Reclaiming What it Means to Be “Professional”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant*Reprise: I’m winding down to one new post per week between now and Baby Integrated’s arrival in March 2017. Enjoy this repost!*

I recently held a webinar with a new software system that I wasn’t totally comfortable with. It was time to start the webinar, and I could see that people were signed in, so I went ahead and switched it to “live” and started talking. I knew the chat function wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it, and while normally I like to get confirmation that people can see and hear me, I decided to just move ahead since we were recording.

So, I’m talking, sharing my slides, doing my thing…for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, so like, almost half of the time I’ve set aside for this thing.

After this chunk of time, I check back into the editor window, and someone was able to submit a message to let me know that no one could see or hear me. I had been talking to myself and presenting my audience with a black screen for almost half an hour.

Panic.

I’m pretty sure I dropped some f-bombs…I was sweating…I couldn’t believe this was happening. Finally, I got it working again, and almost everyone who had signed in originally was still there with me, despite it being a total mess.

Once we were back on, I didn’t even pretend to stay “polished.” I don’t usually have such major technical issues, and this one just threw me flat on my ass. I apologized profusely and, interestingly, I felt this amazing wave of relief – I didn’t have to pretend to have it all together for these people, because clearly, they already knew I didn’t.

They were so gracious, and afterward, I was reflecting on how freeing that felt – despite the whole thing being kind of a disaster.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

In my case, I thought it meant making the technology work seamlessly, appearing put together but friendly, and maintaining an air of distanced expertise.

Instead, I probably came across a little bit frazzled, rushed, and 100% human. And that felt really good.

To me, being “professional” simply means having integrity. Integrity looks different for each person, but it’s essentially an alignment between your inner and outer selves. The formal definition of integrity is all about morals and virtue and whatnot, but that feels too cloudy to me.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think my definition of integrity is simpler: does your outer persona reflect who you really are inside?

Even if that inner and outer matching means that you swear a lot, cry easily, express anger, need rest, take time to process, or make crass jokes, if that’s what it means to be in integrity for you, then I think that counts as being “professional.”

I’m on LinkedIn a lot (p.s., let’s connect)and lately I’ve been seeing comments from people who seem to have taken on the role of “LinkedIn Professionalism Monitor.” They’ll comment on more personal-ish posts that people share and say stuff like “Please leave this kind of post for Facebook” or “This is unprofessional clutter – doesn’t belong here” as if it’s up to them to determine what’s professional enough to post on there.

You know what happens when we enforce silly rules about what it means to be professional and shame others who don’t fit into that mold? We all end up looking/acting/talking/behaving in the same way, which is exceptionally boring and dangerously intolerant.

I would much rather encounter people who are genuine, honest, and authentic across their lives than work with people who are trying to fit into – and force others to fit into – some stuffy, bullshit way of being at work.

And what about you, dear one?

Are you essentially the same person at work, home, and in-between? Are you feeling pressure to act a certain way or fit into a suit that doesn’t work for you?

If so, what can you slough off that isn’t yours? What’s not you? Get rid of it.

Add in the messiness, the color, the complexity that’s missing. You’ll feel better, and you’ll give others the permission to reclaim “professional” for themselves, too.


Feel like debriefing this or discussing other creative ways to be more you at work? Join our Facebook group, A Wild New Work!

 

Let the Pain of Not Knowing Lead You

A few nights ago, Chris and I watched a documentary called Prescription Thugs, which is essentially about the prescription opioid epidemic in the United States. I can’t say I’d really recommend the film, but it got me thinking about a dark side of our boot strappin’, problem-solving culture:

careers work pain coaching megan leatherman
Photo by Christopher Campbell

Many of us believe that pain is always bad.

Sometimes pain is a bad sign – it can be your body’s indication that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Other times, however, pain is a good thing. Pain protects us by making sure we don’t touch hot surfaces, run into sharp objects, or hurt ourselves in other ways.

Pain can also be a necessary gateway we have to pass through in order to get to the other side of something.

This has been on my mind a lot as I approach giving birth in just a couple of months. Well-meaning moms and doctors have often shared horror stories about the pain of childbirth, and there’s a whole narrative swirling around that says “pain in childbirth is bad, so get rid of it.”

The epidural and other pain-relieving medications have been lifesavers for many moms, and I believe every woman should be given the opportunity to give birth in whatever way she wants to – painlessly, painfully, or otherwise.

But the idea that pain is automatically bad is wrong – in childbirth and in personal growth, the pain is necessary in order to complete the cycle of bringing new life into the world.

Not knowing what to do with our gifts can be incredibly painful.

Sometimes the question feels so big that we just want to avoid it, hopping from misfit job to misfit job. But the denial that something is painful or the belief that it shouldn’t be painful can actually make things worse. As the Zen master Alan Watts says:

“There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering.”

Finding your way and giving birth to your gifts is excruciating sometimes, and that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.

The pain of not knowing can actually help us get to the knowing if we’ll sit with it, stop pretending that it’s not happening, and maybe even befriend it.

careers work pain coaching megan leatherman
Photo by Jens Lelie

If there’s a part of you that hurts because you feel like you’ve lost your way in life or your career, I’d encourage you to try something a little “out there” but incredibly effective:

Ask the pain what it needs.

Imagine the pain as a color or a shape inside of you – give it some texture and dimension. Approach it lovingly. Then ask: what do you need right now?

Maybe it just needs time to work itself out. Maybe it needs you to do that thing you’re afraid to do. Maybe you won’t get a straight answer right away, but keep paying attention to how it feels in your body. Notice it and try not to be afraid of its presence.

The pain you feel can be a gift – it indicates that there’s something more for you out there.

If you can lovingly accept the pain of not knowing, you give yourself the space and self-compassion you need in order to find what you seek.

Not knowing what you want to do in your worklife can feel incredibly isolating, which is why it’s so important to surround yourself with others who are positive and encouraging. The Facebook group I facilitate is one such community, and I invite you to join us.

