Don’t Count Your Blessings

I share a life-lesson each weekday. It helps me make sure every day counts. Hopefully, it helps you, too. Here is today’s lesson…

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I make enough money to afford a nice apartment on Tampa Bay. I do not live in a place where I wonder where the next meal is coming from or where there are boys holding machine guns on street corners. I have access to clean water. I drive a decent car. I have very little debt and a job I enjoy. I am fairly good-looking and I have friends and family who care about me. I can go on but you get the point. On whole, life is pretty good for me.

There are times, though, when I forget all those things, or they do not matter in the moment. Like when I stub my toe. All those wonderful things briefly go out the window and I think only of the pain in my foot feel anger because of my clumsiness.

Or when my cat barfs on the carpet in the middle of the night. I forget how lucky I am and become irrationally mad at the cat for bringing some sort of injustice to my life. Or when something legitimately disturbing happens like a job loss or the death of a friend or the end of a relationship–all these problems pale by comparison to the challenges faced every day by other people with less fortunate circumstances (think children in third world countries, slaves, or prisoners of war–they wish they had something as easy to handle as a broken heart).

“Count your blessings” I am told, is sage advice. When we feel life is unfair, this adage reminds us to take stock of all the things we have going for us and be grateful.

I am not a fan of that advice, though. The problem is, when I feel frustrated or angry and I pause to “count my blessings”–sure, I recognize I live a charmed life–but counting my blessings makes me feel like an ingrate at that moment. I do not want to feel petty or ungrateful on top of feeling mad or irritated.

“Count your blessings” might be fine advice when things are going well but when you are feeling hurt or slighted, counting your blessings can make you feel worse. 

I will try these three alternatives instead:

     1.  Recognize and embrace change. “Life is fleeting” is also sage advice. That means nothing good lasts forever but it also means nothing bad lasts forever. Accept the situation for what it is and accept it is not the permanent way of things.

     2.  Feel it. Maybe the thing that bothers me most about the idea of counting your blessings is that it invalidates your feelings. I don’t know about you, but I can not keep my emotions buried. I can turn the volume on them down but if I try to ignore them altogether it just creates a ticking time bomb. Those emotions will explode out of me at some point and it won’t be pretty. Instead, I want to feel angry when I feel angry. I want to dive into it, let it simmer, and acknowledge that it is how I feel in that moment. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, hurt, or frustrated with the world. It is just how you feel in the moment (see point one–the moment will be gone soon enough). I should make a caveat here that you feeling angry is not license to exercise your feelings upon others. Feel angry. Don’t act angry.

     3.  Be willing to move on. Building off the first two points–things change and it is okay to feel feelings–I must also recognize the choice is mine to let go of those feelings when I am ready. For me, that usually does not take long because I am willing to let go and move on. Maybe not in that moment but I am willing to be moved, to change, to alter course. I do not like feeling angry, guilty, petty, sad, depressed, etc. I know, though, that I will feel those things at times. I do not, however, have to let them take the wheel and steer my life. That is up to me. I can give them control for a few minutes while I coast along, but I know, like juvenile drivers, they will crash us if I don’t take the wheel back. It is okay to let them practice driving so they learn to act responsibly but I am the only one licensed to behind the wheel. They can back-seat drive all they want.

 

To my knowledge, there is no cure for the injustices of life, no matter how great or small. Counting your blessings while dealing with one of those injustices, though, might only make you feel worse. Instead, recognize things change, your feelings are your feelings, and be willing to move on.

If you still want to count your blessings, go ahead, but maybe wait until you feel blessed to do so.

 

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My Feelings About Feelings

I share a life-lesson almost every day (I take weekends off). The lesson can be about anything but it has to be something I have actually learned and applied (or am trying to apply) to my life, not just something I read or heard and am repeating.

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A former team member called me to ask for my insight on a particularly tough personal situation. After listening to her account, I realized the situation, though definitely tough and without an easy, straightforward resolution, was not the real issue.

The crux of the problem, as I saw it, was how she was feeling about herself. She felt like she was being petty, jealous, and like she was hurt. To her surprise, I said she should be feeling all those things. I explained her feelings were perfectly valid.

