Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ The phrase means literally that the more things change, the more it’s the same thing. I don’t know if that is actually true. Change can hit in a number of different ways. Sometimes those ways are good. They mean progress, improvement, innovation, and avoidance of stagnation. However, sometimes those changes don’t feel so good. They feel uncertain, destabilizing, and confusing. The unknown and the new are sometimes scary. While JB expressed his experience as nothing ever being truly new, and that eventually it all amounts to the same thing, I think the sentiment and underlying meaning is that change is more a part of constancy that is just life. The one thing that seems omnipresent in the world is change, every day something new or different. Sometimes things move so fast, it’s hard to keep up.
Why am I talking about change? Well, it is a new year. It is a time when a good number of people consider changes in their own lives. It is a time to consider the things that may have become stagnant or even unhealthy that could use a refresh, a new habit, improvement to what we choose to do and how we live our lives… But that’s not the only reason that I’m thinking and writing about change. Not really.
In the past few years, I have, myself, experienced a lot of changes. I have watched people I care about face other changes. Not all of them were good. In fact, many of them were distinctly unpleasant. There were significant losses. There were obstacles and health issues and heartbreaks. I have watched those I love battle crippling despair and agonizing decisions. It hurts.
But there have been other changes as well. There have been changes born of growth. There have been graduations, weddings, births, new opportunities, and new relationships. There have been moves and new places. There have been new ideas and plans.
I’m distracting myself again. I do that. The reason this particular post is in TNC is because I want to talk about change in the workplace. You had to know that it was eventually going to wind around to job, right? In the past year, my team has dealt with drastic and overwhelming changes. There have been team reorganizations, a complete program change, manager changes, and then a documentation platform change… and that was within less than six months! And they rolled with it. They handled it better than any team with whom I’ve previously worked. I could not be prouder to be a part of them.
And now… in the new year, they were hit with change again. Another reorganization resulted in almost my entire team shifting to a different manager and another group being assigned to me. I’ll be honest, it hit me pretty hard. I am a bit of a “mama bear” when it comes to my direct reports, and I mourned that loss, hard. It helped that the manager to whom they were given is one of the best people and best leaders I know, but it still shook me up. I can only imagine what my new team is experiencing, but I suspect that there may be a good deal of anxiety and trepidation as we all have to learn about each other and develop these new relationships after years of understanding the in’s and out’s of a different leader and leadership style. I know it came as a shock for most. Maybe some are excited about the change, but I expect a lot more are worried about how the “new boss” will be.
It took me quite a while to shift my own mood and thoughts and acceptance. But I know that we are all still working for the same team and the same people and serving the same deserving population that are given into our charge each day. Who knows, now that I’m not “boss lady” to some of my former direct reports, there may be friendships and colleague relationships to further nourish and bloom in a different way.
Change is hard. Sometimes it feels bad initially, but hopefully it can push us, motivate us, and help us keep moving in a positive direction to be better and grow more. I think it is really about perspective. Acknowledge the discomfort, but don’t get stuck in it. Look for the opportunity and let the change move rather than control. So, with that, I’m going to go back to our friend JB for another quote that I like better…
“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.’
On chill wind a wild hunt sounds Through skeletal, bare branches ringing around Tendrils of smoke from nied-fire rise Wishes of true hearts rise to the skies As Sunna sleeps for one longest night To rise with the dawn and bring back the light The moon glows brightly, breaking the heavy dark Celestial dancers send showers and sparks And stories of old draw the young and old here To sit round the fire sharing frith and good cheer
I believe I’ve actually addressed this issue previously, but for the life of me, I cannot recall. I want to discuss for a brief span the concept of time off.
When we talk about time off, typically we are talking about time away from the workplace. And by workplace, that means paid for employment from an external source (differentiating between caregivers and parents who work hard, but are not necessarily reimbursed by an external agent in monetary form). There are different sorts of time away from work. These can be both paid or unpaid. For some there is differentiation between vacation and sick leave, but many employers have gone to a straight paid-time-off (PTO) system where a set amount of days or hours are given dependent upon pay grade and time in grade, and those hours/days can be used for whatever purpose needed. There are a bunch of other statutes and intricacies of labor law, such as short term disability and family medical leave act (FMLA) that govern other types of issues related to time away. Different states and countries have laws and regulations that govern these workforce and labor concerns. For the current discussion, we will not be including paid holidays, bereavement, or mandatory closures (weather, weekends, drill/military, emergencies, disaster, etc.).
