Love and Work

 

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that reminds us of love. We mostly interpret that to mean “romantic love” or eros, which leaves the day fraught with peril for those who are between love interests. If you’re without a sweetheart, the day may be a stinging reminder that everywhere you look, someone else is getting a dozen roses.

I celebrate Valentine’s Day in a broader sense, focusing instead on a higher form of love, agape, a transcendent love, universal and unconditional. This is the love that I’m speaking of when I share the mission of my coaching practice: “To create a world where people love what they do and do what they love.” When we are in service to others through our work, that is a transcendent love. We are driven to make a difference and in spite of circumstances, in spite of the evidence (failure, disappointment, no results), we keep on working. We do it for love.

My coaching practice rose from the ashes of losing the job that brought us here to the Chicago area. After the shock and shame of getting fired, I lifted my head and asked myself, “What did I learn? Where was I responsible for this mess?” Truth was, I was not fit for that job. I ignored the signs, to my peril. Once I accepted that I was 100% responsible for what had happened, I made a powerful choice: I would never again stay in a job that didn’t fit. I committed myself from that time on to loving my work and helping others love theirs.

Sigmund Freud said “Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness.” I would venture to say “Love of work is the cornerstone to our humanness.” Look at how much time we spend at work…most of our waking hours. I had a colleague once who complained daily about her job. When I gently offered to provide some career coaching to her, she sighed and said, “No, that’s all right. I only have eleven more years until retirement.”

ELEVEN MORE YEARS! I think of my friend Sheryl, who died at 56 of a brain aneurysm, unable to see her daughter graduate high school. I think of men who have heart attacks within months of retirement, having tolerated their work with the vision of golf courses in their heads, now too weak to walk. Plan for the future, yes, but don’t live for the future. The future is now. We have the right–and the responsibility–to love what we do so that we can make a difference in the world. There is urgency in this message! We must love what we do because as far as I know, this is our one shot. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I hope on this Valentine’s Day you’re surrounded by all types of love–love of friends and family, your pets, your home and your work. Most of all I hope you love the choices you’ve made. If not, you can make new choices. There’s still time but time, like your life, is precious. Act now. Let me know if I can help.

Thou Shalt Not “Should” on Thyself

Some people look to their business or career coach for the kind of conditioning they might receive from a drill sergeant: “Drop and give me 20!” That isn’t my style: I’m a kinder, gentler coach. However, I do have one hard and fast rule when working with my clients. I insist they follow this commandment: “Thou shalt not ‘should’ on thyself.”

I received my inspiration for this rule from my friend Linn Billingsley, an accomplished healthcare executive who shared a patch of my career journey with me when we both worked for Humana Hospital-Phoenix. One day I came into Linn’s office to share (read: vent), bemoaning some foolish choice I’d made. “I should have done this! I should have done that!” I wailed. Linn stopped me cold. “Vickie,” she said. “It sounds to me like you’re ‘shoulding’ all over yourself.”

The double entendre is what makes this so funny, of course. But there’s nothing funny about living in the Land of I Should Have. Here are just a few observations about why we need to catch ourselves from using the word “should” whenever possible:

  • “Should” is usually based in the past. Maybe we should have done something differently, but we didn’t. There’s nothing we can do about it now other than learn from our mistake. If we focus instead on what we could have done, next time we’ll know better.
  • I’m no etymologist (that’s someone who studies words, not bugs) but I think “should” somehow is closely linked to the word “shame.” Whenever we “should on ourselves,” we’re usually beating ourselves up for either doing or not doing something that we now know would have been a better idea. There’s shame around our decision and it’s a fruitless, wistful kind of longing for having had better judgment. Sometimes the only way we learn to make better decisions is the memory of having made some bad ones. Or, when the “should” is coming from someone else, as in “You should have done this…” there’s judgment and blame. Never a great way to build a relationship.
  • There’s no grace or forgiveness when we “should all over ourselves.” In business and in our careers we need a huge amount of grace, both for ourselves and for the people we work with. Yeah, maybe you should have… but you didn’t. Forgive yourself and move on.

OK, I admit, there are a few hard and fast “shoulds” and “should nots” in the world. Example: You should NOT stick a knife in the toaster to stab your toast while the toaster is still plugged in. For issues related to safety and health, “should” is there to protect us. But listen to yourself this week: how many times have you used the word “should” when you’re either berating yourself or someone else?

Language is powerful. Once I heard my friend Linn say “Quit ‘shoulding’ all over yourself!” I never heard the word “should” in quite the same way. I invite you to substitute the word “should” whenever you can with the word “could.” The word “could” is future-based, filled with opportunity, possibility and grace. You deserve that grace, and so do the people who work with you.

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?

The Unhappy 49%

The mission of my coaching practice is “to create a world in which people love what they do and do what they love.” That mission drives me every day. But apparently I have a long way to go before revolutionizing the World of Work, judging from a recent study issued by the American Psychological Association.

In a press release dated March 5, 2013, the APA announced, “More than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors.” This was from a new national survey, the “Work and Well-Being Survey” conducted on behalf of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

The report goes on to say, “On the heels of the recession, many employees appear to feel stuck, with only 39 percent citing sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement and just over half (51 percent) saying they feel valued at work.”

Hmmm… well, it is over half. But that leaves an unhappy 49% of the workforce, or at least the ones who responded to the study (conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the APA between Jan. 9-Jan. 21, 2013, among 1,501 U.S. adults aged 18 and older). These folks had complaints about employers not flexing to their needs, including the concern that work encroaches on family time.

Perhaps even more alarming, the study reported that “Only 37 percent of women reported regularly using employee benefits designed to help them meet demands outside the office, compared to almost half of men (46 percent), and just 38 percent of women said they regularly utilize flexible work arrangements, compared to 42 percent of men.” That means the guys are using the resources made available to them by the company–things, perhaps, like wellness programs or flex-time. So even when it’s offered, the ladies are using those resources much less frequently.

I don’t have the answer. Just the question: If we’re unhappy at work, what’s our part in it? What do you think?

Free from your labors on Labor Day

To most of us, Labor Day means picnics and barbeques, parades and a three-day weekend. We think of the holiday as a time to kick back and enjoy the last days of summer before the transition to our more hurried fall routines of work and school.

But if you read the history of Labor Day, you’ll see it began as a reconciliation with the unions after bitter strife and even bloodshed. According to Wikipedia, the holiday was first proposed by union workers in the late 1880s. The officially sanctioned holiday was a rush job by President Grover Cleveland to appease workers after the Pullman strike.

So out of chaos and conflict came this three-day weekend in which we celebrate work and workers… while not working. Hmmm… go figure.

My many years of working for hospitals taught me that even on holidays most of us take for granted, people are working. Nurses and doctors, firemen and women, emergency personnel and 911 operators… these are the people we can stop and acknowledge while sipping a beer or flipping a burger. The drive-throughs are still open, the retail clerks are frantically stocking to keep up with Labor Day sales and somewhere, someone is writing a blog. Oh, that’s me.

To all of you who are workers, I salute you. I believe we’re created to make a difference through our work which is why I do what I do as a marketing coach–helping people be successful in their businesses and careers. I’m thrilled to launch this blog about work on the holiday set aside to honor work.

Here’s to you! (clink)