I’m Taking Space to Re-invigorate

Hi lovely readers,

I wanted to let you know that I’ll be taking some time away from writing between now and December 27th to do two things: 1) rest and enjoy the season, and 2) think about how to re-invigorate The Integrated Workplace.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing two blog posts per week for over a year now, and to be honest, I’m feeling a bit tired. I also wonder how you’re feeling and am thinking about how I can tweak the format, rhythm, and flow in a way that re-energizes things for all of us.

So, I will most definitely be back, I’m just not sure in what exact form 🙂 My guess is that I’ll mix the writing up with content in other mediums, but stay tuned!

If you’re feeling a little worn down in an area of your work, this is the perfect time of year to take some space from it so that you can see it in a new light. Once you give yourself permission to look at things anew and make them work for you, the gifts flow much more easily.

You *might* hear from me on the Winter Solstice if I’m feeling inspired, but otherwise, keep an eye out for a post from me on Tuesday, December 27th!

I’ll still be active in our Facebook community, A Wild New Work, and you’re welcome to join me there!

Take good care of yourselves in this dark time before the sun starts to return next week!

xo,

Megan

3 Things You Need If You’re An Airplant

At the end of A Wild New Work, we do a closing ceremony where each person is asked to bring in a gift (real or symbolic) that they’d like to leave the group with. In our ceremony this past November, one of the participants very sweetly brought me an airplant, which is one of my favorite kinds of plants.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Some of my airplants drying out after their bath.

Airplants, formally known as Tillandsia, are native to South/Central America, the southern United States, and the West Indies. They’re these adorable little things that can attach to other creatures (you’ll see them growing on trees in the wild), but many of them don’t require any soil.

Some of them will shoot roots, but they’re unlike other plants in that they don’t require an underground support system.

In my work, I talk a lot about how important it is to be grounded (rooted), because without being grounded, it’s easy to lose a sense of who we are amidst the chaos of life. Rooting into what is meaningful for you, whether it’s through a daily spiritual practice, going for a walk outside, or simply living in integrity, is essential for us humans to live well.

But sometimes we’re so taken out of our elements, either by a crisis or a major change like moving or getting a new job, that it feels like we lose our rootedness for a minute.

This is the limbo stage we get put into when we enter into a new phase of our lives, and it can be really uncomfortable.

This topic feels very personal to me right now, as I’m about to enter into the completely unknown territory of motherhood. Maybe for you, the territory is a reconnection to your true identity, a new relationship, or an unfamiliar town that you’ve just moved to.

I think airplants have something to teach us about this place of limbo – this feeling like everything is unfamiliar, or like we can’t make sense of things like we used to. Eventually we’ll get rooted again (hopefully in a rich, healthy soil), but if we take a few cues from our airplant friends, it’s possible to get through this in-between stage with grace.

The three most important things that airplants need in order to survive are light, water, and air. Let’s take a look at how each of these can help us in these times of transition (bonus: this can be a mini airplant care tutorial if you need one!):

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLight

Airplants need to be no more than three feet away from a brightly-lit window. They love the light.

The light warms us, helps us see clearly, and bestows invisible vitamins on us without our having to do anything. It’s a gift.

When we’re in this place of feeling like we’ve lost our groundedness, we can seek the light. What is it in our lives that makes us feel warm? Can we get closer to it in this time? And how about seeing clearly? What can we do to have more clarity? Maybe it’s journaling, asking ourselves if we really believe something to be true, or talking to a supportive person in our lives.

Sit in the light of what feels like truth to you and you’ll get all the warmth, clarity, and nutritious vitamins that you need in this time. For me, this light has been the work of Byron Katie and her book Loving What Is, which I highly recommend.

Water

Most airplants need a bath 1-3 times per week for about 20 minutes each time. This enables them to really soak up resources and stay hydrated.

When was the last time you felt totally submerged, in a good way?

Think back to a time when your cup felt really full or like you had a lot in your emotional/energetic tank. Can you feel that fullness in your body?

A few weeks ago, I scheduled a prenatal massage because when you’re pregnant, your body has no idea what the fuck is happening and starts to decompose. Or at least that’s what it can feel like. On my way to the massage that I was so looking forward to, it was raining, I had Lykke Li playing, and my heart was so full. I hadn’t even gotten to the massage yet, but that simple act of showing up for myself and what my body needed made me feel submerged in goodness.

We all need to bathe regularly, and not just literally – we need to feel submerged into whatever it is that fills us up, whether it’s a massage, lighting a candle, or getting outside. Just because we don’t have roots in this time doesn’t mean that we have to run on empty – just like airplants, we can still store up resources to draw from when we need them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pkjm_Go-JFk
Air Plant Design Studio

Air

Once the airplants get their mini spa day, it’s really important that they dry out completely within four hours. Putting them in a place that gets good air circulation is critical, or else they’ll rot from the inside out (I’ve had this happen, and it’s sad).

Fortunately, when we’re in this place of limbo and newness, there’s already lots of air circulating!

We’re no longer in our stale, stuffy old patterns – we’re breathing in novelty and change. The key is to incorporate plenty of light and water into your life so that all of the freshness around you doesn’t start to feel completely overwhelming.

This sense of limbo won’t last forever. Eventually, we’ll begin to feel grounded again and things will start to feel familiar. Change is a wonderful thing most of the time, but it can cause some real discomfort when we’re in the midst of it.

If you’re in unfamiliar territory, don’t panic: that sense of groundedness will be back soon.

In the meantime, focus on the light, water, and air that are always available to support you.

25 Things I Love About Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThis morning before I sat down to write, I was feeling stressed out because I got off to a late start and don’t have as much time to write as I normally do.

“What will I write about in such little time?!,” I wondered. “I have to get this done ASAP so I can make those website updates today!,” I thought.

Then, a sweet little ping of inspiration hit me: I can have fun with this.

I can have fun with this constraint, this lack of time.

It doesn’t have to be hard and anxiety-ridden, which is something I’m trying to remember more and more in every part of my life.

So, instead of trying to plan out a dense, wordy post for you, I decided I’d give myself five minutes to celebrate what I love about work. I set a timer and wrote down as many of my favorite aspects of work as I could.

I focused on what brings me joy and tried to have fun with this instead, and it turned out to be an illuminating exercise! I’ll tell you what I learned after I share the list.

