Working to Death?

I’ve been sick for more than a week now. Coughing fits so severe that I fully expect to see what the inside of my own lung looks like one of these times.

I don’t get sick often. It’s even more unusual for me to get sick in the summertime. After all, during the summer there’s lots of air flow sweeping away the icky germs that can cause this stuff.

And when I do get sick, it typically only lasts a couple of days; three at most.

But not this time. I’m currently on day 11 of this strange version of whooping cough. Yes, I know it’s not actually whooping cough, but the coughing is bad enough that the cats scurry out of the room when the fit is upon me.

Still, in the midst of this I ask myself why am I sick? And why is it taking so long to get out of my system? After all, I can accept that everyone gets sick sometimes. It’s just part of the way the human body works.

And then I remembered something…

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m sort of a fangirl of Pam Slim. And if you’ve not been paying attention here, Pam’s fantabulous blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, has spawned a book by the same title.

In her book, Pam talks about the fact that some work environments can fit us so poorly that they make us physically ill. She’s not talking about toxins in the office building (though that’s a subject all its own); she’s talking about the demands placed upon you by a job you are ill-suited for breaking down your immune system to the point that it picks up bugs like a hooker on the Boulevard on Saturday night.

Is this me?

Well obviously, my immune system is compromised enough that I picked up a rather virulent bug. Where did I get it? Honestly, I have no idea.

I’ve not been to the doctor’s office or a hospital lately (best two places in the world to get sick). My SBH has been out of town for work for more than a month. No plague-carrying munchkins in my life. No one in the 5th Circle has been sick lately either.

So although the genesis of my sickness isn’t obvious, I’m still sick. And it’s hanging on.

Could it be work that’s (at least) exacerbating it?

I think so.

I have so much on my plate that it looks like Bubba’s plate at the Country Buffet just after the waitstaff issue last call. Even if I spent all my time doing the tasks that are dripping off the sides of my plate, I’d still never get it all done.

It’s. Not. Physically. Possible.

So yeah, I have some stress.

Plus there’s that whole thing of not actually liking what I’m doing. Yeah, that’s a problem.

It’s not that I didn’t believe Pam’s assertions before. Not at all. I just (stupidly) didn’t think I was one of those people who could get sick because of what their day job is doing to them physically, psychically, and spiritually.

Is this you?

Seriously, is it? Are you getting sicker more often and for longer periods of time than you used to? Is there any possibly of a causal relationship between the getting (and staying) sick and your job?

(And for the record, I personally believe that this can just as easily happen to entrepreneurs who choose their line of business unwisely.)

If this is you, what are you doing to change things? This is an actual question. I really do want to know. I’m trying to do this myself and am a bit stuck – despite some of my recent progress.

I’m asking for your wisdom here folks. Do you suffer in sickness? Do you say f#@% it all and change everything? Do you set an end point and do what you must to meet it? What do you do?

The Point

Yes, I’m seriously asking this for my own growth and understanding, but I also feel that there’s value in each of us asking ourselves these sorts of questions regularly.

You may be fortunate and blessed enough to be doing exactly the work you most want to do every moment of the day. If that’s you, I’m really and truly very happy for you. But, I honestly don’t believe that’s most of us.

Even if you love what you do most of the time, those other things can become incredibly burdensome and morph into some of what I’ve been talking about above.

But perhaps the true wisdom is in questioning yourself on where you are, what you’re doing, and how you feel about it BEFORE you get all coughing-up-a-lung sick.

Paying more attention to what you’re doing, who you are, and what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning other than a full bladder can perhaps prevent situations like the one in which I find myself right now.

It’s all about paying attention. Something I’m finally learning to do.

How about you?

Finding the Land of Unfettered Minds

If you look at my alleged location in my Twitter profile, you’ll see that it says I’m in the “Land of Unfettered Minds.” In truth, this isn’t anywhere … well, not anywhere you’ll find on a map.