Let’s delve a bit into history. There are some who would say that things like employee paid time off, paid holidays, sick leave, etc. are a modern invention in response to concerns for workers rights and health and unions. Turns out, probably not. It seems that there is archeological evidence to show that as far back as 1500 BCE the pharaohs of Egypt provided disability or sick leave for tomb craftsmen and workers while they received state sponsored health care to get them back on their feet (ancient workman’s comp claim… who knew?!?). So, it seems that there has been an understanding for a long time that it is cheaper to take care of trained workforce and keep them healthy than to deal with constant turnover and training new replacements every time you break one.
There are, I know, a good deal more erudite folks on the matter of labor laws than I am with my Google searches and perusal of HR Direct mandatory policy and legal documents. However, I’ve had to develop some significant upgrades to my knowledge for my own occupations and assisting both my own employees and patients to navigate their benefits and job protection.
As I stated earlier, some organizations, states, or countries have differences between sick time and vacation. Sick leave would be paid time for the purposes of attending to health. What are the benefits? Well, you don’t have people coming into the office and bringing plague to coworkers, patients, or customers. That’s a perk. Burnout is a thing, let me tell you. Employees who do not attend mental health and revitalization are less likely to provide quality service to customers or patients. Vacation time would be paid time that can be used for anything… namely, though, vacation, right? Time to do something for leisure. Some places give the paid time off as a lump at a designated time of the year (often January 1). Others set up accrual systems so that paid time is gained through out the year in increments (often based on time in service and rank). There are still a number of organizations that have unpaid time off, and typically to have paid time of any sort, you have to be a full time employee (so, somewhere between 35-37 hours per week minimal to qualify). Many places can get by not having PTO benefit by not having full time employees. If a worker is out, they just don’t get paid. Many hospitality roles do not have a paid time off benefit. This also applies to the self-employed and entrepreneurs out there. Independent contractors, business owners, free-lancers, etc… If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That’s just the way it goes. However, that being said, the wise and wiley among the self-employed also build this into their business plans and taxes and all that jazz… but I digress.
What about those other categories I mentioned? The short-term-disability (STD, gotta love that, but seriously that is how it is frequently listed in the policy manuals… threw me a couple of times when reading those) and the FMLA. What are those about? Well, these are two very different things. The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) has different pieces to the puzzle. This law protects those that qualify from losing their jobs if they are absent due to their own illness or due to mandatory care-taking duties for children, family, partner, etc. FMLA can also apply to maternity or paternity leave with some organizations who do not have such built in separately. FMLA can be all of a single block of prescribed length of time or it can be “intermittent.” We see a lot of the intermittent type with folks who may have other caretaker assistance, but will need to take time (sometimes without warning) to deal with issues related to the care of a loved one. The important part to take note of here is that FMLA does not supply income. It literally just protects the employee from getting canned due to work absence. Which brings me to the STD bit… Short term disability is the income piece. While FMLA is actually a reference to labor law and has legally regulated measure through state and federal government, STD is actually not a requirement or mandated benefit. Employers do not have to offer this. It is something that can be offered like healthcare benefits or life insurance. Sometimes, you will see it as a deduction from pay receipts. STD must also be approved. This usually requires some evidence supplied by an attending provider. If the evidence supplied through medical documentation is insufficient based on the criteria set by the governing agency of the claim, the STD will be denied, and this means that there may be no income.
This is all a bunch of super-complicated intricately interwoven aspects of being off from a paid employment position. I am exceedingly happy to know that there are a bunch of people who have more extensive knowledge and “back-of-the-hand” understanding of these elements upon whom I can rely to help me navigate for myself, my own staff, or my patients. However, I’ve developed in the past decade or so probably enough knowledge and understanding to be exceedingly dangerous… So, here goes with an example:
Employee A (we’ll call him Bob) wants to go on a vacation with his family this summer. He earns a set amount of hours paid time off every pay period. At the first of the year, he starts banking those hours (we’ll assume he had no rollover hours from the previous year… because that just complicates things for our example). Bob wants to take the week, and his normal pay week is 40 hours. Bob earns 6 hours of PTO per pay period. He needs to work 7 pay periods to have the 40 hours. Now, some employers will allow staff to borrow against future PTO if the employee is in good standing. Again… we’ll not delve to avoid complication. The problem for Bob is that any unplanned time off needs to either dip into his PTO or potentially be unpaid if he wants to be paid for that week at Disney with the family.
