Good Person, Poor Fit

Every organization seems to have at least one person who is struggling to be successful. They aren’t doing their job properly or productively. They resist suggestions. They’re not getting along with others.   They just are not thriving within their environment.

We often describe such people as being difficult, lazy, incompetent, disruptive, or annoying.   When we are that person, we say that the environment is toxic, the management is incompetent, or that there’s no support for the employees.  Two sides of the same coin, each pointing the finger at the other.

The variable that is often ignored during this blame game is the person’s fit or lack of fit with the organizational culture or job duties. You can tell when fit is at play when that person leaves or goes into another job, then becomes successful, productive, or well-liked when placed in an environment where their talents can shine.

I’ve seen it again and again. Unhappy employee gets fired, leaves or is transferred to another job, department or company. He goes from being a problem to a superstar.

There’s nothing inherently bad about the person or organization when there is a mismatch between the two. To some degree we have to try it (a job, degree program or organization) to see if it fits. However, if it doesn’t work out, we tend to personalize the problem rather than looking at fit issues.

I love to see that “loser” go into a different environment and shine.  Giving yourself or another person that opportunity to find their authentic path and blossom may feel like a punishment in the moment but it can actually be a gift to someone who is struggling. If we don’t ever feel brilliant in some way in our current position or organization, then it’s probably not a good match. If that’s you, maybe give yourself that chance to be a genius somewhere, at something, or figure out how to discover what that is.

Control Freak Antidotes

Though I was blind to it for many years, I think it was pretty obvious to most people that I am/was a control freak. I was in denial, hating and criticizing others’ control freak tendencies but unaware of my own.

One clue should’ve been my StrengthsFinders list with Adaptability dead last.

The belief that I could control my world allowed me to avoid acknowledging my flaws, and therefore, the possibility of not being OK, lovable, or acceptable. Thus I had to first really accept that I’m never going to be perfect, and that imperfection is not only OK, but it’s what defines us as humans (see How Good Do We Have to Be? by Harold Kushner).

I still struggle with my control freak tendencies, but they don’t have the hold on me that they once did. I can still feel that twinge when something doesn’t go as I hoped or wanted. However, now I’m more aware of that feeling and instead of reacting to it immediately, I usually can observe it and then decide what to do.

Adaptability and acceptance are the opposites of control, and are tools that I consciously practice as antidotes to my control fantasies. First, I reflect on what is really mine to control and what isn’t.   As we know from the Serenity Prayer, this is where we practice our wisdom.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Next, if something is not in my control, then I have a choice as to whether or not to try to influence it.   In other words, there’s a difference between what I can do versus what I should do.   What do I need to fight or advocate for? What is OK to let it go? Here’s where I can be adaptable and wise together, by seeking to influence selectively, and accepting everything else that I can neither control nor influence.

I’ve learned over the years that most things fall into the latter category. Most of the time, my opinions are not really relevant to someone else’s reality even if I feel they should heed my opinion. If they want my help or advice, they’ll ask for it. When it does affect me, my work or others, then I should/could speak up. Otherwise I should just mind my own business.

I’ll always be a recovering control freak, though with practice it’s gotten much easier to find that wisdom. There’s also a certain peace associated with accepting reality and sense of compassion and camaraderie when observing others struggling with the same lesson.

Reversing a Bad Situation

Life doesn’t always go as planned; sometimes bad things happen. Part of us feels like sh** shouldn’t happen to us, a belief that often ensures we stay stuck in the situation. We may not be able to control events, whether deemed good or bad, but we do have control over our response to a situation.

What matters in the end is how we respond to events in our life.   Some people crumble after good fortune. Some people thrive after a setback. Yes, thrive! It’s all a choice.

There are great resources* to help find ways to improve resilience and bounce back after adversity. I strongly rely on my strength of Perspective. First, I ask myself “what’s the worst possible outcome?” trying to be as realistic as possible. Framing the situation in that light allows me to start planning for the worst. The advantage of this strategy is that by doing so, I can see that I can dig myself out of even the worst possible scenario though I might feel feel as if I’ll be forever stuck in this deep, dark forest.

Even more importantly, I ask myself: How might this turn out to be a huge blessing? What lessons might I learn? How might I grow from this challenge? Where can that growth take me? How might I find gratitude for this event? How can I turn my competitor into an ally?

I recently watched the movie Akela and the Bee. In the story, little spelling phenom Akela follows her heart and decides to let her main competitor win the National Spelling Bee since it was his last opportunity to bring home the trophy. He realizes what she’s done and, instead of accepting an unearned win, he asks her to bring her best effort. Next, they realize that if they support each other, they can both win.

That path forward out of a bad situation is not easy to find. The Judge in our head is often criticizing, complaining and whining, and keeps us stuck in a dysfunctional and destructive mentality. Instead, thriving requires that we silence the Judge so that we can hear the whispers of our heart and conscience that guide us to the path out of the dark woods into the light.

*Check out the The Resilience Factor. 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Reivich & Shatte.

The Possibilities of Spring

People love spring because it represents birth, a new start, potential, right? Babies are being born, dormant plants come to life, we see new growth. We also come out of our winter dens wearing our shorts, sandals and t-shirts baring our skin to the sunshine and elements.