To me, the Land of Unfettered Minds is a place in which we are able to sit with one another, communicate clearly our wants and needs and desires, and clearly understand and receive the wants and needs and desires of those with us in that place. This place is my goal; the land where I want to end up, and to which I’m inviting you to travel.

If you dare.

Yes it actually is a sort of dare, because it is a challenging journey. A journey in which we must all unlearn so very much that we’ve been taught by our culture, our media, and (often) by those we hold most dear in this life.

The vast majority of our poor communication habits are learned behaviors. We learned them because they were modeled for us by our parents, siblings, teachers, and others whose paths crossed ours at one time or another. When any child sees the same sort of behavior modeled again and again, that child unconsciously comes to understand that this is how to behave. And that’s what happens. If we had more folks whose communication habits were healthier surrounding us when we grew up, we’d likely have healthier habits now.

I’m not blaming here; just explaining that who we are now – the ways in which we communicate with ourselves and one another – are based upon behaviors we learned when we were rug rats, scooting around on the lineolium.

But Now, We Have Choices

Yup, I’m about to say that we don’t have to maintain those bad habits. We can even – GASP! – learn new, better communication habits.

Here’s a secret: This isn’t the easiest of tasks. But don’t let that stop you.

Seriously.

Don’t let it stop you.

Why?

Because you’ll get to visit the Land of Unfettered Minds. And who doesn’t want to do that?

Okay, more seriously then…

Fresh Breath and More Hot Dates

Oh wait. I said “more seriously,” didn’t I? Oh well.

Here’s the thing … getting rid of unhealthy and unhelpful communication habits changes the way you interact with yourself and with the world.

For the better.

Example?

Let’s say you’re like me and whenever you make a moving-too-fast-with-too-many-balls-in-the-air mistake the first thing you think is “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” When I continuously tell myself that I’m stupid, my Self – that innate part of me that is most truly Me – comes to believe it. My Self takes in that information and sews it on to my identity … kind of like a patchwork quilt.

The more I tell myself how stupid I am, the more “Stupid!” patches get sewn on to the quilt. If it goes on long enough, I end up with a “Stupid!” Quilt.  Yup, and this quilt – made up of me telling myself how Stupid! I am – is what my Self wraps me in whenever I’m feeling scared and alone.

So then in a moment where comfort and love are called for, I’m wrapped in a quilt made up of Stupid! patches. So much for comfort and love, eh?

The Value of UnLearning

Now imagine this … instead of saying “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” every time I make a mistake (and trust me, I make lots and lots of mistakes), I say something different; something new to my Self.

Maybe I say, “Oops! I shouldn’t have tried to do that when I have so much else going on. Need to remember that for next time something similar comes up.”

Or perhaps bettter:

“Wow, that wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Why did I do that? Oh really? Okay, I need to get my Self and my actions onto the same page. There. That’s much better.”

There are many variations on this theme, none of which include the creation of a Stupid! patch for my quilt. In fact, some of these create patches that are made up of “forgiveness” and “compassion” and “remembering” and even “love.”

And you know what happens then when my Self wraps me in my quilt?

I don’t hate myself more and more. Instead, I soak in the warm goodness of compassion, forgiveness, remembering, and love. And in turn I can’t help but to send that out to those with whom I interact.

In other words, a journey to the Land of Unfettered Minds – the land in which you have unlearned bad communication habits, and developed better, kinder, healthier ones – can change your entire world.

Do you dare?

Are you willing to make this leap of faith into this undiscovered country? The journay may not always be easy, but it will be worth it.

Really.

Promise.

Wanna come?

Bad News 101

Just in case you’ve been living inside of WoW for the past nine or so months, there’s been a lot of bad news going around the world as of late. Some of it is truly bad news; some of it is hype that comes dressed as bad news.

Either way, repeated applications of bad news is not unlike repeated high velocity applications of one’s head to a wall … it’s gonna leave a mark.

In fact, I’ve been pretty much MIA from this space for a month. It’s not you … it’ s not me; it’s the real world interfering with my life. But interestingly, this last month of absolute and utter bizarreness has yielded some important lessons in dealing with the construction, timing, and delivery of Bad News.