Let’s say that poor Bob has an unexpected injury that resulted in a hospital stay or prolonged absence from work. Bob’s manager (or Bob himself) would contact HR to set up FMLA. The first part of that is to safeguard Bob’s job position so that he is not laid off or terminated during this recovery time. However, this does not actually solve any issues with Bob’s income. Depending on policy, Bob may be required to utilize any PTO accrued before application for STD or being eligible for same. However, some employers may allow STD to be applied without exhausting the PTO. This would, of course, be better for Bob and his family (Disney looming, remember). Depending on the medical details and information provided by Bob’s attending physicians, Bob may not meet criteria to be approved for STD. Bob then has a choice (again, depending on the policy of the organization) to take unpaid leave or exhaust his PTO.
Now Bob’s buddy (we’ll call him Carl… I borrowed these guys from a friend, don’t judge) has a situation with a family member which requires his close attention and a good many hours of his time to arrange and manage care. Carl has obtained caregiver support through the family member’s own healthcare benefits, but that doesn’t pay him for his time. He is still often required to take the family member to appointments and be present as, perhaps, medical power of attorney. And so, Carl faces some issues. He, too, would like to have some vacation/leisure time with his family, but the frequent demands on his hours of work do not technically fall into the STD criteria. Carl applied for and was granted intermittent FMLA which allows him to take frequent absence from work without anxiety about losing his position. However, he doesn’t get paid for that time. So, Carl has to pick and choose his use of PTO accrued (which may not allow much for a planned vacay with the family) or take the time away as unpaid to save the PTO for the planned use later in the year. Depending on Carl’s employer, he may not have a choice and be forced to exhaust his PTO before taking time as unpaid. The point being, Carl will likely need to consult his own HR guru at his place of employment for guidance.
As you can see/read/whatever, there are intricacies and specifics, and all of them are dependent upon the policy of the employer and what benefits are actually provided by the organization. There are, unfortunately, employers who are a bit dodgy and will try to get out of paying the time off benefits. However, there are a good many studies showing that the benefit to the employee is often a benefit to the company in the long term.
And… before I wind this particular piece up, let’s talk about the new challenges of modern time away. I’ve often written about the challenges and issues with the modern technological conveniences upon the work-life balance. While technological improvements and evolutions have provided opportunity to shorten commutes to literally a few feet down the hall, it makes it a bit too convenient to access job when allegedly being away from job. It has created some interesting concerns and solutions. For instance, I have a horrible habit of calling into meetings or checking email when I am supposed to be on vacation. Part of this is my own work-life boundary issues, but also it is stress due to expected work overload when I return. Because of the fast pace of corporate environment and (let’s be honest) a little lack of boundaries on the part of the organization, emails, phone calls, projects, and such do not get put on pause while any given employee is absent. That train just keeps on rolling, and there is an anxiety that develops about being pushed out or possibly made superfluous by merely taking time off. It’s probably an unrealistic fear, but with the current job market, anxiety is there. The other part of that work-life issue is coming back to over 1000 emails and having to spend a week or more just trying to figure out what happened while you were out. I often tell peers and employees, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m trying to get better about staying away and delegating, but old habits die hard. And did I mention the anxiety?
Which brings up another, slightly trickier issue. What about those legal categories? Not the planned vacations or unplanned brief sick leave, but what about the STD or FMLA? These present some significant issues for telecommuter culture. With normal workplace culture, people on STD or FMLA simply do not come to work. They aren’t working because they are not there. For a telecommuter who can work from home and has access to work through technology, how does that work?!? So, that has presented some interesting issues. It might not seem like a big deal, but legally it is. If a person is on FMLA or STD but is also working? Yeah, that develops into ugly words like fraud or abuse. Anyhow, it’s difficult to police or monitor work and lack thereof when the person doesn’t actually come to an office and clock in, right? The solution to this in some companies is to shut off access. The literally turn off the ability for the employee to log into the workplace network. It solves the problem, but it adds that layer of complication and difficulty with the IT department and the employee when they return to work. Bottom line? They can’t just *poof* come back. There are forms and requests and logic to reprogram, oh my…
In wrapping it all up and tying with a bunch of red tape, I think there is more positive to be said for allowing employees paid time off than not. I encourage my self-employed and independent contractor folks to program that into their own budgets and schedules. Physical and mental health is easier to protect than try to reclaim when overtaxed physical and psychological systems burn out. I’ll tell you all, as I tell all my staff, “The advice is good, even if I’m not terribly good at listening to it myself.” I’m a work in progress, what can I say?
