Wednesday, October 2, 2019

We Need Winter, Too

Autumn is Here — and Winter is Coming
For Game of Thrones fans, the phrase, “Winter is Coming” is iconic. It's a warning, a call to be vigilant— to prepare now, for the Winter-like harshness that is to come.
And yet: we need the harshness, too. How? Winter is an important season for trees, to enable them to be fruit-bearing. While winter may look lifeless and dormant for most plant-life, much is happening in the dark, below the surface. Nut and fruit trees (except for citrus) need a specific number of winter chill hours to regulate their growth. If a tree doesn't experience enough winter chill hours, the flower buds that will eventually transform to fruit might not open in spring, or might open unevenly.
Maybe we, too, like fruit trees, need chill hours to bear fruit. Maybe we, too, as we live into an autumn season, need to reflect on what we need to shed, surrender, let things go. Perhaps, in our winter season, when things are bleak and lifeless, in times of darkness and dormancy...much is getting ready to happen. In our times of autumn shedding and winter chill-hours, what follows next is the possibility of newness: the bursting forth of the new-life of Spring; and the invincible Summer, a time of light, joy, energy.

REFLECTION QUESTION: What season are you in right now — in your work/career, within your relationships? What is helping or hindering your growth, within your "current" season?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Careers: What Are You Hungry For?

[Image: Created by Carrie T-P]

“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.’*

The children’s book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar*,” by Eric Carle, opens with these words. The book was one of my child’s favorites. His pre-preschool would read the book aloud during story time. The bonus: the pre-preschool had a caterpillar costume, and would ask for wee volunteers to “suit up” and become the very hungry caterpillar. My little one was usually the first to raise his tiny hand to volunteer, to get into the caterpillar costume, and act out the story. 

The story interweaves helpful educational themes for little ones. The vivid illustrations will show up as days of the week, counting/number, various foods-some healthier than others, and the science of a butterfly’s life stages, and the pain that can come within each life-stage, each transformation. The story also interweaves themes for adults, too.

The book helps me to chew-on: “for what am I hungry?" Within "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," the tiny baby caterpillar emerges from his egg very hungry and seeking food. He’ll eat a leaf, and eventually go onto more exotic foods that leave him with a tummy ache. Then: go back to the leaf. Over time and with the right nourishment, the Very Hungry Caterpillar transforms into a vibrant, beautiful butterfly. Just as the baby caterpillar is born hungry, and continues to be hungry--and actually needs the right "fuel" to transform and grow--so are we. Throughout each life stage, each transformation, each career journey and transition, what do we crave? 

In our careers, we can hunger for much. We can be hungry for the next promotion; working on that delicious, plum client; the next new job with a new employer. It’s helpful to reflect on our career-hunger: our hunger can draw our eyes to a menu of diverse choices: some exotic, some simple, some in-between. The green leaf that that caterpillar chooses first and then last isn’t the most exotic experience: it’s simple and it’s healthy and nourishing. The simple green leaf is exactly what the hungry caterpillar needs, exactly what he’ll will come back to, after tasting so much exotic — the exotic that leave him empty, not-nourished, in pain. The junk-food in our career lives comes in many costumes: it can show up as workaholism, resentment, bullying co-workers, burn-out. It’s a bad menu that leaves us depleted and starving.

We all hunger for the right “green leaf” in our career-lives, to feed and nourish us. Our healthy green leaf will feed us all in myriad ways. The green leaf can be diverse: it can look like work-life balance; partnering with a supervisor who transforms us, who makes us better. The green leaf can be working in a career that fills and feeds your strengths and passion. Green leaves can also look like managing and mentoring a growing team. Just as green leaves come in different shapes and sizes, there’s no one right way to be fed and nourished at work, and to likewise feed and nourish others - your team, your clients, your community.

Final word: as you reflect on your hunger, feed on this wisdom, from theologian and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner:

“The place you’re called to 
is the place where your deep gladness 
and the world’s deep hunger 
meet.” [-Adapted, Frederick Buechner]

REFLECTION QUESTION: In your life and career, what’s your healthy green leaf? On the flip-side of the menu: what’s your exotic junk food that’s leaving you saggy, depleted, starving? The invitation: share in the COMMENTS section; or get creative: journal about it; draw a picture, write a poem: let your creativity soar with the color, lightness, vibrancy of a butterfly

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Careers: Quicksand and Getting Unstuck

Each step we take in our career lives can move us forward, backwards, or can look like standing still. The decision to take on new job responsibilities, how to navigate work-conflicts, even the decision to take on a brand-new job can be equally exhilarating and at times frustrating. Arriving at the right decision, as it "clicks" with you, can feel as soft or firm as a walk on a sandy beach. It takes discernment to make the decision that’s the step-forward.

What happens when we get stuck, paralyzed by anger, fear or worry over a big work decision? Getting stuck can feel like being trapped in quicksand. It can feel harrowing, scary, like being pulled down. So: How do we get out of quicksand? Taken literally, it can look like this:
1. Make yourself as light as possible—toss your bag, jacket, and shoes.
2. Take a few steps backwards.
3. Keep your arms up and out of the quicksand.
4. Reach for a branch or person's hand to pull yourself out.
5. Take deep breaths.
6. Move slowly and deliberately.