A Quick Reality Check

I know that lots of people want to avoid bad news all together. But the reality of living life is that bad stuff is part of it. Truth be told, how would you really know good news if you didn’t have some bad news for contrast?

Bad news can be given in multiple ways. Many of them are very, very bad. Sadly, the bad ways seem to be the most popular. I still don’t know why this is. Anyone who has insight on why we humans consistently make certain bad choices, please speak up.

Bad news can also be given in good ways. This doesn’t mean that the news is made good by way of the delivery method; it’s more that the bad news is delivered in a way that doesn’t sully the soul of the giver or the receiver any more than is absolutely necessary.

Preparing for Bad News

If you’re in business, at some point you’re going to lose a client (bad news for you), fire a client (bad news for them), or if you have staff you will likely one day release an employee involuntarily (firing or layoff). All of these inherently suck, but they are necessary parts of doing business. So find the best way (for you) to do it and practice kindness and compassion throughout.

It begins with constructing you message.

What is it that you’re going to say? Perhaps more importantly, what is it that you’re not going to say? Start with the ideas you need to communicate. Even if it’s just random thoughts, jot them down on paper or a whiteboard or your computer screen. Don’t worry about making it flow, grammer, or even if it makes sense. Just get down the core elements that you know you need to communicate.

From this kind of brainstorming, draw out the core ideas you need to communicate. When you’re transmitting bad news to someone, you do not want to be verbose. Really. This is a time to edit mercilessly down to the essentials and leave the rest aside.

Now that you have your core ideas, shape them into words and sentences and even a paragraph or two. Refine what you have written. Get out all of the unnecessary words. And if you think you have no unnecessary words, ask someone else to read it for you and to be brutally honest. I can almost guarantee that you do have unnecessary words.

Make sure that you’re not particularly emotional in your communication. It’s okay (and perfectly human) to feel bad about delivering bad news. What you don’t want to do is to give any sense to your audience that they should feel bad for you as you tell them the bad news. This is the height of inappropriate manipulation. Do not do this.

Once you’ve edited down to a clear, concise, and as non-emotional communication as possible its time to think about timing of delivery.

When to give Bad News

Well this depends. On a lot of factors. Something to really think about is if you were in the position of being the recipient of this bad news from you, when would you want to know? In the morning? The afternoon? A Monday? A Thursday?

Consider all of the players – yourself, the recipient(s) of the bad news, and anyone else who is directly or indirectly effected by delivery of the bad news. Make the best possible choice, balancing the needs and interests of the players, but I would encourage you to put the needs of the recipients first.

Yes, yes, there’s no “good” time for delivering bad news. But there are certainly times that are less bad than others. Find the less bad times.

Delivery

Before you even enter the room, put yourself in the metaphorical shoes of the one about to receive the bad news. Think about the news you’re about to deliver, and how you’d feel if you were receiving it. Remember that feeling.

When you have the person(s) in front of you, don’t beat around the bush. Stick to the communication you crafted earlier. Do the best you can, with as much compassion you can muster. Avoid being overly-emotional (this doesn’t help anyone and may well induce feelings of guilt in your audience, which isn’t cool). Say what you have to say and then move on.

The Point

We live in a world of regular layoffs and firings today. Some are handled quite well. Many are not. If you are the giver of bad news it is incumbent upon you to be a human being conveying difficult information to other human beings. Anything less marks you as an ass.

Don’t be an ass.

Bad news sucks. But bad news is a part of life. You have a choice about how bad the bad news really is. What will your choice be?

Boundaries – and Communicating Them

Boundaries are important in all sorts of ways. Like . . . 

  • You need to know the boundaries of your yard so you know when you can start yelling for the kids to get out of it. 
  • You need to know the boundaries of your patience/temper so you don’t go postal on your boss/partner/child when she/he is being a moron.
  • You need to know the boundaries of your friendships, because yes Virginia, there is such a thing as TMI. 
  • TMI = Too Much Information

    The harder part in all of this is often the setting of boundaries. At least for most people. Okay, at least for me.