It’s that time again. I recognize that a year has gone by, and perspective turns retrospective. I look around and realize that I’ve not accomplished much.
I always approach the natal anniversary time with dread and regret. I know that is probably silly and not terribly helpful or healthy, but it’s accurate. I just don’t like my birthday. Never have. It might be something subconsciously observed (like always having flags at half-mast in honor of… being born on the day that will “live in infamy” has a tendency to do that). It might also be that my birthday has never really seemed to be about me. It’s always been about other things, other people… the fact that I was born (lo, the many years ago) was always a bit of an afterthought or at best used by others to garner attention for themselves… sometimes well-deserved. Other times… maybe not so much, but there it is. It always got lost in the midst of other rememberance or exam weeks or general holiday festivities.
I think it may have upset a younger me at times. I was always so envious of those classmates that had summertime birthdays. There were pool parties and picnics or beach cookouts, things and events that peers and friends looked forward to in the doldrums of summer indolence. But, in truth, the envy and regret didn’t really take sufficient hold to become psychopathy or anything… (oooh, but now I have ideas for a mystery thriller with a birthday fixation… meh, it’s probably been done, and I’m getting off track).
One year for my birthday, I was actually given a book. Beth’s Happy Day. Coincidentally, it was about a girl… with my name… who was having a “special day.” The book followed Beth around all day while she did things for other people. Eventually, at the end of her day, she goes home to find all the people (mostly adults, mind you) she had assisted throughout the day in her back yard for a party… yep, you guessed, birthday party for Beth. Not a bad story, but the message was clear about birthdays and altruism. I think it may have also highlighted the “normalcy” of having a child’s birthday filled and attended predominantly by their elders, parents, grandparents, and other adults instead of age-group peers and other children.
And really, not so bad a message. This year, I’ve seen a number of people choose to use their birthday to rally funds for various causes, charities, etc.; which I think is a really nice way to honor someone’s “Happy Day”.
For the past few decades, I’ve actually consciously elected to hide my birthday. I tried to focus and distract folks on other things, tests, projects, other observances. I have left town, used the time to avoid people but maybe get other things done. With social media, there is generally a reminder that prevents complete ignorance of the day (I could, of course, have turned that bit private, but I totally forgot), and that, perhaps, was not such a bad thing. It was nice to see friends and family well-wishes. With thoughts giving energy, perhaps it will add fuel to make the next trip round the sun a more productive trip.
So, the inventory and reflection time has given me some perspective. I can honestly say that 2018 was better in many ways (for me as an individual) than the previous year. Perhaps the next trip will continue the trend. I sincerely hope that I can, at least, contribute positively to my own experience as well as that of those around me. With that said, let’s take it one more time around, Jeeves…
Fifteen years ago… has it really been 15? The world lost a bright spirit, but I suspect he might linger and visit…
Danny Potter was a monumental person. I do not say that metaphorically. I mean it. He was, in his health, 6’4″ and weighed quite a few hundred pounds. The double-headed dragon torque that he always wore around his wrist was loose on my bicep, and I speculate I could have worn it as a collar torque. But the biggest part of Danny was the heart.
Danny never met a stranger. He was a beloved brother, uncle, son, and friend. He had an unmeasurable intellect that he fed on a constant diet of literature and history. However, he devoted his time and his care to work with those at the very opposite end of that spectrum at the Green Valley institute for intellectually disabled. And they loved him (and he them) as much as we all did.
Danny was a poet and a druidic scholar in the true sense of the word. He was the teller of stories and a great listener who absorbed information like a sponge. He remained always curious. He was a great lover of history, especially of the Appalachian and Northeast Tennessee area where he lived and grew. He was a proud member of Clan Colquhoun (no, it’s not pronounced precisely as it looks… it’s Cul-hoon). He celebrated his Scottish heritage and founded a Celtic Festival that ran for many years with displays, music, and historical reenactment. Danny did much (if not all) of the work himself, signing on vendors, displays, and musical acts. (After his passing, it took a committee to do what he did single-handedly for so long).
