Bliss Switch

I first heard the term “follow your bliss” in the mid-90’s when a girlfriend of mine was taking courses from a liberal arts program. Topic from one course was on books/media-something-something-something. Whatever it was, it sounded fascinating but alien to me. She explained the concept of the Hero’s Journey and Campell’s advise to “follow your bliss.”

I didn’t really understand what that meant. What bliss? When am I in bliss except for when sinking my teeth into a See’s Scotchmallow chocolate? Am I supposed to eat chocolate or perfectly ripe, sun-kissed peaches all day?

I know what it means now. The thing is, once you identify your bliss, you can hardly stand not to do it. It feels as natural as breathing and waaay more fun. Maybe better than Scotchmallows even.

Here’s the bliss formula (according to Susanna):

Bliss = Flow + Impact

I’ve talked about flow before. Flow is when you are so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time and are not conscious of yourself. Time flies by and you’ve done some of your best work. People tend to be in flow when using their strengths (StrengthsFinders or character strengths) and/or doing something they love.   Therefore, it’s important to notice when you’ve been in flow, what you were doing, and what strengths you were employing.

In other words, flow tends to lead to productivity and your best work.   Sounds like a good employee, right?

You might be coasting along in flow at work a lot, but it may not be your passion. What takes it to the next level is impact. Imagine that you spend all day absorbed in your activity, but what you do doesn’t really impact people’s lives.

Now imagine that your work helps others in a way that is meaningful to you.

Wow.

Do you think that would be your bliss?

Campbell describes this pursuit of bliss with the attendant impact as the Hero’s Journey. It’s a journey that we’re all meant to undertake. The journey is not easy, otherwise it would have little meaning or value to us.  It’s man’s fate, and the theme that plays out repeatedly in movies, stories, tales, legends, and fables from across time and culture.

Know your bliss.  Pursue it.  Be the hero of your own journey.

Can Our Organization Change?

Good question posed at a seminar that I was giving recently on organizational change.

I think the parenthetical modifier at the end of that question, however, was the unstated “…for the positive?” If the question had “…for the negative?” at the end,  the question would probably feel pointless and the answer obvious to most people.

Do you agree?

I suppose my assumption about the question’s implied direction of change is fairly cynical.  Perhaps we’ve seen it happen once too often: one toxic person enters an otherwise healthy dynamic, and people are moving on to greener pastures in short order.

Yes, work culture can go downhill in a hurry. But can it go up in a hurry too?

If you believe that culture can go downhill, can’t you also believe that it should also be able to go up too? If one person can create toxicity, why can’t one person create positivity? If one person can cause others to disengage, one person can also inspire others to engage.

Even if you don’t believe that an organization can change, the world changes all the time. Therefore, it seems unlikely that an organization can be indefinitely immune to the changes around it.

Society changes. Organizations change. People change. It’s just a question of how we change. Do we adapt? Do we grow? Or do we entrench and deteriorate?

The choice is yours.

Yes it is. You’re more powerful than you believe. Though it may only require one person’s vision to initiate change, that change also requires buy-in from others. Courage is required of those who choose to support that vision, especially from the first follower who commits to that change.

That vision and commitment may not even be explicit. Just as one person’s negative attitude can change the tone of a conversation, it can also change the tone of an organization’s culture. Therefore, one person’s message of optimism, hope, gratitude, compassion and empathy can also infuse and transform the culture of an organization. All it takes is buy-in from other people.

That can be you.

And you.

And you.

Now we have a movement.

Toxic, Disruptive People

My inner toddler

My inner toddler

When working or living with toxic, difficult people, our tendency seems to be to use labels (b*tch, pr*ck, evil, toxic, etc.) as a shortcut to understanding them. Though convenient and expeditious, not unlike a handful of trail mix for dinner, the problem with labels is that we stop seeing the other as a complex person who is struggling, just like we are. Instead, the label tends to homogenize and minimize their essence to nothing but negative. The extreme ‘evil’ label implies that the other is irredeemable and is deserving of whatever ill fate that may befall them, intentional or otherwise.

I haven’t had enough coffee this morning to debate whether evil exists, or whether evil is more appropriately viewed through a mental illness lens. Most people that we encounter in our daily lives fall far short of that diagnosis, though it is often tempting to box someone in with that label.

Here’s what I do know about difficult people. Remembering these concepts helps me to deal with them and my reaction to them more constructively.