    Why?

    I know people for whom boundary-setting is nigh unto impossible. They’d rather give themselves an appendectomy without painkillers than to say “no, I will not be able to do that for you” to someone. Particularly if it’s someone they care about.

    I’m not that bad, but I will admit that setting boundaries is not easy for me, which is part of why it’s on my mind.

    The other reason boundaries are on my mind…

    I took a RESTival over the weekend. I borrowed the term from the lovely and talented Sugarwilla, but the time was all mine. I intentionally made almost no plans for my RESTival, given that it was supposed to be RESTful.

    Sadly, it didn’t work out quite that way.

    Instead, I ended up working on a project that’s not mine as a favor for a friend. I know that the favor is the right thing to do, but when the favor turned into demands, I knew I had to put a stop to things. 

    In other words, I had to set boundaries.

    Which promptly gave me a tummy ache that required a walk.

    After the walk, I wrote an email, in which I set some boundaries. Then I was smart enough to have my Significantly Better Half (SBH) read thorough it to help me take out anything that could be construed as bitching rather than boundary-setting. 

    NOTE: When you set boundaries, not being bitchy is key. Boundaries ought never be a “so there!” moment, but rather a means of saying something more like, “hey, this is making me uncomfortable and I need you to understand that there are things I can’t do and continue to feel safe.”

    So finally, after much editing for clarity, I clicked send. 

    Another tummy ache.

    Another walk.

    Then, after I’d gotten back, a phone call. And I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some serious anger. And some accusations. And some untruths.

    Lucky me.

    Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by this reaction.

    Not because the email recipient is a bad person … far from it. I was not surprised mainly because when we wait too long to set boundaries (as I did in this instance), the other party involved is often surprised by the creation of boundaries.

    Not setting boundaries earlier was my fault. But not having set them even when I did would have been worse.

    Today, I think things are mildly better. I think. Still struggling with getting the boundaries across. Still struggling with being yelled at for saying “no.”

    But my little drama is not the point.

    The Point

    The point is that other people can’t read our minds and know when our boundaries are being trampled. And the sad, sad truth is that there are a whole lot of good people in this world who will – unconsciously for the most part – take total advantage of you if you do not communicate your boundaries to them.

    No one can read your mind.

    Let me repeat that because for some reason a lot of people seem to think that everyone else should “know” how they feel/what they’re thinking.

    No one can read your mind!

    You must communicate your needs, wishes, desires if you actually want someone else to know what they are. More importantly, you must communicate them in a clear fashion that can get through the muck of interference between you and the other person as well as that other person’s own personal muck.

    If you don’t communicate your boundaries (and then live into them and – within reason – stick by them) you will be taken advantage of. And then you’ll feel bad and angry and have a tummy ache and need to take a walk. Although taking walks is good, it’s better if you’re taking a walk because it feels good; not because you’re trying to lose a stress-induced tummy ache.

    Here are three tips for communicating your boundaries effectively.

    1. Know your own limits in advance. Sit down with yourself and decide what you need to do (in general) to feel safe and cared for. Then live that. This will keep you out of some of the ugly situations to start.
    2. If you are entering a situation in which you have concerns about projects, relationships, whatever moving into a danger zone for you, lay out roles and responsibilities up front with everyone else involved. Rather than saying “I will do this” or “I won’t do that”, try defining who is responsible for what, when and then just do it.
    3. If you’re in too far and need to define boundaries on the fly, write it out. Even if it’s scrawled on the inside of a candy bar wrapper, write it out. Then get someone who is totally uninvolved in the situation to read it. Don’t bitch. Don’t whine. Just say what you need to say to get yourself back into a good place. Nothing more. Just the basic words you need to communicate. This is no time to be florid. Once it’s reasonably neat and orderly, send it off and/or speak the words (as appropriate). Expect a bad reaction, but know that you’re doing the right thing. Move forward.

    Setting boundaries can be tough, but it’s important. Particularly if you want to be your best you.

