Overthinking

“Child, child, do you not see?  For each of us comes a time when we must be more than we are” — Lloyd Alexander

Well the last few weeks have brought with them a frenetic level of activity reminiscent of earlier chapters in my life.  Facilitating training sessions at two law firms; attending a national convention where I will be moderating a panel  on effective communication between leaders in practice offices and their counterparts at ‘headquarters'; discussions on employee engagement at another company and then back to another professional services firm to chair forums on a number of issues all rolling up under the header of ‘organizational dynamics’.  Ok, stop yawning – I find this stuff pretty fascinating, and the people I meet as a result, even more interesting and engaging.  It’s the people – I’m just so damn drawn to the people.

So somewhere around the end of May or June, things may slow down a bit once more. Some things haven’t changed – the more I have to do, the less I sleep and the more I perseverate.  For those of you who have not been ‘gifted’  with this talent, I’ll describe it quickly.  It starts with a benign thought, like “I hope I can pull all this together in time”, and from there it blossoms into a profusion of peripatetic petals (it is spring and Cherry Blossom time here in DC after all) that fall all over my mind, covering the synapses, neurons and pathways with layer upon layer of resistant ground cover.  Thought loses all rhyme or reason, and I spend an inordinate amount of time getting in my own way.  Do I know that I really should get out the leaf blower?  Of course I do – I’m just too busy looking at the magnificent mess I have created.

Now this talent of mine exists in direct counterpoint with another ability that I really do have about many, many issues.  When my sons were younger, they maintained their rooms as temples to the God Of Who Cares.  Somehow the word ‘messy’ really doesn’t do their efforts justice – neither does ‘unhygienic’.  Once a week, I would expect them to make some effort to return their rooms into something livable, for I really didn’t want them contracting some weird bacteria that is only found in the Amazon and the soles of filthy socks.  Their disregard drove Andy crazy – he’s  the kind of guy who feels that everything has a place and there’s a place for everything – and if not, toss it out.  So as he would get increasingly exorcised, I would become calmer.  And my mantra through those years was “If this is going to bother you in five years honey, then I will invest in this issue with all the emotional energy I can summon.  But if this isn’t going to matter five years hence, then I’m letting it go”.

Hypocrite – thy name is Mimi.

You see I really believe that little mantra – I do.  I just don’t apply it with as much conviction when it comes to my own efforts.  So in short – I become my own pain in the butt.  Somebody needs something from me – ok, let’s jump into hyper-drive, over-think it and deliver with everything I’ve got.  And then collapse and chastise myself for all that excess worry and emotional self-flagellation.  Oh, and then start the whole process again…because after all, this is different.  It’s about someone else’s needs.  I have to be better this time, right?

Last night though – somewhere between Carson Daly and the 2:30AM news on ABC – a memory came to the fore and I think as a result, I am going to try to teach my foolish self what I already know.

Years ago, after one back surgery or another, I lost the use of my arms.  Truly.  I could raise one arm high enough to bring a utensil to my lips, the other only far enough to scratch an inch near my waist.  The surgeon wasn’t alarmed (of course, they weren’t his arms) – neurological effrontery can make for some pretty lousy retribution.  I was petrified.  All of a sudden elements of daily self-care were elusive to me.  Andy would wash and dry my hair (with enormous affection and limited expertise – we will not conjure any thoughts of how I looked during this time), I drank coffee through a straw, modifications were made.  The doctor was sure my range of motion would return – he had no doubt, so I believed him.  My anxiety became more reflective of the ‘when’ not the ‘if’, and immediately became more manageable.  In five years, this would not be an issue for me – I knew that.  My thoughts became less frantic, I began to clear away the disorderly mess that had become my thought process.  And yes, the doctor knew what he was talking about.

Which brings me back to this moment.  In five years it will matter to me that I gave my best to others – period.  I won’t get there by letting my worry trump my determination.  Let me re-phrase – I may get there, but I will be have depleted essential elements of the thoughts I need to be happy.  Today, I’m going to follow the advice of Steve Martin – “I’ve got to keep breathing.  It’ll be the worst business mistake if I don’t”.

I hope this makes you smile – and if by chance you identify with any of this – I hope it helps you breathe.

 


 

 

Un-manic Your Monday

We all know what is going to happen when the morning arrives…You’re going to try and hit the ‘snooze’ button and miss, causing the book to fall off the night table, which will jar the dog, encouraging him to nudge you to let him/her out.  The coffee will begin to drip as soon as you push the button…as soon as you find the button through your half-open eyes.  Get the paper, feed the dog, grab some coffee…and then the rhythm begins to accelerate and your ‘musts’ will over-take your ‘wants’.  You’re in gear and to quote one of the crazy characters from “Madagascar” – you’ve got to move it, move it.”