Danny’s house was quite literally filled with books. They filled the den from floor to ceiling all around the room. Many evenings, I sat on couch or floor (depending on the number of us visiting) talking about topics that could range from archeology to zoology and all points in between, but mostly… tales of the mystical and fantastic and stories of the hills. Danny loved this season. He saw Samhain in the old Celtic sense of a new year and a thin veil and a time of marvelous opportunity.
Danny had a way of pulling people together. He could find something beautiful or valuable in every soul he touched. Recently his nephew and I were talking about how Danny’s web continues, even 15 years later, to draw us together and remind us of the connections we share. It seems that he will always be nudging me in the shoulder to keep that web spinning and shining.
He was gone too soon. At only 50 years, the world lost his physical presence. However, Danny never expected us to grieve him. He expected us to celebrate. In 2003, Danny left this plane, the time as close to midnight October 31-November 1 as could be determined. At his memorial service, his wishes were read. He told all of us not to grieve the body that he was ready to leave and had served it’s purpose. He reminded us that he might visit from time to time, and he asked that at this time of year, we put out two fingers of Scotch as a rememberance…. “Remember, I have very large fingers.”
And thus, my post, these 15 years later… Every year, my husband and I place two fingers of Scotch out on the back porch before midnight on Halloween… for Danny… It is always gone in the morning.
I will always miss my friend, but I like to think that I do my best to live as he would have wanted me to do, making connections, seeing beauty in each day and each soul that enters that web that Danny continues to spin for me. I see him in the people who loved and continue to love him. I hear him remind me to look around me for that which is good and true, and to always stay curious…
So I can chase my tail with less expenditure of energy…
I sometimes feel like I run in circles with a lot of energy going into constant activity with relatively little to show when I get to the end of the day. It really makes me question my efficacy and efficiency. There are days when I feel like I’m one of those performers with plates spinning on the rods… running back and forth to give each one a push and spin to keep them going. What would happen if I stopped… would they all come crashing down? Shattered plates all over, right? That’s pretty much what it feels like. It’s deceptive, too, because I’m pretty sure that if I did just take a breath, take a break, and slow it down, everything would likely just keep on ticking along.
On any given week, my work calendar looks a bit like I lost a game of Tetris. (Oh yeah… that’s what the annoying musicis…). Just opening my calendar program is enough to raise the blood pressure, and that is truly a bit excessive and possibly unnecessary. I recently received a request from my superiors to share my meeting calendar with full details (It was sent to all of my colleagues actually; I wasn’t singled out or anything). My first response was, “Um… why?” with a side of “Big Brother, is that you?” However, when I did step back and reread the email, I realized that perhaps it was more along the lines of leadership wanting to make sure that we aren’t being obligated to meetings that are truly just redundant or in which my participation is not necessary. There isn’t anything private or confidential on there. The only things on that calendar are meetings that have been set by said leadership. It still felt a little intrusive, I have to admit, but that was just my own knee-jerk response. I’m working on it. No one was asking to monitor my every moment. I need to let that go. Letting my boss see my calendar might mean less double and triple booking issues (which happens to me quite a lot during the day).
Recently I broke my own record by being in two conference calls at the same time with four different Webex instances, 17 instant message windows and all while trying to respond to multiple emails that continued to come into my inbox every moment. My spouse coming in the office to ask if I needed some coffee was apparently just too much, and I didn’t even hear him ask. (He’s gotten used to this over the years, and so thankfully did not take it personally.) But in truth, it was all too much. How much quality attention could I possibly be given to any of these instances with that much over extension of my various senses. It. Was. Too. Much. And I’d done it to myself, or at least allowed it.
We all do it these days. The world moves at a very fast pace. In fact, if I am very honest with myself and anyone reading, I feel anxious and antsy when I am not moving at warp speed trying to get everything done. It is sad that I cannot seem to appreciate what has been termed “down time.” I’ve lost the knack of relaxing. Maybe some of you have as well…
Even when I feel like I am coping well with my busy life, I have to take a step back and really listen to my tone of voice, my interactions with my own employees, my family, my friends, my clients… When I’m over extended my voice gets clipped. My tone gets a bit sharp, and I find myself angry when the situation really doesn’t warrant it. So, when that time comes, I need to remember that my chair spins away from the desk, and taking a break will not result in shattered plates everywhere. It’s ok for me to take my leadership’s offer to take care of me. It won’t kill me to let go and say no occasionally. It’s a work in progress, but at least my chair spins and my coffee is full.