  • Difficult people are our teachers. We learn patience and perspective by being in their midst.
  • No matter how sure you are that they are to blame, we always have some responsibility in a failed relationship.   Explore flipping your story to gain some useful perspective. For starters, we are often blind to our own need to be right or lack of forgiveness which tends to invite bad behavior in others.
  • Everyone has a valid perspective, even if you disagree with or can’t understand it. Remember, disagreements often stem from different ethical priorities, not from an absence of values or a moral compass. Learning anothers’ perspective will help you understand and forgive while also making it more likely that they will be motivated to understand yours.
  • We often confuse being lenient or soft on others with doing the right thing. Martyring ourselves or our team to accommodate the perceived needs or demands of a toxic person is not doing anyone any favors in the long run and is not likely to keep the peace for long.   Behavioral issues should be dealt with early, firmly and with compassion.   For example, despite repeated interventions, some students continue to have performance or behavioral issues.   They are not unintelligent or lazy; instead, they are often a poor fit for the program. Helping these students to find the right academic environment will allow them to grow and shine. In contrast, enabling them to persist in a program that does not match their strengths or interests only prolongs the issue for them. Avoiding the problem for extended durations can result in incalculable losses of time, money, energy, productivity, and peace of mind for both the student and those around them.
  • A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. I did not believe her at the time, but I believe this statement to be 100 % true. Laziness is synonymous for lack of engagement. In the work environment, lack of engagement is strongly associated with being ignored or getting negative attention. Conventional wisdom concurs with respect to children that act out at home because they are being ignored. It’s easy to blame the child or lazy employee but the root cause is usually the parent or manager (see bullet #2 above).

It’s not easy turning the lens from the difficult person back on oneself. When tired or stressed, this task seems pointless or nearly impossible.   But here are your options: allow someone else to make you feel frustrated and emotionally out of control or by take constructive action that will help improve yourself, your family or you organization.   The latter may seem harder, but consider how uncontrolled emotion is the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum, even if you think you’re controlling it externally.

Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. However, finding someone else who agrees with your or is in the same boat is not a good excuse to avoid dealing constructively with that difficult person in you.

Job, Career, Calling

Follow the breadcrumbs

Follow the breadcrumbs

Amy Wrezesniewski, professor at Yale School of Management, says that we approach our work in one of three ways: job, career or calling. A job is a way to make money whereas a career is one that provides advancement opportunity and a moderate level of satisfaction. A calling, on the other hand, provides a deep sense of meaning, motivation and satisfaction.

I never gave it a single thought until about three years ago when I had an Aha! moment about what I loved to do, what I was good at, and what provided deep meaning and satisfaction for me. After all, I had a great job that was rewarding, interesting and challenging, and I felt I was making a difference in the world. But despite those qualities, I was also planning on retiring as soon as I could. After all, though my job was satisfying, there were things I’d rather be doing. What those things were, I’m not quite sure.

My Aha! moment put me on a different trajectory, professionally and personally. Now, I can’t imagine ever retiring, and I think about my passion all the time. My passion led me back to school and coach training, and gets me up to volunteer my time or blog into the wee hours. I constantly feel energized, and am gratified when others are energized by our collaboration as well.   Recently, I saw a group of students get together to discuss volunteering to extend the work in this area, and I was just excited beyond belief!

My main advice to people who are searching for their calling is to relax, and to be open to whatever the calling might be.   After all, if it were obvious to you, you would’ve figured it out already.   It may not surprise you that your calling is probably obvious to those around you. They tell you by saying things like: you should do this for a living. Or: how did you do that?!?! My own expectations about the role I should play was my main barrier, but my receptivity and awareness of the calling breadcrumbs (things that I’m good at, do with ease and excellence, and that give me great satisfaction) were huge clues to where my calling lies.

Another should obstacle is the belief that the calling should be specific. I strongly sense my calling, but the final destination  is still pretty vague. I don’t really know where it’s leading me, but I’m just following my bliss into this unknown territory, as advised by Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire. So far it has not led me wrong and is a better guide for me than my shoulds and musts.

What shoulds and musts are distracting you from what you should really be doing? Set those aside and follow those breadcrumbs to your passion. You may surprise yourself.

The Truest Honor

Big money. Awards. Accolades. Perfect grades. Compliments. An amazing career.   Yes, these are all true honors for those who are lucky to receive them. For some, these are daily occurrences. For others, they happen intermittently at best, but the euphoria may quickly wear off and then we’re thinking about the next honor.

I’m as guilty of this as the next gal.   When I let my deprivation mindset take over, I’m only looking for where I’m not measuring up or not as successful as the most successful person in the room. But when I allow my abundance mindset to prevail, I see affirmation everywhere.

Affirmation need not come in the form of an award or even a compliment. Recall the concept of positivity resonance. It’s a moment or even a micro-moment of connection between two people. Barbara Frederickson, author of Love 2.0, calls this love. That micro- or even macro-moment of connection is even more meaningful when it happens with someone you care about – whether a loved one or a friendly acquaintance. They’re even more amazing when they occur following an interaction where there is mutual respect, trust and companionship. If I can have that type of interaction when using my strengths and following my passions, then there is no better feeling on earth. None.

