I will often ask my audience members to raise their hands if they check their work e-mail after they go home at night. At least three-fourths of the hands go up. Just as many say they do it at least twice. At least half say they do it three or more times.
Because of technology, it is possible to work 24 hours a day — and still not be done.
Why do we do this?
It’s hard to pull away from something that does not stop pulling at you, and the world is filled with jobs that will not quit pulling. I just moderated a panel and asked my panelists if the number of hours they work has changed much over the years. One woman said she’s kept the same hours throughout her career: from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., then from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Every day. That’s 15 hours a day. She loves her work.
If you love your work and your hours, keep doing what you are doing. No need to reset.
But if it feels like you are missing something by working too hard or too long, a reset may well be in order.
Back when I was struggling so hard to become a published author, I joined a women’s group that would meet and process our lives. At one gathering, we bandied about our ideas for the topic du jour when I blurted, “I don’t know what my purpose is.”
I had quit my job to write a book, yet I could not find a publisher. If I was not going to be Fawn Germer, the author, who was I going to be?
“I don’t know mine, either,” said my friend Teresa.
“Me, either,” said Pam.
“I don’t know,” said Tami.
One by one, every one of us admitted we did not know our purpose in life. As we went around the room, I felt certain that Bette Haase would be able to enlighten us, seeing as how she had ovarian cancer and was taking chemo. Certainly that experience had shown her the meaning of life.
But when her turn came, Bette shrugged.
Over the next year, we all walked our paths. I persevered and found a publisher. Teresa went back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Tami went back to school to become a nurse anesthetist. Pam got a new job.
And Bette? She kept living. She hiked, she traveled, she laughed.
She was there for my first book signing, a gift of presence that I know drained her. I visited her in the hospital the day before leaving on my book tour. It was the first time she acknowledged she knew she was dying.
When I finished my tour, Bette was starting her decline. I was so impressed by how her family had closed ranks around her. Each of her seven siblings took a weeklong shift in her caregiving. Her son was by her side the whole time.
I wrote her obituary. And when I wrote it, I thought back to the day when we were all stumped about our purpose in life. Throughout her illness, Bette dove into her life.
I remember going kayaking with her to Caladesi Island State Park on a beautiful December day. She dove into that frigid water.
“Are you crazy?” I shouted. No Floridian in her right mind would ever do that, but she did.
“It’s beautiful!” she shouted back.
The way she lived — really lived — taught me the simple answer to our purpose in life.
Your purpose in life is to live your life.
Take nothing for granted. The tomorrow you expect may not be the tomorrow you get. No doubt, you’ve heard many times about someone who worked and worked and saved and saved, planning for the dream retirement. Then retirement came, and so did the cancer diagnosis. Or the stroke.
You can’t ignore the future, and you should plan for it. By all means, have a good plan for your life. A plan gives you direction. But be aware that it may be the best piece of fiction you will ever write. Self-confidence is what will keep you moving forward when the plan falls apart.
Live in that “sweet spot” that is somewhere between planning for nothing and planning for everything. You don’t want to spend every dime and wind up retiring with nothing to show for all of your years of effort. Nor do you want to retire with all the money in the world but without the health to enjoy it.
Instead of measuring your days by how much you get done, measure them by how well you have lived and how deep you have gone. If you define your day with challenge, hope, people, passion, maturity, growth, learning, development, spirituality, and other such things, you can achieve meaningful success every day. You’ll be happier with a personal checklist like that.
It may not make others happy because there are many people who want to hand you a set of priorities, but you get to decide why you are here. You — and only you — define your purpose.
You are in control. You don’t have to “give” this day to anyone or anything. You aren’t required to relinquish the present to anyone so they can give you some sort of prize later on, like a paycheck or a promotion. Yes, you have to show up for work and do a good job. Yes, you have other obligations in life. You have to pay bills and tend to daily living. But you have a choice in how you do those things.
