Are you in flow, or on a hamster wheel?

This week’s topic is on creating both stability and flow to better roll with the changes. 

Change… gawd, it’s so commonplace now that it’s almost boring to talk about. Layoffs, working from home, COVID lockdowns… 

I’m sure that’s why this HBR article on being forever employable in this era of rapid change is striking a chord for a lot of people. Two of my coachees recently emailed it to me and asked for my perspective.

What Jeff Gothelf writes here triggered an “Absolutely!” mixed with “oooh, I’m not sure about that.” 

Yes, a thought leadership platform can create both stability and flow.

Jeff writes: “By becoming a recognized expert in your chosen domain or discipline you reverse the flow of jobs, leads and opportunities. Instead of you having to chase them down, they come to you.”

Totally agree: this flow of attraction is the sign that we are doing something right. And yes, the mindsets of entrepreneurialism and self-confidence keeps us open for spotting and pursuing new opportunities when they arise. 

So far, so good. 

But let’s try to stay off the hamster wheel, ok? 

Three of the five core concepts in this article are continuous learning, continuous improvement, and reinvention… gaaah! It’s not that it’s wrong, per se… but I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. 

Do you feel this way too, or is it just me?

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive to this overly busy work environment we’ve managed to normalize. Sensitive after hitting burnout two years ago and escaping overseas without a plan. Since then, I’ve deliberately redesigned my life for balance. 

This idea of perpetual, ever-increasing, ever-faster hamster wheel of change is NOT NORMAL. Spinning, spinning, spinning… and we’re having a hard time holding on, let alone keeping up. 

It’s especially hard for “rebels with a cause” — we tend to be dazzled by a lot of different ideas and problems to solve; we see so many opportunities. How to focus? What to learn and improve? 

This doesn’t feel like flow.

Can we stop the endless doing and start being

There’s a balance between change and stability; we need to find that edge and surf it. The first question to ask ourselves is… what doesn’t change? Anything?

Yes… human nature doesn’t change. There’s a reason why Shakespeare is still relevant 500 years after his death: he knew how to play to people’s needs and emotions. For as long as humans have walked the earth, emotion is what drives us to do what we do. 

What lights you up? What brings you joy? As I wrote last week, these are the things that ground you in who you are. They’re what I call “motivational DNA,” unique to each person. How do you want to feel? 

Will you find new things that excite you? Sure. Will you evolve? Absolutely. But the Jen at 51 is pretty much the same as Jen was at 8, exploring, painting, writing, riding my bike with the wind in my hair. I’m a rebel with a cause; a free-bird problem solver. Always have been, always will be. 

This is NOT about endless reinvention. 

This is about excavating who you already are under the rubble of should’s, expectations and endless running on the hamster wheel. 

Your motivational DNA, combined with your skills and strengths, can help you identify your ground of power: the source of flow. This becomes your stable platform, and you’ll naturally enhance it with new skills and knowledge because you love it; it’s effortless, like breathing. 

It’s like the source of a river, high in the mountains: when we’re connected to our source, we tap a wellspring of boundless energy, creativity, security, and whatever else we need to thrive. 

Our source never moves. It never chases. It doesn’t care what other people think, what the latest technology is, or the latest job title, or the hottest unicorn in Silicon Valley. 

Instead, it magnetizes. This grounded source creates the flow. It’s both/and, not either/or. Flow and stability, simultaneously.

Questions:

Are you in flow, or on a hamster wheel? 

Are you attracting or chasing? 

Are you more focused on being who you really are, or endlessly doing more and more? 

Want to discuss? Shoot me an email, or leave a comment here on this blog post! 

Until next week!  Jen

PS. Most of my clients are navigating a transition right now, and we’re working on building their own thought-leadership platforms. If you’re interested, check out my coaching for flow page and/or book a call with me. 

masks at work

Authenticity at work: removing the masks

Conformity has been king for far too long. Stuffing ourselves into expectation- or fear-laden boxes creates stress, wipes out essential diversity, and kills our souls. My globe-trotting sabbatical last year gave me the opportunity to step back and pay attention to the masks I donned daily; my hope is that the coronavirus shut-down is affording you the same. 

It’s the job of leaders to model authenticity at work, but what does that really mean? And how does one go about doing it? One way might be to explore the three types of masks we tend to wear: Identity, Viewpoints and Emotions.

Identity: Who I am

The identity mask hides the fact that I feel different from other people. Given the fact that no two people are exactly alike, perhaps we all mask to a lesser or greater extent. Thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, more of us are learning about how our black colleagues code-switch, which involves “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.” 

As a gay, neurodiverse female, I certainly played the game of conformity in ways I can only see now in hindsight. I became an armor-wearing brain on a stick, unhappy and burned out, eventually not fooling anyone but myself. It took a year-long sabbatical for self-reflection and acceptance, befriending my intuition and emotions, before I healed enough to return to the business world as a whole, integrated human being. I now know myself well enough to create a career and environment that works with my strengths and natural limitations.  