25 things I love about work:

  1. Collaborations with cool people
  2. Shaping ideas
  3. Getting paid
  4. Connecting with other humans through the work
  5. Coffee dates
  6. Opening up shop (meaning: starting early)
  7. Starting late when I want to
  8. Learning new things about my clients’ lives
  9. Breakfast meetings
  10. The first email check of the day
  11. Stretch assignments
  12. Building presentations and curriculum
  13. Learning about different company cultures and wondering what makes organizations tick
  14. Having rhythm throughout the day: work, break, work, break, stretch, work…
  15. Opportunities to express gratitude, which are everywhere
  16. Sharing that knowing look with a colleague in the hallway, like “We got this.”
  17. Getting in the zone
  18. Dreaming about what could be…
  19. Dry erase boards
  20. Power Hour
  21. Having a workspace that’s mine and full of inspiration
  22. Color-coded calendars
  23. Looking out the window until my next best thought arrives
  24. Excel formula magic (up to a point)
  25. The fact that we always get to choose how we show up in our work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen I looked back over my list, I realized that I really want more of two things:

A dry erase board, and…

More connections/collaborations/partnerships with other people doing soulful work in the world.

I knew my desire to collaborate has been getting mulled over in the back of my mind, but it came out so clearly on my list that it surprised me a little.

Isn’t that what it’s all about for most of us, anyway? Finding connection and meaning in our work? Partnering with others to build something we care about and that serves others?

Work gets a bad rap a lot of the time because, well, it’s complicated. But we can celebrate work – it can be fun and life-giving and meaningful.

What do you love about “work”?

If you’re interested, time yourself for 5 minutes or less and jot down as many things you love about work as you can. What does your list say? And how can you get more of what’s on there into your day to day life?

I’d love to hear about your list or thoughts about this post in our Facebook group, A Wild New Work! Click here to join the discussion.

One Powerful Thing You Can Do to Feel Less Overwhelmed

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’m due to have a baby in March of 2017, and I never knew (until being pregnant myself) how much pressure there is on new and expectant moms. There are about 1,000,000 things you’re “supposed” to be doing before the baby arrives: take lots of supplements, eat more protein, stop drinking so much coffee, kegels, sleep more, buy things, choose a name…the list goes on and on.

Oh, and on top of all that: relax! Stress hurts the baby, and you need to keep your blood pressure down.

It’s a horrible, annoying spiral of “not enough” that’s so easy to get sucked into.

On top of trying to be a good baby-grower, I’m running a business, which has had to shift and accommodate as I grow and approach giving birth.

I know 2016 has been a year of next-level stress and change for many of us, and we’ve seen that played out on a larger scale through global events.

It’s not difficult these days to feel overwhelmed and like we’re not doing enough. In fact, I think that’s kind of the baseline for a lot of people, especially those of us who want to grow and develop into more awakened, loving professionals.

A not-so-helpful thing can happen when we’re experiencing life stress: we add on the pressure to deal with that stress in a “better” way.

For example, not only did I feel the pressure to be a good pregnant woman, I found myself feeling bad about not managing that pressure in a more “enlightened” way. In an attempt to grow and develop, I’d listen to podcasts about how we need to separate from our egos more, or about how we need to manage our time more intentionally. I didn’t listen to these podcasts because I really wanted to, I listened to them because I believed I wasn’t handling things in “the right way.”

I totally believe the things I heard on those podcasts, but berating myself for still having thoughts that made me feel anxious only compounded my sense of feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling the weight of a shifting world, a heavy load of responsibilities, and the pressure to constantly improve yourself, I want to share one thing you can do today to give yourself some breathing room:

Stop trying to be better.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDon’t read another article about how you can change until it’s because you want to. Don’t get any more advice from anyone until you’ve taken some deep breaths and centered yourself again.

Let go of the pressure to be and do more.

Chances are, you’re being and doing enough already.

I’m all for self-improvement and development, but sometimes I find myself turning the desire to grow into an obligation and another thing I’m not doing “correctly.” But the thing is, we are all already growing. In the natural world, everything that is alive can’t help but grow – even when it’s on the path to death.

If we are part of the natural world, then we can’t help but grow, either. Even in the midst of what feels like a burden we can’t possibly carry or get through, we are growing. We’re progressing in small ways every moment without even trying.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re not handling it the way you should, please give yourself some grace and let go of the need to be better.

I know this is a hard lesson to learn – I’m learning it, too – but we have to stop hating ourselves and trust that we’re evolving even when we don’t feel very good.

So just be who you are today.

Do the best you can, and accept that it’s enough.

When you’re ready, you’ll make the tweaks you need to in order to feel more grounded and less overwhelmed. Magically, those changes will be much easier to make when they come from you, not from external pressure to be better.

 

5 Ways to Be a Grown-Up When Shit Hits the Fan

The week before A Wild New Work started, a lot of weird, gnarly, frustrating things happened. People from my past showed up, clients were having emergencies and cancelling, I broke out in a rash…I could go on.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIt was an abnormally difficult week, and it literally felt like someone had thrown poo into a fan and it was shooting out over every aspect of my life.

I believe in energy, which means that I believe our actions have consequences – often unintended ones. I don’t believe all of the things coming up that week were “my fault,” but I’ve noticed that interesting things always happen before I start a big, important thing in my life.

With A Wild New Work, I was staking a claim and starting a group workshop that I knew I had to do. That’s powerful stuff, and I think it reverberated in good ways and uncomfortable ways – hence, shit + fan.

It’s hard to be a grown-up when things keep coming up that just feel so frustrating, overwhelming, and uncontrollable. It’s much easier to revert back to our childhood and wail on the floor about how unfair it all is, even though that doesn’t help us in any way.

Something had my back that week, though, because I kept coming across books and articles by grown-ass people who showed me how to be like them amidst what felt like total chaos.

I tried their methods, and I’m happy to report that this was my most graceful handling of a horrible week so far.