You are allowed to keep your own emotional space. You can tend to your many obligations. But don’t hand over your emotional growth just because you have so many demands on your time and energy. Your life, your soul, your day is yours.
Communicating as a leader is very crucial in a positive work environment. Here are a few tips for you:
• Speak plainly, keep it simple, and say exactly what you mean.
• You don’t have to slam your fist on the table. You don’t have to swear. But, you can say you are disappointed— and you should.
• “Because I said so” does not win leadership points.
• Pay attention to your people and don’t cut them off with questions or by giving your opinion before they tell you the information that they have that might help you make the right decision.
• Develop the win-win mind-set. Always remember your ultimate objective, and get to that without having to prevail in a conflict.
• Break down the intimidation to get the truth from your people.
• You are never too high up to ask for help. Actually, you are a fool if you don’t.
• If people want to offer advice, listen to it.
• Put yourself in the shoes of your people and figure out what is on their minds.
Why do people lie, manipulate, undermine, and stab others in the back? Because they can. If you think it’s time for a moment of truth and to confront someone, be realistic. Do you really expect a backstabber to suddenly develop a conscience and tell you everything? When someone is trying to do something underhanded, it is unlikely he or she is going to stop everything and confess the minute you become suspicious—at least, not without a little help.
Let me dig into my arsenal of tools from my years as an investigative reporter and tell you a little about being effective in the middle of confrontation. First, people often lie through omission and/or embellishment. Think of how many times you’ve asked someone a question only to get an answer to exactly what you’ve asked, and nothing more. The person knows full well what you are after, but he or she doesn’t have to volunteer anything.
Remember Bill Clinton in his grand jury testimony? If the President of the United States can hide the truth by arguing the meaning of the word “is,” then imagine what the people around you can do. Teenagers will do it every time. “Did you sneak out in the car after we went to bed?” you might ask. You’ll get a straight answer of “no,” because the kid had the nerve to steal off with your car while you were still awake!
Watch out for certain red-flag words and phrases that will alert you to a liar almost every time. When you start hearing someone say, “Trust me,” “To be 100 percent honest,” “Believe me,” and “Honestly,” listen very, very closely. Red flags! If you hear things like, “Not that I can remember,” “To the best of my knowledge,” “Why would I,” “Do you think I’m so stupid that I would,” pay especially close attention. All of those phrases are designed to throw you off, but when you get the drill, you can be even more effective. If a question is answered with another question, take note because the person may be deciding whether to lie or tell the truth, or debating how big of a lie to tell. When those tricks don’t work, he or she might try a memory lapse, and try to throw you off with a simple, “Not that I can think of” or, “To the best of my knowledge.” What do you do when that happens? Try saying, “Well, I think you need to try a little harder,” or, “That technique doesn’t work with me.”
It’s one thing when, at work, you can’t understand why people are flaky or lazy or sloppy or slow. It’s another when you are at home, foisting your expectations on the people you love, and counting on them to do things the way you see them as right and fair. After a spat with your loved one, who is more right: the one who wants to talk the problem through immediately, or the one who wants to withdraw for a couple of hours? It’s hard when the lesson hits home.
What does it say when you carefully choose your words in an argument so you don’t offend your partner, but your partner lets ’em rip, not meaning any harm? Maybe you like to cram your weekend with activities from start to finish, but he or she wants to stay at home and read the newspaper. Who is right? You both are.
We are all so different in how we view the way things should work in this world. Remember this when you expect others to apologize because you are hurt, or when you don’tapologize because you don’t think the other person has reason to be upset. Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective. Is it worth losing a relationship with somebody because you are too stubborn or insensitive to appreciate that he or she lives in a different realm than you?
What can you do when you have to work closely with somebody you can’t stand? What if you have to deal with the jerks? Take a good look at that person. Certainly there must be something positive about him or her on which you can connect. Maybe he or she has a good sense of humor, or an appreciation for the same kind of music that you like. Maybe the connection is that you both have children the same age, or that you love golf. As hard as it sometimes is to overlook the huge negatives that a rival or foe may carry, try, try, try to find some common ground. You may be right that the person is a jerk, unethical, amoral, incompetent, or something else, but if you have to deal with him or her, stop focusing on how you feel and start strategizing a way to make the relationship work in spite of those bad qualities.