Thriving workplaces are safe spaces in which we’re free to be ourselves; authenticity is the foundation of employee and customer loyalty. It starts with leaders who have the courage to slowly reveal their own truths and give permission to others to do the same, which requires self-awareness and compassion. It’s essential to notice judgments about differences, starting with our own; what we want to hide is often the source of our power. The more love we have for our own uniqueness, the more easily we can value the uniqueness and diversity of others. 

The key to authenticity is knowing the difference between limitations (the natural boundaries of who I am as a human being) and weaknesses. We accept the former and seek to fix only the latter. When we become whole, without disowning parts of ourselves, we’re able to create whole, coherent organizations. The inner transformation creates the outer transformation. 

Questions: Do you fully embrace and love yourself, warts and all? Do you respect your limitations, using this as a guide for staying true to your strengths? Do you notice when you judge yourself and others, and challenge your own thinking? Do you call out others who judge? Do you actively embrace differences with curiosity, and seek to build diverse teams?

Viewpoints – what (and how) I think 

You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not experienced enough to have a valid opinion. What you’re saying doesn’t make sense to me, so I’m going to override it. If you can’t explain how you arrived at this conclusion, it must be wrong. 

Do these sound familiar? If we believe these messages are true, then we’ll either wear the masks of silence or agreement, engage in negative self-talk, or repeat these phrases to others; I know I’ve been guilty of all of these in the past. When we don’t know how to deeply listen to our own inner wisdom, it’s impossible to truly hear other people or stand up for ourselves.  It also becomes impossible to simply admit that we don’t know something, even though “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” can be one of the most empowering things we can say. 

Part of listening to ourselves is understanding how our brains are wired; if our dominant “mind mode” is different than those around us, we’re going to feel out of place. We’ll hear “you’re wrong” more often, even if it’s untrue. Either we need to choose a workplace that values how we think, or as leaders we need to recognize and encourage this diversity of thought.  

I’m a pattern-matching, bottoms-up, lateral thinker who tried way too hard to fit into top-down, analytical consulting environments. Thanks to my efforts to conform, I expanded my thinking styles and added more Analytical tools to my problem-solving toolbox… but it came at a cost. The toxic pressure to fit in, and my failed attempts to change systems that no one saw were broken, took a toll on my mental health. And my employers failed to capitalize on the fact that I saw things in a totally different and equally valid way. 

Questions: As a leader, do you disregard or judge opinions that aren’t in alignment with how you think or approach problems? Do you reward or suppress intuition? Do you create and orchestrate teams with diversity of processing styles, aka ‘mind modes’ (Analyzing, Connecting, Sensing and Feeling) in order to nourish creativity, innovation and personal growth of everyone involved? 

Emotions – how I feel 

So you’ve checked the boxes on inclusion and diversity. You have women, people of color, LGBTQ+ and neurodiversity reflected at every level of your organization. You’re discovering the innovative power of different thinking styles, and you encourage admission of limitations and not-knowing. Are you done? 

Not until you welcome what makes us truly human into the workplace: our core needs and emotions. After 3 decades of insight-based strategy work, my single biggest takeaway is that emotions, not logic, is what motivates behavior. Yet we hide behind the sterile mask of Analyzing Mind because the murky world of emotion feels too vulnerable and unsafe.

Our 34,000 human emotions fall into two camps: 

Mutable

This is the ebb and flow of pleasant and unpleasant emotions based on circumstance; emotionally aware leaders are able to work with discomfort, dropping into their bodies to name, embrace and release what they’re feeling so they can move forward in a healthy way. An emotionally aware organization is able to acknowledge, discuss and resolve the root issues of what’s keeping them stuck. 

Questions: As a leader, can you reveal that you too are human, and that you feel the common emotions of fear, shame, anxiety? Work empathetically with an employee to unpack why they’re feeling frustrated or unheard? Encourage others to verbalize what they’re feeling in order to address the real root of why your organization is stuck?

Motivating

A small set of motivating emotions connected to our 12 core human needs can serve as unchanging North Stars for organizations. Every great brand takes this approach, from Apple (creativity) to Nike (achievement) to Allstate (safety) to Virgin (freedom). The emotional outcome that is predictive of business outcomes serves as the central organizing principle of effective organizations.

What I have come to learn recently is that it’s one thing to objectively talk about the critical role of needs and emotions in business. It’s quite another to embody them as leaders… and it’s only when the latter happens can we fully harness the power of emotion. When cultures are built to help both employees AND customers to feel more (free, safe, creative, connected, etc.) — and when the leadership team are motivated by the same emotions — now we’re talking rocket fuel. The entire ecosystem wallows in exactly how they all want to feel. This is the root of customer-centricity and authenticity.

Questions: Do you know how you want to feel in your life and work, and use these in your decision making? Do you know how your customers want to feel when working with your business, and to what extent this emotion predicts top-line business results? Are you aware of the core needs and emotions that motivate the behavior of your peers or leadership team, and identified conflicting needs?

Which of the three types of masks are worn in your organization? Are diverse identities, viewpoints and emotions welcome and celebrated in your workplace?