So I want to share the five major tools that people like Glennon Doyle Melton, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Steven Pressfield taught me about how to be an enlightened adult when things get rough:

First, you need to accept what’s happening. Things get much, much harder if you’re fighting the fact that someone is throwing shit through the fan. They just are, and it’s not always something you can turn off. So here you are, crying on the bathroom floor, or screaming at the person who cut you off on the freeway, and you just have to be there for a minute. No one deserves a happy, easy life all of the time, and you can get through this as long as you accept what’s going on and intend to see it through with grace.

You get to decide how you respond to the things showing up in your life right now.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSecond, you need to take care of your body. This will not get better if you’re exhausted, hungry, or in a ton of pain because you haven’t moved your body in 48 hours. Now is the time to take an extra 30 minutes to do a yoga video at home, drink lots of water, go for a walk, or get some fancy healthy food in your stomach. You’ll be able to think and feel much more clearly.

Third, rally support. It’s not helpful to go into a long, circuitous tirade about how unfair everything in life is, but it is helpful to ask for help from the people who love you. Tell them what’s going on. Ask them to light a candle for you. Take a sick day and let your co-worker cover. Ask for what you need like a grown-up and, if it feels right, humbly accept the help that’s offered.

Fourth, stay still. Don’t make any sudden movements. No major decisions should be made in crisis mode unless a decision is what’s needed to get you out of it. In my experience recently, there was nothing that needed to change that week, even though I wanted to overreact to the difficulties and completely switch up what I’m doing in life. But that wasn’t the time, because those changes would have been reactive and made just because I was uncomfortable.

Stay still and get quiet. Watch what’s happening, journal like hell, and hold your heart.

Finally, practice gratitude like it’s nobody’s business. Gratitude snaps you out of temper tantrum mode and gets you grounded again. You don’t have to be grateful for everything, and it’s really important that expressing gratitude feels authentic to you, even if it’s hard at first. You can be grateful for your next breath, or the water you’re drinking, or the fact that you have heat in your home. Find the things to be grateful for – they’re there even when it feels like everything is falling apart.

Sometimes chaos enters our life to show us what really matters again. It’s uncomfortable and wildly inconvenient, but we always have the ability to choose how we will respond to its presence.

People who have their shit together inside when the world around them is in upheaval are the ones who will learn, adapt, and transform through the chaos.

We can all be those grown-ass people if we stay grounded, healthy, accepting of support, still, and grateful.

What is True?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was driving home from the grocery store yesterday, and I was stopped a few cars down from a red light. On the righthand corner ahead of me, there was a man who looked to be in his 30s with a cardboard sign that read “We are people too.”

I liked that, and wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. And while he wasn’t openly asking for money, his sign and where he was standing implied that that’s what he was requesting from those of us driving by.

A few seconds later, the light changed to green, and everyone started rolling forward. As I drove by, I noticed he had folded the sign in half so that it read something else:

“Go fuck yourself.”

When I read that, the first thing I felt was surprise.

And then relief.

It was striking. While I’m sure that’s what a lot of people asking for money on the streets want to say after they’ve been ignored, yelled at, or demeaned, I’ve never actually seen a sign with that written on it.

It was refreshing to see someone in real life – someone who was socially and physically vulnerable, no less – say exactly how he felt. “Go fuck yourself.”

How often do you hear or speak the truth at work? How often does a message come in loud and clear from someone’s mouth? Coming from the world of Human Resources, I’ve seen my fair share of spin in the workplace.

“We don’t want to justify paying you more” becomes “Our research shows that this is the appropriate salary range for someone in your position.”

“We have no intention of continuing your contract after three months” becomes “We’d like to see how you do in the role and then talk about the possibility of having you come on permanently.”

“We have no idea where we’re headed and everyone on the leadership team hates each other” becomes “We’re excited about the future and are working hard to find strategic paths forward.”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantImagine a workplace that’s been taken over by huge spiders weaving webs of total befuddlement and confusion. Everyone’s walking around with sticky webs all over their bodies, leaving them tangled, heavy, and nearly blind.

Some people have been around the spinning of the webs for so long that they can hardly recognize the truth anymore – in themselves or in others.

Many of us have our polite, outward-facing selves – the parts of us that hold the sign that gently says “We are people too.” While it’s appropriate to keep good boundaries at work and keep some part of ourselves private, too many of us are walking around as victims and accomplices of the befuddlement spiders.

Have you ever shown someone the side of your sign that says “Go fuck yourself”? What keeps you from turning it over?

And the truth doesn’t have to be angry like that – what keeps you from speaking other truths, like “I love you” or “I’m afraid” or “I don’t believe that’s fair”?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Image courtesy of Mystic Mamma

For most of us, it’s fear and shame. But your truth can cut right through all of that, and it can also cut through the webs of confusion and mistrust that are so prevalent in many organizations today.

The day before I saw the man on the street with that sign, I used a tea bag that had a little message on it. It said “Truth is everlasting.”

The truth isn’t going anywhere, and it will come up again and again until we can’t ignore it. Better to let it in with open arms than to continue being wrapped up in the webs that keep us trapped and confused.

What is true? What do you say to yourself before you make it nice and palatable for others?

What’s on the back of your sign, and will you ever show it to us?

 

Let Yourself Be Seasonal

photo-1445998559126-132150395033Today is the Autumnal Equinox, which marks the official start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are two equinoxes every year, one in September, and one in March, and it’s called an equinox because today the day and night will be almost exactly the same length. From here on out, the darkness will subsume the daytime until things change again after the winter solstice in December.

Things are shifting, and I’m sure you’ve felt it already – the mornings are a little colder, the trees are changing colors or dropping leaves, and school is fully back in session.

This season is full of richness, and it’s even more enjoyable if we can let ourselves join in on the changes that are happening around us.

We need to let ourselves be seasonal.

Traditionally, this time of year was a time of harvesting and storing up for the winter ahead. Today, in our ever-abundant grocery stores, it can be hard to tell that anything is different, but try to let yourself notice: you’ll probably see more squash, apples, and all sorts of warm spicy treats.

You are, of course, being marketed to with Halloween shenanigans and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but pretend for a minute that you’re back in the village with your ancestors.

Pretend you are a part of this harvest – that all of the beautiful oranges and reds and yellows in the food around you really are unique treasures that you only get to harvest once a year.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI know a lot of people dread Autumn or feel ambivalent about it because it means that the cold and wet winter is coming, but that’s like clinging to the dead leaves that are falling off of the trees. Why hold on to what’s already passed?

