought. The hardest thing is asking the question!
#5 - I will never again love someone else more than I love myself.
What does this look like at work? In this case, "someone else" would be work/career. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of launching a new company, working on an innovative project, or getting hired for that job you've been eyeing; but the downside is that we often forego all the necessary components of self-care that allow us to stay balanced, sane, and productive.
What ends up happening: Burnout will be imminent, likely sooner than later. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't get excited about a new job or project, but we are best served to remember that we are running a marathon, not a sprint. If you place self-care on the back burner, everything else will suffer.
"I've learned through adulthood that what can be one's greatest qualities can also translate as one's most challenging," reflects Candice Bruder, Founder of Pure Sweat + Float Studio. "My desire to please and care for others translated very well in public relations and with clients, yet it would often result in taking care of others' needs before my own. This would translate to not taking proper vacations, overextending a resignation by three months, and not shutting the email and phone down when I needed to. Today, and as an entrepreneur, I engage the work relationship differently: I focus on how I can design a life dynamic so that work serves my needs. I'm still in the industry of caring for others; but this time, it also includes me."
How to avoid loving work more than yourself: Make a list of all the things that bring you joy, and attempt to do those things regularly. If not daily, then at least two to three times a week.
Tobi Elkin, Content Director at Impact Radius, offers a great list of these types of activities: "I make consistent plans to do things with friends and family who keep me grounded, cook delicious meals for myself and others, maintain commitments to volunteer work through organizations to which I belong, and attend my regular yoga class at least three times a week. I also make sure to build in time for my creative passion projects, which tend to pull me out of work mode and into a place of gratitude and fun!"
Want to take this idea of affirmations a little further? Check out Life Shucker founder Jessica Zemple's tips on finding your inner wisdom, then schedule a session with her as the new year kicks into high gear. As she constantly reminds me: "There is absolutely nothing you have to do in this world to be valuable. Yes, you have to deliver results in any career. Delivering results is different than being inherently valuable. And, let's face it. If the people you are working with don't see your true value are they really the people you want to work with?"
I rest my case.