This uncovering is not just physical but it can be psychological, emotional, spiritual and professional.   I think pausing for active reflection while savoring the spring can be a reinvigorating and insightful experience. Take advantage of this time to really give yourself an opportunity to discover your own rebirth:

  • Physical – You’re revealing your body to the world once again as you leave your coat behind. If you could take an objective look at your body viewing it inside and out with the standards of a person your age, what would your body be asking from you?   Consider both health and aesthetics. Can you make a change to improve your body this spring?
  • Cognitive – So many people around me have Learner as a top strength. You’re probably a sponge, soaking up information and knowledge about the world around you.   Stop and reflect about your work/learning/education. What can you do to change and improve your learning and mental activity? What would be the intellectual equivalent to traveling to a foreign country or writing with your non-dominant hand? Maybe pick up a magazine or book you would not otherwise read. Take a routine at work and work on it from a different angle.
  • Financial – Just like our thoughts are habits, so is our spending. You’ve just done your taxes hopefully, so you have a current perspective on where you are financially. What assumptions are you making about your money? Do you need to revisit your goals or your choices about money? What can you do with your money that will improve your overall sense of well-being? Is your money serving you well in this area? If not, make a new plan!
  • Professional – Is your work feeling in need of a Maury Povich-type makeover? Perhaps you’ve been in your role or organization too long. How many days of the week do you feel joy, inspiration, satisfaction or love at work? How many do you feel frustration, bitterness, resentment or anger? Calculate the ratio. Does that number work for you? If you want to improve it, what small changes can you make to improve your well-being at work?
  • Relational – Relationships are what makes our lives meaningful. If you were to die tomorrow, what relationship issues would you regret as you’re lying on your deathbed? What would you want to say to people? Who have you been having friction with, and what is your conscience telling you to do? Alternatively, what relationships are going well but that could get even better? What small ways can you create rebirth in a relationship, starting today?
  • Psychological/emotional – I’ve learned over the years that the relationship that we most abuse/ignore is the one we have with ourselves. Imagine that you are your own spouse.   Do you keep your promises to yourself? Do you always talk to yourself with kindness, love, and compassion? Do you give yourself what you need? Now consider the person who loves you more than anyone else in the world and they were talking about you (in your hypothetical role as your own spouse). Would they say it’s a good marriage or that you need to ditch that loser who is abusing you? What boundaries would they say that you need to set with your partner? How would you set and enforce them?
  • Community – Many of us return to our homes as if we were long-term renters, never really engaging with the community around us. What are the needs of your community? Or, how can you contribute to your community to make it better? It might not be your neighborhood directly, but you are probably a member of many communities (spiritual, educational, geographical, professional). How might you deepen your engagement and relationship with those people?

Like those flowering trees and plants, you depend on having sufficient nourishment to thrive in any particular area. Are you getting enough water and sunshine, good quality soil and sufficient pruning? Or are you being choked by weeds? Tend to your garden this spring and see what grows.

No Pain, No Gain

You know those invisible fences that provide a shock to the dog who isn’t supposed to cross the fence boundaries? The dog has to experience some discomfort to learn where he can and cannot go.

Dogs aren’t the only ones. Humans learn by trial and error, falling off and getting back up, crashing and healing. Seems there are certain lessons we can only learn by failing.

In education, we try to take the pain out of learning, but since pain is subjective, it ultimately depends on the student, teacher and the subject. In contrast, we do know that positive emotion fuels learning, so feeling good also helps us to learn and grow.

Pain. Pleasure.   Yin and yang. One not possible without the other. Each are adaptive, helping us to better understand ourselves and our world.

One of the reasons I write this blog is that part of me hopes that my hard-earned lessons are helpful and will reduce the pain of learning for others.   But, and I apologize for the analogy, it’s akin to me telling you where the borders of the fence are so you don’t get shocked. In the end, what will you really need to do?

At the minimum, I hope that once the shock happened, it will be less of a surprise, and you will bounce back and learn from the experience more quickly if you knew what to expect in advance. In the end, I’m afraid that regardless of the advance prep, we each have to test the limits of ourselves and the world, one shock at a time.

I’m continuing to learn my own, hard-earned lessons every day. I know there’s that freakin’ fence, but some days I can’t even figure out its dimensions or the rules to avoid getting shocked. That’s OK. You’ve warned me so at least I know I’m not alone.

Leadership at All Levels

I’m not sure whether I’m more cognizant of those who fail to either do their jobs or comply with the smallest professional courtesy (like returning a phone call or email), or if such unprofessional behavior is actually more prevalent lately.  So when I see others stepping up to work above and beyond their required duties, it’s a joy and inspiration to me!

I see this extra effort from faculty and staff all the time, mostly in small ways. But most recently, I’ve seen this big-time from our students. Usually there’s a visible leader at the helm who has a vision and can rally the troops with her organizational skills, positivity, work ethic and energy.

In addition, there are many many students who work quietly and with dedication outside of the limelight. They volunteer. They make suggestions. They work without complaining. They do necessary tasks that will not ever be recognized. They quietly contribute their magnificent talent and time to the cause and make it better.

This system of shared or horizontal leadership empowers individuals and brings a sense of teamwork, builds relationships and makes use of the team’s best skills and talents for the task. In doing so, each person is engaged, grows her own strengths, and are more likely to be able to step up when the leader is absent.   While observing such student teams, I see an emerging leader in every single team member, and my faith in our young generation and our future is so rejuvenated.  Thank you, young leaders, for your idealism and commitment to improving our world!