In the expected post-DragonCon doldrums, I am experiencing all the usual bouts of irritability, sadness, disappointment, and sticker-shock. It’s pretty much the same thing every year. I get back to the reality of people being annoyed at their jobs, annoyed with traffic, beaten-down by adulting… what? adulting is hard people!
So, paying bills post-Con is always a sobering activity (and after Con, most people need sobering). Sitting down with a budget and realizing that you may be eating a lot of beans and rice through the end of the year… Wondering if a third job might be in order… Noticing that you might have forgotten to actually mail the RSVP for niece’s wedding that was due to be mailed four days ago… what else have I forgotten in the lost space and time of DragonCon?!?
As you might imagine, it’s a tad depressing. On top of which is the overbranching theme of “You have gotten a bit old for all of this…” And that, my friends, may be the saddest and most depressing part of the post-Con funk (as opposed to active-Con-Funk which is actually a scent that is indescribable and very recognizable… and traumatizing). It is the idea that time has passed and fandoms have changed. I saw fewer and fewer of the costumes that spoke to my heart of my favorite shows remembered. Star Wars has regained some prominence with the new movies (of which I have seen a sum total of one, and that may be all I have stomach for at this point). Star Trek has new shows which CBS is hoarding with their paid streaming contracts that prevent the viewership at large from watching en masse. Trekkies tend to be a constant population and die hard, so at least they are still representing even in this modern day.
The truth is that I felt a bit out of my element this year, like maybe these weren’t “my people” anymore. I wasn’t recognizing some of the cosplay (though still fully appreciating the beauty, creativity, and effort by so many that I saw). There were fun times, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt different than it had in years past. I still love the amazing energy that is the experience of DragonCon, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve become more of an outsider and observer than a member of the tribe. It’s ok, I think. I’ve changed, and so has Con. And that is probably as it should be. However, I’m left, as so many are post-Con with that feeling of being bereft after so much excitement and milling throngs of people. The sights and the sounds that are part of the convention are replaced with conference calls and reports.
So, before I just completely let myself wallow in misery, I happened to catch an article on Greatist.com about how to get out of a funk. I figured, what the heck? It can’t hurt…
Turns out, it actually is a pretty good little exercise. Some may find it cheesy, but if you actually use it and approach with sincerity, it seems to work. It is a series of 5 questions and 5 “finish this sentence” that involves actually looking for positives in your life. Even in the worst circumstances, we can all find at least one thing that doesn’t completely suck. I do this with patients who struggle with depression and anxiety as well. It can be difficult to find the light when it is overshadowed with bad experiences, disappointments, or clinical depression, but for your average everyday funk mood, it can raise that bar just enough to pull you out of a complete tailspin.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What’s the best thing that’s happened to me so far today, and what did I most appreciate about it?
2. Which household items do I most appreciate and why?
3. What do I most appreciate about my body and why?
4. What are some things that recently went right or better than expected?
Finish these sentences:
5. I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to…
6. Though I may not be rich, I’m thankful I have enough money to…
7. I appreciate that every day I get to…
8. The best things in life are free, including…
9. I appreciate that tomorrow I’ll get to…
10. I appreciate that I had the courage to…
So… give it a try. Be honest. A lot of people might immediately go into a negative headspace and answer the questions with the idea that there is nothing good in their life. I challenge you to find even the smallest thing as a potential positive. It might get easier as you move through the list. It might even help you see other positives that you hadn’t seen previously. Hang in there folks.
They are contagious, you know. In fact, they are some of the most virulent agents of ill that are completely undocumented by the CDC or FDA or any other official sounding acronym that I could come up with to illustrate the point. While I’m pretty certain that a Perpetually Positive Polly would spark homicidal rage in the most stable of breasts, treading too long in the dark is draining, exhausting, and just not productive.
Can often be found hanging out with her buddy Debbie Downer. She and Debbie can find the cloud around every silver lining. Nothing can brighten their bad day. Nothing suits them quite so well as being able to share something horrible about someone who has had a run of good fortune. Prognosticators of pussilescence, they will be the first to predict misfortune and a downturn of luck when things are going well. They never have a good word to say about anyone, and while they are always willing to share all the juiciest gossip (especially if it is bad news), they are not the group in which you want to confide… since their next news story might be about you!