Can you let those leaves drop and see the bounty around you instead?

You are a part of this earth, which means that you go through seasons of your own and are affected by the seasons of the environment.

I remember how difficult it was to go to my 9-5 job every day in the dark, come home in the dark, and then try to muster up the energy to do “life” in the daylight I saw on the weekends. If that could be you this winter, then I encourage you to take a cue from your ancestors and try a few tricks:

Get outside while you can and submerge yourself in all of the colors and beauty of the Autumn season.

Dive into the harvest. Go to the pumpkin patch, or make apple cider, or hike in the fiery woods. Be grateful for the fact that the trees can be both dead and alive at the same time, and be grateful that you yourself can go through that same metamorphosis this time of year. This season is happening around you, but it can also happen within you if you’ll let it.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantStore up your reserves.

Winter is long and dark and can be rough for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. And yet, it’s one of the most exhausting times of year because we try to pack so much in and pretend like our energy levels are the same as they were in the spring and summer.

In the United States, we’ve got a slew of popular holidays from late October until early January, and on top of all that, many working folks have major year-end projects to work on like open enrollment, budgeting, strategic planning, a huge retail rush, and on and on.

In my former working life, I was almost always tapped out by late December or January, which made me miss out on so much of the winter holidays – the celebrations that are supposed to lift our spirits and nourish us in the dark.

So do what you can now to store up your reserves. Commit to one less meeting, or event, or volunteer gig. Save some extra money if you can so that you can treat yourself on an extra grey day. Make a few extra meals and freeze them for that week in December when you can’t imagine cooking anything healthy ever again.

Remember that you’re going to need some extra spaciousness and energy in the next few months, so make like a squirrel and tuck away all of the sweet little acorns you can.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, let the darkness carry you.

A lot of us in the West are uncomfortable with the dark, literally and metaphorically. We hate it. We resist it, and our easy access to light and electronics makes that really easy to do.

Personally, I love this shift toward more darkness and rain because it gives me another excuse to be lazy and not do as much, but I know it’s not for everyone. Even if you’re someone who loves the sun and is dreading this turn toward night, see if you can roll with it a little more easily this year.

Let the darkness help you do less, introspect more, or release the leaves that are already falling off your branches. Let the darkness give you an excuse to stay in and read a book or throw a Dia de Los Muertos party that brings your favorite people together.

Try partnering with the darkness and see if this time of year can actually be restful and restorative.

Happy Autumn, sweet readers.


Something special is happening this Autumn for working women in Portland who aren’t afraid to go into the darkness and come out renewed. Click here to learn more.

Our Addiction to Productivity

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMost of us get the same lessons handed to us again and again throughout our lives so that we can change and evolve and become better versions of ourselves. One of my recurring lessons is this:

My worth is not tied to how productive I am.

This is a tough one for me, and one I thought I’d pretty much dealt with over the past couple of years. I can see rationally why my value doesn’t lie in what I do or produce, but gnarly messages still rear their heads sometimes when I take a break or want to do less.

I think this is a common issue for those of us raised in the United States. We were fed a narrative that says that we’re the hardest-working country on earth – a country full of scrappy individualists who carved out their place in the world with sweat, blood, and tears. Of course, this isn’t true – African slaves built this country, and besides, there was no country needed, as this place was already inhabited and cared for by Native tribes.

Still, we were told again and again that if you just work hard enough, you can succeed here, no matter what.

If it were an equation it would be Hard Work = Success. So simple!

But it isn’t that simple, is it? These beliefs – that we are what and how much we produce, or that the good life lies just on the other side of decades of drudgery – get stuck in our systems. We repeat them over and over to ourselves, and it’s no wonder that we feel like lazy pieces of shit when we’re out of work or unsure of what it is that we want to create for the world.

These messages become part of us, and even when we think we’ve gotten past them, something else comes up to remind us that we have more work to do.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFor me, that reminder has been getting pregnant and growing a little being inside my belly for the past four months or so (Integrated Baby coming March 2017!).

My pregnancy so far has been a mixed bag of feelings. Sometimes it’s lovely, full of joy and excitement, and other times I’ve just wanted to be done with it, forever. The nausea, exhaustion, and an entirely new set of rules about what’s good and not good for me has, at times, felt like a burden I don’t want to bear.

More than anything, this pregnancy has challenged my beliefs about myself, once again showing me how addicted I am to this need to feel productive.

Now that there’s a ticking clock until baby arrives and my life changes forever, I feel extra pressure to put my head down and do work.

Except my body’s like, “No.”

Most mornings in the first trimester, I wanted to lay down and watch nature videos instead of doing my usual uber-productive meditation and writing routine. By about 2pm most days, I’m completely drained and wonder how anyone works until 5 or 6 every day. I simply can’t do as much as I used to, and that’s been tough to accept.

These changes have forced me to shed, more than ever, the harmful beliefs I have about what it means to be a hard-working, professional woman. Which is very frustrating at times (why can’t I just do more?!), but is also a huge gift.

Our addiction to productivity robs us of the sweetness of slowing down. When we’re compelled to go slower, whether it’s because of a pregnancy, an illness, or just being too damn tired to keep going, we have an opportunity to look more closely at ourselves and the lives we’re living. However, we miss out on the gifts of that time when we spend it chastising ourselves for not going faster.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWho would you be if you weren’t able to produce or “add value” in your organization anymore?

What’s underneath what you’ve achieved, and what would still be there if you were never able to work again?

I bet there are things in your life that are being overshadowed by our cultural addiction to productivity. Maybe you’re falling in love and just want more time with your sweetie, or maybe your body is undergoing major changes like mine, or maybe you just want to spend an hour staring out your window.

What can you reclaim by doing a little less today?

Can you slough off any shame or guilt you feel for going at a pace that works better for you and your body?

Like any addiction, productivity or workaholism numbs us from feeling what we feel, and that’s usually things like fear and shame. Part of recovery is looking at those parts of us that want to hide and lovingly holding them instead of bulldozing over them with more and more of our drug of choice.