Force yourself to step out of the immediate situation and evaluate it for what is really going on. I am sad to say that I have said, “I’d rather work for a man than a woman” many times in the past. Of course I did! The women I worked for were in no-win situations, being undermined by people above and below them. We all called them bitches, and maybe they were. But they were bitches because of us, and I wish I’d taken a minute to see what they were up against. We expected so much more of them than our male bosses. They had to be competent and kind. I had no idea what kind of a high-wire they were dancing on until the moment I crossed into management and had to dance myself. Ever clumsy, I quickly dropped to the ground.
We think everybody thinks and operates in the same world that we do, but that’s not the case. They’ve got their own worlds. We all come to the table with different agendas, beliefs, values, and tactics. Instead of wasting effort trying to get them to come around to us, we have to go to them. Study who they are and what they want. What motivates and inspires you may completely turn off the person with whom you are dealing. You may be motivated by altruism, he may be turned on by money. You may respond to a promotion, she might rather have an extra week off.
We all think the world revolves around us, but we rarely consider the fact that everybody thinks that. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that 99 percent of the seemingly self-evolved people in this book went straight to the index to look at the pages about themselves first. It’s only natural. The last time you saw a group photo that you were in, whose face did you check out first? Then, why is it that you expect people you deal with to see things from the same vantage that you do? They don’t, because they aren’t you.
Other people generally aren’t worried about your goals, needs, and wants.They are worried about their goals, needs, and wants. If you are looking for ways to work with them effectively, why not figure out how to make them feel appreciated, and help them get what they want? You’ve got to travel to the other person’s world to see the issue through their eyes. What does he or she want? Why? What is he or she right about? If you were in that position, what would you need in order to feel valued and appreciated? Instead of harping on what divides you, see what unites you, remembering that win-win is always better than win-lose.
When you play win-lose, you win a war, but you also win an enemy. What good is that? Sometimes it takes years to get beyond the post-battle feelings of hurt, anger, rejection, or humiliation. Some people do have that ability to do battle, then go out for beers together, but some people don’t. Actually, a lot of people don’t. Think about the spats you’ve had with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other associates. You probably can’t remember everything that has happened, but you can remember enough examples of conflict to prove the point that you might forgive, but not forget. When someone wins something at your expense, there’s a possibility you won’t forgive or forget. If you wind up winning now and paying later, then you haven’t won anything. Win-win is so much better
Welcome to management. Regardless of your title or position, you are a manager. It doesn’t matter whether you are the Queen of England or a hot dog seller at the stadium. You are always, always, always managing people. Sometimes you do it as the leader, but often you do it in your role as a team player, trying to be effective. The key to effective management: diplomacy. Sometimes, we have to tone down certain things or play up other things in order to get our message heard. In no way does that signify selling out. The challenge is to lead effectively while staying true to our own values and beliefs.
Think about the advantages of communicating with diplomacy, and the disadvantages you face when it is lacking. Manage a waiter or waitress wrong and you might get bad service or, perhaps, be served somebody else’s leftovers. Bully your kid’s principal and you might make things even tougher for him or her at school. Use the wrong tone with your neighbor and the next thing you know, you’re in front of Judge Judy because your dog barked. Be too tough on the volunteers in your organization and suddenly you’re not just the president, but the one stuck stuffing envelopes, too. For some people, the concepts of tact and diplomacy are innate, and for others, the art of restraint is completely foreign. It’s hard to believe that seemingly innocuous statements can cause resentments that destroy work partnerships or lifelong friendships.
The right words at the right time can create an unforgettable moment of goodwill and appreciation. That doesn’t mean you should become smiley and fake in order to be heard. It means you need to think about what others want.