Quick to point out all the flaws, Clarie can spot all the ways that something can and will go wrong. Clarie’s glass is always half empty… if not entirely dry. Without fail, CC will always doubt the potential of any plan. She will find every single hole and stumbling block along the path… Not so bad, you say? Maybe not. We all need someone who can be devil’s advocate and plan for the potentiality of failure, but she’s not so forth-coming with the solutions. For CC, it’s not so much the potential, but the eventual, and she is absolutely certain about negative outcome. Clarie also likes to complain about her situation, the behavior of others, and the general condition of her surroundings, but she is completely uninterested in the contributed solutions of friends, colleagues, or family, Offered options are often met with “Yeah… but…” It’s like she doesn’t want anything to improve… she just wants to bitch about it. Finding the failure and pain points is all well and good Clarie, but how do you suggest we fix it?!?
Bless his heart. He’s the workplace version of Eeyore. Not so bad a character, but after a while, hearing about how everything is going to go to hell in handbasket can get a little rough on the ears. Everything is always horrible, and Gus never has anything good to report. Whether it is his work performance or his physical aches and pains, he will regale any unfortunate listener with all the depressing details. I don’t know that Gus is just deliberately trying to sabotage a positive workplace, but he’s enough to suck the life out of everyone around him. Much like CC, Gus isn’t interested in your advice for how he might alter his own circumstances. He prefers to wallow in his own misery… and he wants to share that misery with company. He’s his own worst enemy, and he can’t figure out why no one wants to go on break with him.
Solution Sally (Marginal Member of the Negativity Collective)
She’s the antithesis to Clarie and all her complaints. Sally is always telling you how to do it better… But that isn’t such a bad thing to have a person who is always looking for the way to fix things, is it? Sally isn’t so bad, most of the time. Where our solution-seeking gal (or guy) becomes a potentially less than positive influence is when there isn’t anything that needs fixing. You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke…” Well, our gal Sal doesn’t even notice that things are working, she always sees a different way, though not always better, and she’s quick to jump in and tell you how her way is the best way, even when no one asked. We love solutions, Sally, but listening is an important skill to embrace before trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
Hanging around with these people too much can lead you to a convalescence in the Bitter Barn. Trust me, you do not want a permanent bunk in there. The accommodations are pretty poor and comfort levels are abysmal. Of course, that is how the regulars like it… always something to complain about, right?
The truth is that sometimes it is really hard to stay positive. When things are stressful and just not going your way, the simplest thing in the world is to dive into morose sense of the futility… and of course bitch about it. We’ve all done it (except for PPP… and she’s just a little too chipper for everyone). There are just times when the day… or week… maybe year… just sucks. We get down. We get cranky. Sometimes, we get angry. It’s ok. Those are human emotions and natural responses to aversive stimuli and unpleasant situations. It’s not fun or enjoyable, and I think most people would find it completely acceptable for any normal human being to have those emotional responses. It’s also quite natural to vent and share our displeasure verbally. However, there is a time and place for everything… and a limit.
Negativity is one of those things that has a contradictory nature of sharing. For some negative impact issues, bottling up our emotional responses can create something like an affective abscess that bursts at inconvenient times or stews and simmers to grow into other problems down the road. On the other hand, venting can sometimes be a self-feeding spiral that just drags the person sharing into a more and more negative mood… not to mention either coloring the mood of listeners or just alienating everyone (remember what I said about the contagion factor). It’s a fine line.
So, when is it ok? And when is enough… enough? First of all, remember your environment and your audience. While honesty is generally the best policy, lambasting the boss in front of other leadership personnel may not be the best strategy for continued employment. Additionally, while everyone understands the occasional dissatisfaction inspired complaint, a continual diatribe without any contributing solutions may not be appreciated in work or social settings. Watercooler talk or an afterwork social gathering is always subject to the occasional griping, but no one wants to hear constant negativity.