If any of this rings true for you today – if you think you might have work to do in this arena – then I invite you to slow down and look at why you feel the need to do more.

If it’s helpful for you to process this with other people, I encourage you to check out our Facebook group, where we discuss issues like this.

 

How Will You Get Down the Mountain?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAbout five years ago, some friends and I went on a trip to ski at Mt. Bachelor, one of the “premier ski destinations in Oregon.” With something like 70 trails, many of them black or double black diamond, this place is for people who are serious about enjoying themselves on the snow.

I am not a skier.

I have skied, but most of my experience was left behind after fourth grade, and apart from a short stint of trying to snowboard in high school, it had been nearly a decade since I’d tried to glide down a mountain. I figured it could still be fun, though – who doesn’t want to be one of those cute snow bunnies who lounges in the lodge sipping on hot chocolate after a hardcore day of shredding?

So, I went and paid whatever ungodly sum of money it takes to buy a lift ticket and rent skis, and my friends and I were on our way. Up, up the lift that takes you to the summit, where the views are spectacular and you feel small and inconsequential and it’s lovely. Until you realize you have to get yourself down the mountain.

Once I’d taken in the views, I fervently looked for the big green trail sign that says, “Come this way – it will be easy and fun and you probably won’t fall!” I found it, thank goodness, and skied wobbly but pleasantly down that run – I think it was called “Marshmallow” for good measure – a few times that morning.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantBy the afternoon, I was ready for something different but equally easy, so I went with some friends to a new part of the mountain. Feeling a little more sure of myself, I let them talk me into trying the next level of difficulty – a blue trail – which, they promised, was “just like a green!”

It was not like a green.

It was nothing like my fluffy Marshmallow trails from before. It was horrendous – steep, fast, with these deep holes where I guess people do jumps or some shit. Within about five seconds, I was in a panic about how I was going to get down this trail, back into the safety of the lodge. Here are some things that ran through my head:

Can I fake an injury and call ski patrol to drive me down?

Can I crawl back up to the ski lift and beg them to let me take it down?

Will I die?

How the f*ck am I getting down this g*ddamn f*cking mountain?

The only viable option was to try to ski down it, as miserable and scary as it was going to be. Other experienced skiers were flying past me, annoyed at my beginner-ness, I’m sure, and my friends were long gone. I had to do this on my own.

I’d cautiously ski side to side for about thirty seconds, gain some speed, freak out or lose my balance, and fall. I’d clamor for a footing, pull myself back up, look around just in case ski patrol was nearby, and, when no help was available to me, slide forward again until I’d fall. Up, down, up, down, up, down.

For about half that time, I was swearing up a storm and spitting vitriol all over the “good” skiers around me. I was so angry that I was probably melting the snow beneath me every time I landed hard on my ass.

By the time I was halfway down this devil of a mountain, though, I just couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it. I was so humiliated and exhausted that there was no sense being angry anymore – it was just hilarious! I figured that I probably wouldn’t die – I’d break a bone at worst – and someday, this might be a funny story to tell.

I’d take a little longer to rest when I’d fallen so that I could soak up some of the beauty of the snow and the dark green pine trees. A few times, I was alone on the trail, and the silence was so deep and kind that it assured me I could keep going.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSo with a smile on my face – and another quick scan for ski patrol – I hoisted myself back up dozens of times and inched down that mountain. My friend Chris (who is now my hubby) was looking for me at the base of the trail and told me later that day that when he saw me from afar, he thought I was waving to say “hi” every couple of minutes. What he actually saw was me thrusting my ski poles up to support my limp body as I tried to stand after another hard fall. I had no idea he was even down there witnessing my pathetic misery.

Finally, finally, I got down that mountain. The treachery was over, and despite my every attempt to avoid having to get down it myself, I did. That day, I earned my adult hot chocolate next to the fire in the lodge.

What is your mountain today?

Maybe it’s a project you have to get done, or a tough decision you’re facing. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s ending or a really difficult loss you’ve experienced. We all end up on trails that aren’t the right fit for us sometimes, even when we’ve planned or intended for something better.

No matter what trail we end up on, or what mountain we have to get down, we always have a choice in how we interface with the challenge ahead of us. Will we scream and fight and look for a way out, or can we stop resisting and work our way down – laughing, reflecting, and soaking up the beauty around us?


Know someone who’s at the top of a difficult mountain? Consider passing this along to them!

50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI hear from a lot of people who feel tired, stifled, belittled, overwhelmed, and patronized at work. They feel disrespected in meetings, put down by their “teammates,” or are just exhausted to their core.

So many of us put up with jobs and organizations that diminish who we fundamentally are.  We feel bad, heavy, or mixed up at work but tell ourselves that it’s just because we’re not tough enough to “hang.” We become convinced that since we feel badly, something must be wrong with us.

If you feel like shit at work and are telling yourself to toughen up, then I have something to say:

It’s not you. It’s them.

You are trying to function in a system that is broken. You’re trying to fit into an organization or mode of working that is not very friendly to normal human beings, and when we try to fit into systems that don’t work for us, we get sick. Or tired. Or angry. Or all of the above.

If you’re working inside of a company, you’ve likely tuned out a lot of the things that are breaking you down, because to see them all the time would make you go crazy. It often takes an outsider to notice them and say, “Actually, I think that’s wrong. And dumb.”

In this post, I’m highlighting 50 of the most insidious ways that organizations belittle the people they claim to be committed to (that’s you).

I’m doing this because I want you to see what you’re up against. I want to help people see so that they stop berating themselves for not being “tough enough” to succeed in these environments. Then, maybe, if we stop trying to fit into them, we’ll have the energy to change our organizations for the better.

Some of the practices on the list might seem so benign that they surprise you, but little by little, drip by drip, these practices build to create cultures that are stagnant, devoid of trust, and overrun by egos. You might not experience all of these at your job, but I bet many of them will ring true.

I hope this list reminds you that you a) are not alone and b) are enough – tough enough, smart enough, capable enough – to do amazing work in the world.

For those put off by the title or message of this entry: I’m glad this doesn’t resonate with you – it may mean you work in an organization that truly values who you are! 

