Catch Up

Quick thought today.

I have always thought I liked To-Do lists, that I needed To-Do lists. I have the worst short term memory (as proof, in the time it took me to get my computer and open up this page, I forgot what I had been planning on writing). I have a job where I really can’t forget anything. And combining the two, To-Do lists have always made me feel secure, like a little “extra brain” to help my actual brain in the memory-department it so miserably fails in.

The problem is that I also tend to go a little overboard… I’ll write out schedules for myself. I’ll put things like “eat lunch” or “get dressed.” I’ll re-write my To-Do list multiple times, because putting the list on a new post-it note apparently has some emotional significance for me I’ve yet to fully understand. I hate it when I have to transfer tasks from Monday’s list to Tuesday’s list, and I hate how the lists hang over my head all day long.

A few weeks ago, I realized that the To-Do lists were more stressful than they were helpful. I’m not saying I’m not a fan of lists and organization. But the stress they caused vs. the stress they were supposed to relieve… the scales were tipping in the wrong direction. So I decided to do a little experiment — I gave up the To-Do lists and decided to trust myself. I still have other ways of making sure my life stays in order. I don’t archive an e-mail until I’ve taken care of it. I don’t click on Facebook messages or read texts until I’m in a place to respond. I have an “in-progress” bin of papers at work that I look through daily. But the list telling myself to check my e-mail, respond to texts, or look at my in-progress bin? Gone.

Surprisingly, life has continued on. And its made me aware of a very important fact: I often feel like I’m playing catch up. The lists were always centered around trying to get on top of my life. I used to tell myself, “I just need one day to get stuff done, then I’ll feel better.” But the problem with always feeling like I needed to catch up was that I was spending every day trying to make up for the past. I realized that life has to be more than making a list of things to do, trying frantically to get those things done, and then feeling defeated because I couldn’t accomplish everything. And then starting the next day trying to make up for the shortcomings of yesterday.

To-Do lists may creep back into my life at some point (like I said, they’re helpful), but the words “catch up” have been permanently banned from my vocabulary. My life is more than wishing I had had more time yesterday!



Quick thought on conflict (again taken from a lecture and textbook reading):

Often times as leaders we can fix a problem but we don’t always fix the emotions that arose from the conflict.

Many years ago, I remember I had just started a shift when my boss came onto the work floor. My coworker had been working all day that day and for the few days preceding, which was unusual for her because she was very part time. I, on the other hand, worked full time but hadn’t been there in several days. My boss commented to me, in front of my coworker, “it seems like you live here!” (which out of context sounds weird, but it was a normal, friendly exchange).

When my boss left, my coworker got very upset because she was already working above and beyond her normal hours and hadn’t gotten the acknowledgement for her hard work she thought she deserved. Judging by how much a simple comment had offended her, it was obvious that this coworker was getting burned out on the job. I encouraged her to talk to our boss since our boss was friendly and approachable and would respond well. They did talk, but the conversation centered around reducing her hours with a small mention from the coworker of “I feel like I live here, too. I’m getting too worn down.”

My boss reduced her hours and they both felt like the situation was resolved. Fast forward, as a supervisor, I’ve been here many times. A staff comes to me tired and looking for help. We change a process, fix a problem, prioritize the to-do list, but rarely do we address underlying emotions, attitudes, or issues that caused the problems in the first place.

As it turns out, my coworker continued to be upset that her work wasn’t being acknowledged. It wasn’t an issue of not being thanked for working extra hours. She had a fundamental belief that her supervisor didn’t appreciate her, which later morphed into feeling disliked, which later morphed into a victim mentality. Ultimately she left the job. It had nothing to do with her schedule and everything to do with the emotions of feeling under appreciated that were birthed from that very first conflict. I’m sure when that coworker left, my boss had absolutely no idea what had gone wrong. I don’t think I would have either!

So team members: be on guard for those little things that turn into big things. Look at a situation without your emotions. Do you believe your boss tried to help you resolve your issue the best they could, considering that they have no idea how you feel? If so, maybe dial back those emotions. Or, if you can, express your feelings to your supervisor.

And team leaders: be aware of the emotional component of conflict. Even if the problem is resolved, know that the ramifications of emotions can be long lasting. “I’m never listened to,” “nobody appreciates me,” “my opinion doesn’t matter,” “I’m not respected enough on this team.” These are all thoughts that creep in, especially when a team member is on the “losing side” of conflict. Conflict is healthy and good as long as its handled correctly from start to finish! Don’t stop the conflict process when the immediate problem is settled. See it through to the end: when your team experiences growth!

More on Failure

While listening to a lecture this morning (the only good thing about online classes is that I can do them in my pajamas), I experienced what is quickly becoming a common occurrence in grad school — the feeling of two separate thoughts joining in my mind and sparking a new revelation. In my first class (and in previous posts) I learned a lot about failure as a leader. Its a natural part of leadership, an expected part of leadership.

I’ve also been learning about self-leadership. In class, we read an article that stated 50% of a leader’s time should be spent on self-leadership. I argued against the basic principle of the article in class, though I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind. But because the majority of my classmates were in favor of the article, the idea of self-leadership has been mulling around in my mind as something that I should explore more.

