AUTHORS NOTE: I wrote this a couple of years ago in the midst of very turbulent times in our country...in our world and felt it was having an impact on our people. Sadly -- the note below has become timeless. The uneasy times haven't left us. As leaders, we need to remember that we usually can't separate how we are feeling about the world at large from how we are feeling at work. And our people can't either, but they do look to us to help them through it. My advice: don't be afraid to be human. To share what it important to you. Trust me -- it will help them.
I have removed any proprietary or confidential information.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have been walking around for weeks now with a feeling of unease. You know that pit-in-your stomach feeling that won’t go away? I can’t tell you exactly when it started nor can I tell you exactly what it about, but it is this general feeling that all is definitely NOT right in the world.
And it isn’t.
There is so much divisiveness and anger now and I personally don’t know what to do about it. And I am having a hard time leaving that uneasy feeling, pit in my stomach behind when I come to the office. And I have come to the conclusion that it makes everything - everything, including things here at work, seem just a little bit worse.
- I worry about our numbers...and then I get mad at myself for even thinking about money when people are rioting in the streets.
- I get unreasonably upset when our people don’t seem to be working together well.
- If someone sends a snarky or short-tempered e-mail I want to jump out of my skin.
- When we lose a client or budgets are cut, it can feel like the sky is falling.
- When our clients don’t seem to appreciate all that we are doing for them I take it personally.
That pit in my stomach just won’t go away.
But I need to tell you about this week. As I am sure you noticed, we had a lot of our colleagues from around the world in town to help celebrate our 60th and for a global management meeting.
- I had dinner with a colleague from Turkey who made it to Chicago in spite of a political coup in his country.
- Our colleagues from Dallas were mourning the loss of police officers to violence, but that also reminded me of the violence at the hands of some in law enforcement.
- A leader from our Paris office knew the families of victims in both the Nice and Paris terror attacks.
- A colleague from our Miami office who saw her state mourn as a result of violence against the LGBT community and during our very meeting, woke to the news of another black youth being shot by police in Miami.
I was almost feeling numb. And I literally didn’t know what to say.
But then, as I was having dinner with yet another colleague from Beijing, as we were talking about all this horrible news, she commented that she hadn’t seen much about this because her government had censored it.
And with that, I found something to make me just a little bit less uneasy ...something to be grateful for.
While we might not always know what to say...at least we can say it.
At least for me, it is actually not that I don’t know what to say, my head and heart usually are pretty clear on that. What holds me back is more about worrying about how what I want to say might be received or whether I am blurring the lines about what is okay to say at work. Or is okay to say to people with a different sexual orientation than me. Or different colored skin. Or a different faith...or no faith at all.
It is all too easy to just decide not to take the risk. But that does NOTHING to help the pit in the stomach feeling.
So...for now I’ve decided not to worry about that and I am going to share something with you that has helped me during these difficult times.
My mother lost her mother to an act of horrific violence just six months after I was born. But in spite of this, or maybe because of it, she has shown me all through my life what grace is about. How to move on. How to treat people. How to not be angry or scared all of the time. How to tame the pit in one’s stomach.
When I told her how anxious I’ve been feeling she sent me this essay from a Presbyterian minister and author named Anne Lamott. It really helped me – so I’m abandoning my worry of how you will receive it, my fear that I shouldn’t bring my faith to work and going to simply follow my gut...which is to share it with you because it helped me.
“In spite of what it seems like now, life has always been this scary here and we have always been as vulnerable as little kittens. Plagues and Visigoths...snakes and schizophrenia; Cain is still killing Abel and nature means that everyone dies.
How on earth do we respond when we are stunned and scared and overwhelmed?
I wish there was an 800 number we could call to find out, but there isn’t. Yet I know that we must respond. We must respond with a show of force equal to the violence and tragedies, with love force. Mercy force. Non-negotiable compassion force.
We must do crazy care giving to the poor and suffering. Show patience with a deeply irritating and provocative partner [or boss or co-worker]. Give dollar bills to the annoying guy at the intersection who you think deep down should be working or might spend your money on beer.
Give it to him anyway.
Jesus did not ask the blind man what he was going to look at after he restored his sight. He just restored his sight and in so doing gave not just sight, but hope.
To whom can you give hope to today?
What is true is that the world has always been this way. There have always been evil or ignorant people. But what is also true is that grace always bats last. It just does, and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it always does, LOVE and caring are sovereign here on earth.” - Anne Lamott
So...colleagues, what can we, my work family, do for each other today?