Connection. Passion. Trust. Impact. Positivity resonance/love. Really. That is the truest honor.

Never Say ‘Never’

It’s happening at what feels like an alarming rate: a Personal Certainty gets uncertain or even wrong. You know a Personal Certainty. They begin with ‘I will never…’, ‘I will always…’, ‘I don’t ever….’, and so forth.

Perhaps you know the saying, “Man plans. God laughs.” God laughs at me a lot.

I guess I deserve it. I have spent so much of my life trying to plan and control my life. It’s no wonder that little of it works out as planned. Thank goodness, actually.

This has been a great lesson for me: lean into that uncertainty about life. Yes, I suppose it could turn out so much worse than I expect. But I feel like the more open I am to the unexpected, the more likely that things will actually turn out better than expected.

However, old habits die hard. Really hard. So I still often catch myself saying, ‘I’ll never…’ or trying to control the future. Now I try to stop myself mid-way and reflect on my usual assumptions. Where did that belief come from? Is it still relevant? Why do I believe it to be true? Is it really absolutely necessary? How can a ‘bad’ outcome actually be a ‘good’ outcome? That very exercise is an interesting dive into my iceberg beliefs and can yield some revealing things about my inner psyche. Even trying to imagine the circumstances in which I will be doing the very thing that I can’t imagine doing is an entertaining exercise in and of itself.

So I tried some of my usual ‘I will never’ statements on for size:

  • I will never go back to practice Pharmacy. Maybe I will. What kind of practice model might entice me back?
  • I will never go back to school. I already violated that once. Why not again? What might it be next time?
  • I will never live in the country. At least I hope not. But if I did, what sort of landscape or circumstance would be compelling enough to take me there?
  • I will always care about the environment and recycling. Maybe someday the environment won’t need me to worry about it.
  • I don’t ever want to go skydiving. Well, maybe it were free and it was important to a loved one that I try their beloved hobby at least once….
  • I will never love olives or pickles. Well, unless the olive is in a tapenade. OK.

See? This exercise allows me to open my mind to what was previously unimaginable. Thinking about something does not commit me in any way to it. Like contemplating a pickle tapenade (eww) does not mean I have to actually eat it. Rather, I’m just exercising an open mind by saying ‘maybe’ more frequently and giving myself permission to imagine the improbable.

Take your strongest Personal Certainty and imagine what scenarios might actually change that reality for you. Does it seem slightly more plausible now?   Which Certainties have been standing in your way?  Keep imagining options until the impossible seems likely.    Deep fried pickles?  Yum!

The New Mythology

If you’ve ever felt lost or directionless, you’re not alone. According to Joseph Campbell, author of the Power of Myth, modern man has lost his mythology or guide to life, and it’s no surprise that we sometimes feel like we’re missing something. Campbell is a comparative mythologist who has studied stories from across time and culture. He says that man’s stories are remarkably similar across different religions, fables, and myths, and have served as man’s guide to life for millennia.

But today, according to Campbell, modern man has lost its mythology and so has lost his way. Religion seems less relevant in our modern age (“eye for an eye” seems archaic), and we’ve not found a suitable replacement that will help us find the path to the good life.

Or have we?

As a society, it seems to me that we’ve turned to science as our new religion. The scientific method allows us to ask questions and find answers to them instead of attempting to interpret God’s will from a book or our clergy. But does the scientific method teach us about the good life and finding meaning and purpose?

A decade ago, I would’ve said No. But today we have positive psychology. Positive psychology is the scientific discipline that studies well-being.   It’s not just the ‘happy science’, but studies the utility of all emotions, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and creating satisfaction in all domains of life.

Many theories exist about what constitutes well-being, but as a graduate of the Penn MAPP program, I tend to go with the father of the discipline, Martin Seligman, and author of Flourish. According to Seligman, well-being is comprised of PERMA, positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and achievement. In other words, we can create personal well-being by developing each of these aspects in the various domains of our life. Tom Rath, author of Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, states that the 5 domains of our life include career, social, community, financial, and physical well-being.   Five components, 5 domains. Roughly 25 areas to improve one’s life. You can almost make a grid and start filling in the squares for things to do to improve your life.

Don’t mind if I do:

 

  Career Social Community Financial Physical
P Plan a get-together
E Blog
R Walk with friends
M Donate to charities
A Use my strengths

So just going down the Financial column, I can ask myself, “how can I create meaning through the financial domain?” Donate to charities that I feel can create the impact that I’m looking to support. “How can I create positive emotion and engagement with or through my community?” Write my blog!

You may not be able to figure out how to put something in every square. Or maybe you can. If you can’t figure it out, ask a friend or family member, and you can improve your relationships just by starting with the exercise itself.

Science. Data. Tables. Method. Experiment with your life! You might like the results.