Enter today’s lecture and my revelation. My professor was discussing how often leaders can get blind spots in their own abilities. Especially with the current trend of millennials not giving their leaders respect simply because of a job title or longevity, its all the more important that leaders are open and proactive in soliciting feedback on their weaknesses. Not only does this bring the opportunity for inner growth but it enhances output for the organization and can lead to greater teamwork and empowerment for team members who have complementary strengths for the leader’s weaknesses.

This process of being open about failures and shortcomings and then attempting personal growth and team growth out of that, my professor commented, is an essential part of self leadership. I love that! Admitting failures and shortcomings is an essential part of self leadership. So often leaders attempt to hide their failures. Maybe they’re insecure. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they have blind spots and truly can’t see their weaknesses. Maybe the idea of correction is too much to bear. Or the term “failure” has been so built up that they equate it to their personal worth.

Failure can never be “who you are.” It is simply something that comes with the territory of being human. And while we learn from our mistakes, feel guilty for accidentally hurting others, and certainly strive to be the best leaders, friends, family members, and human beings we can be, there is something profound about realizing that failure is a part of leadership, and managing short comings is an essential element of self-leadership. To deny either of these is to choose to be in denial, unhealthy, and ineffective.

Not Everyone Likes You

Without overthinking it, answer this question: Is there anyone in your life that you don’t like?

I don’t mean those people who you’ve been in fights with — a coworker that wronged you, a relationship gone sour, or a friendship that ended on an awkward note that you never bothered to go back and fix. Just ordinary people in your life that you don’t have a truly significant reason to dislike. Other people like them, they’re not mean or awful or offensive… you just kind of don’t like them as a person. Unless you’re superhuman, you probably don’t have to reach too far to get someone in mind.

The term “people pleaser” exists for a reason – we all want to have relationships. Part of forming a relationships is doing things to make others happy. And some take it a step further by placing their self-worth in the opinions of others, driven by a need to make others happy so they, in turn, can feel good about themselves. I don’t consider myself a people pleaser anymore, but I used to be. It used to keep me up at night wondering if I had offended anyone during the day. I would do nice things to “make up” for any unknown offenses in hopes that I could repair a relationship that wasn’t even tarnished. If someone was upset with me, it was like emotional torture. And the idea of failing someone was paralyzing.

Without getting into too much detail (hey, its the internet.), I found myself somewhat recently in a situation where I had to work with someone that… well, we weren’t destined for BFF-land. As we worked together, it drove me crazy trying to figure out why we weren’t friends. I put in time and effort trying to make her happy. I watched for signs to see if I was making any progress. I replayed conversations in my head. I dreaded getting e-mails from this person, expecting each one to reveal how much she didn’t like me.

Then I had a realization – I didn’t like her. I was spending so much emotional energy on getting a person to like me that I didn’t even like. This led to a revelation that has set me free from people pleasing: I don’t like everyone, so why have I wrapped my self-worth in the idea that everyone must like me?

Don’t get me wrong. Its not that I now feel I have free-license to turn into a troll. But in realizing that, just like failure, people not liking me as a person is inevitable, I’ve extracted my self-worth from being dependent on the opinions of others. Remember that person you thought of in the beginning of the post? They’ve never been a troll to you, its just… you two are not destined for friendship. You don’t click. Thats okay, right? That person shouldn’t base their self-worth on that fact, right? They shouldn’t stay up all night wondering how to change things, right?

You don’t like everyone, so why spend your life trying to get everyone to like you?

Three Million Things

I once read a quote from the talented Idina Menzel that I’ll proceed to butcher rather than take the ten seconds to look up. In response to a performance where she similarly butchered the high note of “Let it Go,” she said, “every show has a million notes to hit. If I hit most of them, I consider that a success.”

Okay… her real quote is better. Ten seconds later, here it is:

“There are about 
3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time 
to realize that if I’m hitting 75 percent of them, 
I’m succeeding. Performing isn’t only about
 the acrobatics and the high notes: It’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience 
in an authentic way, and making yourself 
real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but 
you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all 
that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have 
the courage to try to overcome them.”

I’ve come to realize the same thing is true with leadership. I work where I live. And I don’t mean I work from home. I mean I literally live at work. I make what feels like 3 million decisions every day. And because I love my job and because, lets be honest, I’m a prideful human being, I want to make 3 million correct decisions every day. I don’t want to be told I’ve made a mistake.

But in reality, I can’t possibly make 3 million correct decisions. And if I could, I probably couldn’t do it two days in a row. Or three — much less a career’s-worth of days. For so long I lived in terror that I would make a mistake. I was so afraid that I would make one misstep and that God-forbid someone might actually see me as (*gasp*) a human being. I didn’t think in those terms, of course. But I was deeply afraid of failure. People would comment that I was so good at taking correction. But it wasn’t because I was actually good at it, it was because I was petrified of making the same mistake twice.

Then I learned a very profound lesson from a very great leader, the president of the university I attend. He said that true leaders lead. There’s movement involved. And inevitably, there will be failure. In fact, if you haven’t failed, you aren’t really leading because a lack of failure means that you haven’t taken anyone, anywhere. Failure, ironically, can be a positive sign. Failure is a natural part of leadership. Expect it. And accept it.

And thats really the key — failure, if you’re leading at all, will be inevitable. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t try to hide your mistakes. Its going to happen. So when it happens, just learn from it, course correct, and move on.

So try to do 3 million things correct. “Accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them,” as Idina Menzel says. If you made decision number 175,682,934 incorrectly today, do better tomorrow. And I can’t believe I’m going to end this post this way, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to let it go.