Manic

Manic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whoa…hold up one minute.  What would happen if you changed the routine a bit?  If you sat down while drinking your coffee, enjoying the silence for a moment.  Just.sit.still.  Not for the whole morning – let’s not go crazy.  Watch the sun rise – it’s a methodical process and involves moving with determination and inevitability, but it is also slow enough to relish.

Before you jump into the frenetic response to emails that relentlessly poured into your inbox – wait a second.  Make a short list – what unequivocally has to be done today, which employees are you going to make it a point to see, is there a more efficient way to follow up on incomplete items from last week?  Can you pick up the phone and talk instead of beginning an endless email chain?  What is one thing you could do this week to reinforce your effectiveness?  One thing.  If this question was posed to you by your boss, with the additional caveat that you had to come up with a suggestion – what would it be?  This is the thought for the morning’s drive to work, or the moment between conference calls or when you walk the stairs from one floor to the other.  One thing.  Just think of the satisfaction you would derive from adjusting, substituting or introducing one new approach to your day.  I’m not even going to ask what could happen if you posed this question to yourself on a more regular basis.  You might actually enjoy your day instead of anticipating its end.

So – what are you going to do?  Please let me know – and whatever you do – have a magnificent Monday!

The Feeling Is Mutual

It’s 1:45 in the morning and I’m sitting here at the Knights’ Round Table, with a cup of coffee and a heavy, unbreakable silence that pervades the house.  Even the Knights have dispensed with their evening wanderings — ensuring that the kingdom is secure before retiring to their abodes (e.g., my bed).  The last training session for this program ended today…um, yesterday, and my mind is racing with post-mortem thoughts that needed a place to go.

(In case you’re wondering I don’t look nearly as refreshed as this woman does)

I have told you about the level of engagement of the participants, the richness of our dialogue and the development of professional bonds which will likely continue and thrive.   On this, our last ‘official’ time together, the group surprised me (which is rare – I don’t ‘surprise’ easily).  I returned to the conference room after making a phonecall, and there they were standing together by the door, snapping their fingers and singing “we love you” (the melody was unclear but it definitely had a beat because everyone was dancing.  So…I danced too..)  To make this brief, we were laughing and I was fumbling around with my sense of wonder when they gifted me with a memory to last a lifetime.  They told me they thought I was terrific and wanted to thank me for our sessions.  A gift of personalized stationery and a  custom made t-shirt with a motto of mine (that’s a secret which will be revealed in another post).  What was just as astonishing were the personal messages each person wrote on a card to me.  Expressions of appreciation for the program and hopes for continued dialogue, one person called meeting me a ‘blessing’, every one commenting upon the impact the course had on them and their delight with the content and me as the facilitator.  I don’t want to overstate the incredible feeling this evoked in me, nor do I want to make this post about me.  It’s about them

You know how much energy I received from their collective and individual enthusiasm.  You can imagine the loyalty that I feel towards such a devoted group, and how much I want for them to continue striving to be the best managers in their offices.  And they will.  At one point, J asked me, “so what motivates you”?  And I realized that for me there is nothing more gratifying than positive connections.  I facilitated a program – their interest in the content fed my enthusiasm, my soul and my sense of purpose.  We can impact many, we can impact one.  And if fortune is kind, and those moments become integrated into a person’s way of doing business, his/her approach to others and their lives in general, then they have hit my motivational sweet spot.  These participants nailed it every Thursday – and yesterday gave me more than I feel I can ever return (but will continue to try).

I am sorry for their senior managers who don’t recognize the quality in their ranks, the innovative thoughts and strategies that are simmering on the back burners of ‘those in the trenches’.  If you don’t seek feedback from your direct reports about what they are seeing, what alternative approaches they are considering and whatever out-of-the-box ideas that are constantly germinating in the minds of those seeking to enhance and engage the workplace, you are missing the greatest resources available to you.  The workplace is morphing before our eyes – our challenge is to respond with forethought and consideration.  It serves no productive purpose to wait until the tidal wave of change washes over our offices and we are left shell-shocked and reacting to change far too late to do more than clean up the mess.  We have some tough decisions to make over the next few years – our staffing paradigms will change, virtual management is no longer a thirty minute sit-com called “Max Headroom” – it’s a reality.  Technology is allowing clients to demand 24/7 availability while it is also removing our gift of dialogue and the nuance of the written word.  The values upon which most firms were founded no longer hold up under scrutiny (hello Dewey LeBoeuf).  Who will respond to these waves of change?  People like those who attended this workshop.  These are the people who will do the hard prep if you ask them, ask provocative questions before they become moot and who truly want to create the best professional environment possible.  I send them love and thanks – they taught me so much and in exchange I feel like I really gave so little.  I only offered my time, some insight that experience and training have afforded me, and a genuine focus on their development.  It was my responsibility and my privilege.  When they return to their offices, I hope someone in a senior position does his/her job – listen to what these people have to say – and consider acting on their ideas.  I will miss them next Thursday, but I will remember them forever.