:: 50 Reasons You Feel Like Shit at Work ::

  1. The supply closets in the office are locked.
  2. You’re told – explicitly or implicitly – to keep “personal stuff” out of the office.
  3. Your organization doesn’t allow celebrations or recognize holidays of any kind because they’re too afraid of being sued.
  4. If you want to apply for an internal posting, you’re expected to have a Master’s degree, 5 years of experience, and a willingness to be paid at the bottom of market value.
  5. Meetings don’t start until people in positions of “leadership” are there, even though everyone else is expected to get there on time – and does.
  6. You’re not allowed to decorate and personalize the workspace you inhabit for 8+ hours/day.
  7. Dress codes.
  8. Your company assigns work as a one-way street without any input from the people being asked to do the work.
  9. Most meetings are secretive and closed-door.
  10. The leadership in your organization pretends that everything is fine when it’s not. Employees can handle bad news, y’all.
  11. Your time off is limited, capped, monitored, and regulated. If someone’s really motivated to work with you, they’ll show up and get the job done.
  12. Your manager gets salty when you have to leave early to pick up your kid or go to the dentist.
  13. They’re too cheap to stock the coffee station with high quality supplies. Folgers it is.
  14. You know that requests for ergonomic office furniture are always declined, so why bother asking?
  15. You’re asked to sign 100 company policies that treat you like a liability more than a trusted partner.
  16. A promotion is dangled in front of you but no one is being real about the fact that it’s not going to happen for another year or so.
  17. The front desk is decorated super nicely since it’s customer-facing, but the employee break room is sad and nasty.
  18. You’re expected to go to company parties that celebrate an organization you aren’t excited about.
  19. That new college grad is paid $80,000/year to analyze Excel spreadsheets but management says they can’t justify a $0.50/hour raise for the blue collar staff.
  20. You’re given 3 days of unpaid bereavement leave after a loved one dies. Oh, and you need to prove that someone actually died.
  21. The company’s relationships to shareholders are prioritized over their relationships with employees.
  22. Your supervisor lets you think that your contract will turn into a permanent gig even though they know it probably won’t.
  23. Your one on one check-ins are regularly cancelled with little to no consequence.
  24. Performance reviews get pushed back again and again until they’re 6 months or a year late. Or don’t happen at all.
  25. Unhealthy competition between teams is fostered just to get the numbers up.
  26. Pretty much the entire “disciplinary” process. Give me a break.
  27. Your manager talks about you and your team as if he’s playing in a fantasy football league that reduces you to a number and position.
  28. Your organization talks about people solely in terms of their performance (e.g., “low performers” v. “high performers”).
  29. End-of-year company bonuses get paid out to the C-suite but to no one else.
  30. Your organization fails to offer high-quality training and then gets annoyed that you’re not doing a better job.
  31. You’re expected to work in the same way, at the same times, and for the same reasons as everyone else.
  32. You’re not given the freedom to just do whatever’s necessary to take care of your customers.
  33. Your internet access is restricted at work.
  34. Everyone around you tolerates gossip and politicking.
  35. The physical space is neglected so much that you don’t have access to natural light, plants, or other things that make you feel comfortable and human.
  36. They offer you doughnuts once a week but then make clear that you actually don’t have a say in how you do your job.
  37. The payroll or HR department is slow to fix issues with your paycheck but somehow very quick to correct any over-payments they’ve made.
  38. You get in trouble for taking an issue to someone other than your direct supervisor.
  39. The workspaces for new team members aren’t set up ahead of time.
  40. The HR professional calls the lawyer more often than she talks to actual employees.
  41. Gratitude goes unspoken because “that’s just your job.”
  42. Someone’s value is directly related to how much time they put in at the office, even if it’s spent doing close to nothing.
  43. Bullying is tolerated.
  44. Expense reports.
  45. The leaders around you are allowed to “forget” where credit is due and take it for themselves.
  46. You’re rushed to make decisions, but then they take their sweet time to get back to you about that promotion you interviewed for because, well, “you wouldn’t understand.”
  47. You’re not allowed to work from home.
  48. The company increases their recruiting staff but does nothing about the fact that organizational turnover is 100+% for the year.
  49. What you say about work on social media is monitored and could get you in trouble.
  50. The people leading your organization believe that there’s no consequence to treating employees like shit.

We can do better.

We can create worklives and organizations that are vibrant and healthy, and that requires us to start by looking at the dark underbelly of many of our workplace cultures.

If you want things to be better or you found yourself nodding along to some of the things on this list, I invite you to find someone to debrief with, whether it’s a colleague, your partner, a friend, or the lovely folks in our new Facebook group,  A Wild New Work.

Bureaucracy and Beaver Dams

There are so many organizations that are operating as glorified bureaucracies. Layers upon layers of control, measurement, and analysis clog the processes that they’re supposed to support, and some of the highest paid people in those organizations aren’t those actually doing the work – they’re the ones analyzing the work.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Courtesy of Fast Company magazine.

With all of the levers and rules piling up in these organizations, it’s no wonder people are running around feeling completely overwhelmed and foggy.

Bureaucracy corrupts.

It turns us into people who create more and more problems for ourselves so that we can stay busy and demonstrate how valuable we are. I want to share a quote from Ricardo Semler, who has an awesome TED Talk called “How to run a company with (almost) no rules.”

Semler says, “Bureaucracies are built by and for people who busy themselves proving they are necessary, especially when they suspect they aren’t.”

Even if you don’t identify as someone who creates busy-ness in order to prove that you’re necessary, I’m sure you’ve met someone in this state. These are the people who talk about how busy and overwhelmed they are all the time, and I’ve been one of these people.

In my former worklife, I totally looked for more and more work in order to show how valuable I was. I made things overly complicated and did more for the sake of doing more, even though it rarely added value to the organization.

To demonstrate how ludicrous this is, I want to take a look at the natural world for a minute. Human beings are extremely complex thinkers, and we have these big brains that enable us to predict outcomes and analyze results, which has helped us to survive as long as we have. I would argue, however, that we have swung way too far in the direction of complexity.