I offered some different ways to look at the situation but never invalidated her feelings. I feel petty sometimes, and jealous, and hurt. That does not mean I am always right with whatever I decide but my feelings are never wrong. I try to never invalidate feelings–my own or others.

We feel what we feel. We should never feel bad about having feelings. How we act, though, despite our feelings, is what matters.

I reaffirmed her feelings were valid but recommended she not let those feelings affect how she treated others. It seemed to help. Either way, never feel bad about feeling bad. Just don’t do bad.

 

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Am I Angry At You?

Words are powerful. It is fun to take a close look at how we use them.

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I find it interesting that we say things like, “I am angry at you!” AT you? We feel angry at a person or towards something. We are in love with somebody.

Our relationship to emotions is curious. We expel them from our bodies as if they are projectiles that we can throw at other people like baseballs. I am mad at you! The thing is, we let emotions live in our language in such a way that we are absolved of our responsibility for feeling them. We never say, “I am Anger now!”. Yet, curiously, we do say, “I am happy.” Perhaps we find it easier to accept we are present and in sync with a positive feeling but negative emotions happen to us.

Either way, think about how you use language to convey both the feelings you expel to others and accept from them, and listen to the language you use when defining your own emotions.

 

Today’s lesson: It is okay to feel emotions. Do not let yourself off the hook, however, for feeling them. Be conscious of the words you use to share your feelings. The onus is on you to take responsibility for who you are, not on others to accept you for who you feel like being.

 

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying [140816]

Many leaders confuse quantifying success with creating success.

Not being scientific here, but I would say roughly 90% of my team’s success has not come from implementing policies, procedures, reports, rules, or standardized practices. I am not saying those things are unimportant; they are just not important to succeeding. They are things we do to show someone who is not involved that we are succeeding or that we use to defend why we are not succeeding. Sometimes, however, the rigidity of tradition and red tape is the very thing that holds a person or organization back.

Policies, procedures, rules, reports, standardized practices pretty much look the same everywhere–dress code, sales process, attendance policy, key performance indicator reporting, Profit and Loss reports, etc… are interchangeable. I could not look at the dress codes, for example, of my last ten employers and match them to their respective companies. They all look quite similar.

The funny thing is, as leaders, the dirty secret we hide–even from each other–is that success does not come from any of those things at all. Success is what happens between policies, quotas, and figures. Success happens, for my team, in the moments when I have them laughing. Success happens when we share stories about last weekend or the newest episode of whatever show we are watching. It is the water-cooler chat (for those old enough to know what that is… for the younger crowd, it might be the SnapChat) that every company works vigorously to squash. It’s the live social media and social interactions of our lives–that’s where the rubber really meets the road. We are just embarrassed to admit it.

Why would be embarrassed to admit success is not generated by reports? That’s easy; because admitting it means we are saying success is not about constant training and implementation and brow-beating and filling out forms. 

I am being a little dramatic, but here is a dirty leadership truth: success is about emotional content delivered and received. That’s all. It is about putting together a team that wants to believe in you, that looks up to you, and will fight for you and each other. Skills are important; but there are plenty of entrepreneurs that have succeeded without any formal training, but armed with unbelievable commitment from the people around them (Sir Richard Branson, Donald Trump, and Gandhi come to mind).

You can never gain commitment by covering TPS reports. You are better off laughing over fart jokes or sharing silly memes.

Imagine which type of employee is going to be smiling when the next customer is in front of them… the one you just spent a half hour going over the same drab figures you went over yesterday and the day before, and the day before, and the day before, and the day before… or the one whose feet you were holding while they stood on their head to prove they could drink a cappuccino upside down while their peers stood around them, chanting?
What kind of emotional content do you bring to your team? If you do not lead a team, what kind of emotional content are you bringing to your family or friends? (Remember, leadership does not only happen at work.) The emotional content you generate and leave people with is the emotional content they have immediately available to distribute to the next people they are in contact with.

Or, put another way… always leave them smiling!

 

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