How can you tell if you are becoming one of the negativity tribe? One key factor that can clue you into the “enough is enough” point is when the venting doesn’t make you feel any better. We’ve all had those moments where faced with a frustrating or infuriating set of circumstances, we just want to fly loose with “!@#(&%)!@$~@#!” In the normal course of events, your friend, partner, or sympathetic coworker responds with, “Feel better now?” and if done correctly, the answer should be, “Yes.” That is venting. It lets off the steam that had built up to explosive levels. Once the pressure has been released, it clears the system for more productive focus. The danger of chronic or constant venting is that there is no cathartic feeling of “Aaaah that feels a little better after saying it.” With the continued diatribe or spewing of vindictive spleen, the spewer and the spewee just feel worse and worse with each instance… and each passing moment. Sometimes this conversation can degenerate into one-upmanship or “you think that’s bad?” and from there it’s is race to see who can be the most negative. This is a pretty good indication that venting is not therapeutic or helpful any longer.
So what to do? Suppressing emotions just because they are not the happy peppy ones isn’t healthy, but feeding the darker emotions with continual negative energy isn’t good either. Having someone who is safe to process stuff with is a treasure. Don’t abuse them. Make sure that if a friend, partner, or trusted coworker is willing to listen that you give them the same courtesy and do not monopolize that avenue of communication. Also, how do you know that you are talking to Nelly, Clarie, or Gus… if you consistently feel drained and exhausted after every interaction, it’s probably one of these folks from the Bitter Barn. Best defense is changing subjects, but when all else fails, walk away. Use your own energy to fuel something more positive instead of letting it be drained away by the perpetually negative.
Stay encouraged and curious, folks, and stay out of the Bitter Barn!
This morning I got up… per my usual… at the usual time. It was dark out. Just last week, it wasn’t dark… was it? I could swear it was at least the faint, gray pre-dawn thing. But today… nope. Dark. Like night. Which pretty much reminded me that I meant to get so much done this summer… and didn’t.
What happens to me and my time that I fail to accomplish the goals and tasks that needed to be accomplished? And what about the things that I wanted (rather than needed) to do?
So here I am… about 2 weeks more before I am squarely in the fourth quarter of 2018 and I find that there are many things that I meant to get to… and didn’t. Many pounds I meant to shed… and… nope… those are still firmly where they were (and I think they brought friends to stay with them). The panic sets in, and not just a small modicum of guilt. Did I waste all my time? Did I procrastinate necessary chores in favor of vegetating like a lump while my brain oozed from my ears binging a series on Netflix? Am I a terrible slackard for not getting all my to-do tah-done? It’s enough to discourage, dishearten, and generally depress… BUT, I honestly just don’t have time for that right now.
Mental exhaustion is a thing. People don’t always acknowledge this. If you go out and put in 8-12 hours of manual, sweaty labor for yourself or someone else, pretty much all parties will agree that your right to exhaustion is guaranteed. “You, my friend, have put in a hard day’s labor, and the laborer is deserving of succor and rest…” Ok, seriously, if you have friends that speak like this without actually being at a Renfaire… that is awesome! The point is that while physical labor and activity are definitely not extinct in our world, it isn’t quite the common thread that it was. In days gone by the majority of the population did have manual labor as a part of their daily lives, but most people today have occupations and avocations that are less physical and more cerebral… even if menial or tedious.
We still tend to give more credence to physical cause for tiredness than mental challenges or efforts. And that just isn’t a fair assessment at all. I get patients, employees, friends, family… saying “I don’t know why I’m so tired… I haven’t done anything,” only to follow that up with folks telling me that they have been learning a whole new process at work or have been writing a paper that will change the way we think about biometrics and human interaction with technology on a molecular level. I even catch my own inner voice chastising my lassitude when all I’ve seemingly done all day is sit at a desk in meetings.
HEY PEOPLE!!! That is work. Your brain requires energy to power it, and when it has been put to use trying to absorb new information or synthesize an innovation, it is using that energy. The result? We. Get. Tired. And now I have shades of Mel Brooks with Madeline Kahn running around in my head… probably using more of that energy.
Our brains use up a ton of energy (and Calories) every day just to keep us breathing, digesting, moving around… passive stuff that we don’t even consciously acknowledge. When we then add to it the need to process additional data and input, it is work. While it may be using the “muscle” between your ears instead of the ones attached to long bones throughout your skeleton, it is still potentially exhausting.
I guess the bottom line, upshot, in conclusion, and all that jazz that I wish to impart to anyone still reading is that brain work is still work, and your body and mind require recovery just as much as for physical effort. And for those of us that maybe didn’t get everything accomplished that we set out to do at the beginning of the summer or year, it’s ok. Set small steps, give yourself credit for the things you did do, and even small victories deserve a celebration. Take care of yourselves.
A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?