While data is important and valuable, it is never more important than the quality of the work that’s being done.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantImagine a family of beavers building a new dam and lodge along a river. Do you think any of those beavers, once they’ve finished building their new home, is like “You know, I think we need to do a survey of other local beavers and build a report that demonstrates how fast beavers are building in this region. Maybe then we could compare it to reports from other regions and see how we compare!”

Do you think that when bears gather food before they hibernate for winter, they look at what they’ve got and then go gather more just for the sake of seeing an increase in food stock year over year?

No!

In the animal world, simplicity reigns.

When the work is done, the work is done. Resources aren’t wasted on reports or tasks that don’t actually contribute to the well-being of the animal.

Nature purifies, and it holds a valuable lesson for people stuck in a state of overwhelm and bureaucracy.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe next time you feel an urge to complain about how busy you are, I encourage you to pause and simply, lovingly, ask yourself: “Is what I feel busy with truly contributing any value?”

Are you busy with things that you believe contribute to the organization’s higher purpose, or are you busy with things you’re doing to try and prove your worth? What would happen if you just stopped doing those things? We often overestimate how much other people depend on the mundane tasks that we dread doing.

Now, to be fair, a lot of people are handed work and told it’s necessary because it affects someone else down the bureaucracy chain. You may not feel like you have a lot of ownership over the work you’re supposed to do, but that’s not true.

You have more ownership than you know, and the seemingly infinite reports, measurements, and analysis will never stop coming until regular people in regular jobs start exposing them for the clutter that they are.

So what can you simplify today?

Can you stop once the dam and the lodge are built? Can you gather enough for the winter and then rest to enjoy the bounty? I hope you’ll give yourself permission to try.

 

Tidying Up Your Life

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFirst, have you seen the new “Dear Megan” page? It’s my new work-related advice column that you’ll start seeing from time to time on this blog! If you have questions about a sticky situation at work, your career, or what the heck is going on in our organizations, I encourage you to submit them!

I know I’m late to the Marie Kondo party, but I’m finishing her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and am seeing so many parallels to our work, home, and social lives that I can hardly stand it!

Tidying up our stuff isn’t always easy, but it is relatively simple. We can see the clutter. We can move it. We can discard it.

But what about the clutter of our lives? What about all of those obligations we take on – the volunteer roles, the meetings with friends we don’t really vibe with anymore, or the tasks we tell ourselves we have to do?

If you could see each of those things as tangible objects, how much clutter would there be in your life?

Would your life look like a spacious, well-appointed room, a completely stuffed storage unit, or something in between?

I’ve talked to a number of people recently who have felt so incredibly busy this summer – busy with events, visitors, or weekend trips, and the way they describe what are supposed to be happy occasions sounds more like undergoing dental surgery against their will.

Why do we clutter up our lives so much?

I get that for some people, being constantly busy is energizing, but for many of us, we want to feel like we’re totally present in each thing we’re participating in. We want to feel like there’s time to stop and take notice, or time between things to avoid rushing. We want to feel like we’re spending our time wisely, on the things and people that help us become more of ourselves.

In her book, Kondo writes, “…we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”

Discarding what doesn’t bring you joy is the first part of Kondo’s process, but that’s only after you’ve taken stock of the things that “spark joy” within you.

flowers-desk-office-vintageLook at your calendar for next week. Is there anything on there that sparks joy for you? If so, hold on to it. Is there anything on the calendar that feels like a dirty old scarf you never wear, or mascara that’s three years old? If so, why are you insisting on holding on to those things?

I help people create worklives that they love, and that’s much harder to do when there’s significant “life clutter” clogging my clients’ view of where they want to go next.

Without giving yourself some spaciousness to sense and attend to what feels like the right next step, it’s hard to create a career that’s a deep reflection of who you really are.

So take stock today. See if you can separate out which activities spark joy and which feel tired and like they need to go in the “discard” pile. See if you can imagine tidying up your life.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I’m hosting a free 45-minute webinar called “Simplify to Clarify” on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10:00am PST. You can click here to learn more and reserve your spot!

Spring Transitions and Hitting Pause

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLately, I’ve been challenged to hit the “pause” button again – to slow down, hang in mid-air, and wait. It feels like I’m in transition, but since I’m not totally sure where I’m transitioning to, it’s pretty damn uncomfortable.

Do you know this feeling? It’s like everything you touch turns difficult, there’s no real momentum, and you’re starting to get the sense that something needs to change. Your worklife just feels kind of…foggy.

Many of us have internalized the belief that when we feel this way, the answer is simply to just try harder, which is something I talk a lot about on this blog.

The season of Spring, which we’re in the midst of in the Northern Hemisphere, is a period of transition – a bridge between winter and summer, and as earth-bound humans, we’re not immune to feeling the effects of this shift.

The promise of summer is exhilarating but, like any change, it can also be a bit daunting. The kids are out of school (btw, if you’re a working mom, you may want to check this out), there’s so much we want to do with the long days, and our work can change as clients go on vacation or want to take a break.

Sometimes when we feel unclear, tired, or just like we can’t do anything else – can’t attend one more meeting, write one more report, or talk to one more struggling employee, it’s an invitation for us to take a cue from Spring and surrender to rest and play.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn the Spring, we’ve got some sunny, vibrant days, and we’ve got some stay-inside-with-tea rainy ones. There’s newness and vitality, and then there’s rest under a grey sky. You think you know what to expect when you get dressed, only to find that you’re sweating profusely under a beam of sunshine that’s magically appeared. It’s an unpredictable, bubbly time – outside and within us.

If you’re feeling like everything you do right now is a total slog, consider letting go a little more than you’re comfortable with today. Go on an extra long walk at lunch, come in 15 minutes later, or just leave – or imagine leaving! – for the afternoon. Even though it’s terrifying, in these transition periods, it’s most “productive” to give space to our work so that we can regenerate and come back to it with the good energy it needs.

I love this quote from Martha Beck, which sounds very radical to the productivity-oriented side of me: “Rest until you feel like playing, then play until you feel like resting. Never do anything else.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen I’ve rested and had fun in the past few weeks instead of pushing myself to do just one more thing, the work I’ve wanted to do has come up naturally, softly, and much more beautifully.

I’d encourage you to give “pause” a try today.