Taken “through the lens of discernment” -- escaping the quicksand trap takes work. Our work:
1. Make ourselves as light as possible. We shed stuff, we make ourselves lighter as we speak in truth and courage—never whitewashing, never as a Pollyanna, never as a doormat. 
**Reflect on what do we need to shed, to discard, to make ourselves lighter. It becomes a discernment-practice of spring cleaning: you shed the old, the stuff that “doesn’t spark joy,” and you scrub out the grease and gunk to reveal something shiny, cleaner. 
2. Take a few steps backwards. We reflect, think back, examine what has happened in our career-lives in the past; and what we need to do, in our actions, to move forward in a life giving way. 
**Reflect by using your imagination: what would you need to have or do, to move forward.
3. Keep our arms up! That looks like being in a ready-position. Arms up look like a lot of things. It can look like the victory up-arms you see after a marathoner crosses the finish line. It can look like being in a classroom, knowing the right answer, and shooting up our arms with enthusiasm. **Reflect on “what it would” take to get your arms up.
4. Reach. We need to reach out, to grab hold of something: a branch, another person. That reaching-out can look like having coffee with a trusted mentor, or participating in a “branch” of your local business networking opportunity. 
**Reflect on what reaching out can look like for you: who or what can you invite in, in your outreach?
5. Take deep breaths. Breath in, breath out. This is hard work, and a self-care practice that uses the breath can work wonders. Self-care can come via meditation, yoga, hiking in nature, a sweaty cardio workout. 
**Reflect on where you can take a deep breath, what your self-care practice can look like. 
6. Move slowly and deliberately. We need to have discerning hearts and minds, and it’s a slow, patient process to listen to our gut. Don’t run it through frantic, jerky motions. 
**Reflect on what the "gift of time," the patient process of discernment looks like for you.

We’ll all have quicksand moments in our lives. The work to get unstuck, while it can take time, in the long-run will be life-giving. May we all get unstuck, and walk on the soft and firm sand of a vast, life-giving beach.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Work Habits: Pace Cars and Slowing Down #Careers

Where are the places and spaces where we need to slow down, that will allow you to dwell in possibility?

Years back, I went to the Daytona 500 NASCAR day-before event. Not a place nor space where “slowing down” -- if you're a race car driver -- would be the smart nor safe thing to do. So much pre-race activity was going on: fans camped out in tents and trailers, socializing. Race cars in practice runs. Pit crews at the ready, in their choreographed collaboration. I went with a friend who was a former sports producer, and, in his genius brain, a sport historian. He led me through this experience like a docent: touring NASCAR exhibition galleries, the track, with an eye towards the history, details and facts about the legends and legacy of NASCAR.

What was especially interesting was the pace car. I don’t follow NASCAR, so I had no idea that they used a pace car. What is it? As “speed limiters,” pace cars serve multiple roles. The two that spoke to me the most is (1) how pace cars lead, and (2) how they are meant to usher in safety. The broad strokes on how pace cars lead: "At the start of the race, the pace car leads the assembled cars on the starting grid around the track for a predetermined number of un-scored warm-up laps. When race officials deem appropriate, the pace car releases the field at a purposeful speed to start the race. Pace cars also usher in safety: during yellow flag caution periods, the pace car enters the track and picks up the leader, bunching the field up at a reduced speed."

The pace car will slow things down. I find, in my jam-packed work life, I don’t slow things down. It’s a race; often a race to nowhere. I schedule meetings and calls within each open block of the day. My e-calendar holds very little white space. That’s what we’re supposed do in our careers: we’re supposed to stay focused and productive. We squeeze every minute we can into moving forward with the myriad projects and assignments that fill and overfill our schedules. Studies on productive work habits will show just the opposite: they’ll weave in pace car moments to slow us down. A study conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. The application tracked how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels. The key take-away: the ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. People who followed this schedule had a level of fresh focus in their work and more productivity.

The image that accompanies this post is from my hard copy calendar. A synchronicity moment: I watched the documentary, “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man,” on Netflix. Murray lives in the moment, shows up unexpectedly -- not to be the center of attention, but to participate in life, to spread joy. He spontaneously read poetry to a group of construction workers, and the very first line he read was from this poem by Emily Dickinson. Now, as I look at the calendar that hovers above my workspace, I think of that moment: where time stopped, Murray shared a gift, these busy construction workers took respite, a moment of rest and peace. A pure, generous gift.

We can’t all have the time nor the gifts that Bill Murray shares with the world, as he shows up in surprises, unexpected spaces. But what the documentary showed me is the peace and beauty of slowing down. When I rush, when I shoehorn in more and more work, I’m running a dangerous, deadly race. This ratio of 52 minutes of work, 17 minutes of rest, is a model I’m going to test-drive this week. My hope is that the ratio of work-to-rest feels like a pace car that drives up--to slow me down, to lead me into a new approach to work, to usher in safety. In slowing down, my life catches up with me, I can catch my breath, I can replace worry with hope. I dwell in possibility. My racing engine can slow, instead of kicking into high gear. That’s a race well worth the drive.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Do you have a “pace car” in your life--a practice, healthy habit,  or a trusted co-worker person who slows you down, keeps you safe?