    Putting the “How” in How-To

    I have a pet peeve about the interweb. Well, truth be told, I have many pet peeves about the interweb, but I’m focusing on only one of them today … along with a magic elixir I’ve found that is restoring my faith in humanity … or at least part of the interweb.

    Gurus

    Because the interweb is an almost-free platform, any schmo can acquire a URL, slap up a blog, and start spouting off about their “expertise.” Many (some might argue most) of these folks don’t know squat. They’re here to jump on the latest “get rich quick” bandwagon. The sad thing is that on their way to obscure failure, many of them unfortunately sucker some good folks out of their hard-earned money along the way. 

    In other words, P.T. Barnum is alive and well, and living on the interweb.

    Getting Specific

    My specific issue with many of these self-proclaimed gurus is that they give you all manner of vague ideas of things you can do to change your world. They offer up suggestions of tools (which can be quite helpful), and myriad concepts, constructs, and general ideas designed to jump start your new direction/career/practice/whatever.

    What they most often leave out is the How of their grandiose vision of this brave new world. Without that How, many (most?) people will get excited and then run off in multiple directions simultaneously, thereby ripping the fabric of Space-Time.

    Okay, maybe that last point is a tad overly-dramatic, but it can certainly feel a lot like that when you’re the one running off in all of those directions at once.

    Putting the How in How-To

    I have, however, found a ray of hope in the morass of mediocrity. This ray of hope comes in the form of a new book by Pamela Slim. Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur is Pam’s first book, and it is proof-positive that there are coaches and gurus out there who are producing implement-it-right-now sorts of material. 

    Full Disclosure: Before the book was released, I signed up for an e-class (my first one ever!) that Pam is leading on this same subject. So I’ve had some contact with Pam through that and have come to the conclusion that she’s a pretty awesome person, teacher, and knows what the heck she’s talking about. Also, she was generous enough to send me a copy of the book, but I assure you that I had decided that her awesomeness quotient was through the roof before she sent the book. Honest.

    What is unique about Pam’s book is that she holds your hand in a supportive (as opposed to condescending) manner throughout. She shows you how to made the decision on whether you are cut out to jump ship, or whether you ought to consider just finding another corporation.

    True Gurus

    Pam does not start from the premise that all corporations are inherently evil. She acknowledges that some folks are indeed best-suited to work in that structured environment. Her council to those folks is to keep in mind that the guarantee of lifetime employment has gone the way of Leave it to Beaver re-runs and that no matter our choice of employment situation, we must each be looking out for ourselves and our family’s best interest.

    She meets you where you are. Wherever that might be. To my mind, this marks Pam as a true guru, in that she asks questions that help you sort out your own direction, rather than demanding you follow her divinely-inspired “6 1/2 step plan to change the world.”

    Clearly, she has a bias toward those who would seek the entrepreneurial path … that is, after all, the thesis of the book. But rather than telling everyone to take a big breath and do a sailor dive into the murky waters of self-employment, she offers tangible steps and exercises to execute before making the leap.

    More than that, Pam actually addresses the very real fears that accompany the process, and offers suggestions, tips, and tricks on how to face them constructively and determine what they’re actually trying to tell you.

    The Real World

    On top of all of this tangible how-oriented advice and practice, Pam also brings in frequent real-world stories and examples to illustrate her points. She points to other high-integrity gurus out there who bring good stuff to the change-your-life-for-the-win table. She talks about her own challenges (and sometimes failures) in this adventure of entrepreneurial bliss. 

    The exercises are clearly ones she’s used before, and the stories appear to be ones she’s been told first-hand. Combined, they set Pam apart from the pack of would-be self-help gurus in that she’s actually living a real life and not telling all of us little worker ants that we really ought to find a way to ascend to her plain of nirvana-like existence.

    The Point

    This is a good book.

    Pam’s writing is accessible and she and her editors have produced a clean and pleasant-to-read book (though I wish the designer had bumped it up a pica or two). Already in it’s second printing, Escape from Cubicle Nation is worth reading, studying, and applying to your life – no matter your proclivities for vocation.