Letting Go

I’m writing this blog today as a tribute to my late grandfather, Ralph W. Luethke, whose beautiful soul left our world last week. Although different from my previous blogs, and perhaps unconventional, I’m posting this here because in so many ways, my grandfather embodied the type of leader I aspire to be.

Loss is painful.

We all experience loss at different points throughout life. Sometimes loss comes in the form of a job or a relationship, maybe it’s the place we’ve come to know and love when we relocate across town or across the world. Loss is a necessary part of our life experiences and even though it’s painful, it can be positive (e.g., the end of an unhealthy relationship).

The loss of someone we love touches the depths of our souls. There’s nothing like it. It breaks our hearts and leaves a lasting impact; we are forever changed.

I cannot iterate strongly enough the importance of having a support network, a village, a tribe to lean on in these times. Whether it is one person or many, this community is what will help us survive the loss. It is part of the mourning process to be together, to experience this loss together, to cry together, and in moments of rarity, even laugh together.

Over the past several days, I have been surrounded by those who loved my grandfather and those who undoubtedly love me. We share in this loss. The nuanced meaning of a hand on one’s shoulder is pure comfort. The connection between tearful eyes says, “I know this hurts right now, but we’re all going to be okay.”

In these moments, I find that I feel astonishingly fortunate despite the pain I am experiencing. It is a gift to be surrounded by so much love and support. Even though my heart is breaking, I know without doubt that I will be okay; we will heal from this loss although we will be changed.

When you experience loss – whether it’s right now or sometime in the future – I encourage you to reach out to those around you. Lean on the people who love you and allow them to help you heal.

The next several lines are written as a sort of letter to my grandfather. They read a bit more like a poem, though I didn’t pay particular attention to cadence or the number of syllables in each line, etc. As you read these words, I hope you might find a sense of comfort or inspiration. Thank you for taking the time to read today’s post.

With love,

Tiff

_______

I have always admired you.

In so many ways, I have aspired to be just like you.

You shared with me your unquenchable thirst for knowledge and endless sense of curiosity.

You saw beauty in all things, whether behind the lens of a camera or in giving refuge to the discarded treasure of others.

Your heart was ever light and joyful; taking every opportunity to share in laughter and celebration with others.

You gave reverence to all living things. Your kindness and compassion were boundless; always willing to share your time, your gifts, your knowledge with others.

You were a fierce and caring protector. Under your watchful eye, we thrived. You welcomed all into your home, your table, and your family.

You were assuredly peaceful in knowing that everything would turn out just as it’s meant to be; confident that you were exactly where you were supposed to be.

I am saddened that this world will not know your soul for another day or even a moment. To never hear you tell another story or watch you pour over the maps of our heritage again. These moments, like so many others, exist now only in our memories.

Your life of giving, nurturing, and loving the world around you is what you’ve left behind. This legacy, your legacy is forever etched on our hearts.

Finally your soul is free of its earthbound body. Truly this is grace.

_______

Photo Credit:

Shoreline during golden hour, Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

What Lights Your Fire?

The thing about motivation is that it’s not exactly like learning another skill. It’s not at all like learning to cook or ride a bike or learning to drive — those things stick with you and even when you haven’t done them for a while, they tend to come back to you pretty quickly.

Motivation is not something that we can really gain mastery of — just when we think we’ve got it, it’s gone. It’s fleeting and it changes from one time and place to another. In completing one ambition, we may find our motivation to be consistently strong throughout. Yet in the case of another goal or resolution, we struggle to find the motivation to even begin.

Why is that?

Different circumstances, different expectations, different time and place. Maybe our level of interest is varied or we’re simply lacking passion (you can read more about passion in my post on Grit). Whatever the case, rest assured that you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone struggles to find motivation at least some of the time (myself included) and there are lots of strategies to help you discover and keep your motivation burning which I’m going to outline today.

As always, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do everything included in this post (in fact, I wouldn’t even advise that). What I hope you’ll find here instead are a few practical ideas that resonate with you and help provide the spark you need to set your motivation ablaze. Remember, our entire life journey is a work in progress of sorts, so we shouldn’t expect to attain perfection anytime soon!

My own mantra this week is, “Nothing can stop me today — I can only stop myself.” I share this because I think it fits well with the topic of motivation, particularly because I tend to find (and maybe you do as well) that the thing getting in my way most of the time is me! No one is making me take on the commitments in my life that I’ve made — I chose to make them. When I find that my plate is overwhelmingly full, I can only look to myself because I’m the one that filled it in that manner.

I’m not saying this to beat myself up or to suggest that you should in any way do the same. Conversely, it’s important that we take ownership and find empowerment in knowing that we shape our own goals and experiences. While we can’t control everything that happens in a day, we can own the way that we choose to spend our time and how we react to the occurrences throughout each day.

Not sure where to start? Here’s some ideas to help you discover and keep your motivation – that internal fire inside us all – burning strong:

Share your knowledge with others. In most cases, it’s not that you don’t know what to do or how to reach your goal, but channeling the motivation to actually make progress can be difficult. Many people find themselves stuck in a rut, unable to take meaningful action, even though they know exactly what they need to do. There’s a good chance you know someone who’s been wanting to lose weight for years, but hasn’t been able to actually commit to a particular diet (maybe that someone is even you). Yet, that person probably has more knowledge about nutrition and calorie intake vs. outtake than almost anyone else in your life.

In this case, the key to forward momentum is building self-confidence by telling others how to do it. Yes, literally go tell other people the step-by-step process for how to accomplish the goal that you want to accomplish yourself. (I know this sounds a bit odd, but stay with me.)  A very compelling study by Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach (see Fessler, 2018) demonstrated how simply giving advice to others (on the same issues she/he was struggling to do) could help build one’s self-confidence enough to propel individuals into action. It reminds me of that saying, ‘those who can’t do teach,’ except that in this case it’s like ‘those who teach are more likely to do,’ which aligns perfectly with my next point…

“Do something. Do anything.” According to Mark Manson (bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) action can precipitate action simply by helping us build confidence in our ability to do so. It doesn’t have to be something big, but making any sort of action towards reaching our goals often creates the inspiration and motivation we need to continue along a path of progress. If you’re paralyzed by your fear of going to the gym, maybe start with a walk outside or find a YouTube video to follow along with at home. If you want to mend a relationship with someone and you don’t know where to start, try picking up the phone and calling them or writing them a letter (you don’t even have to send it if you don’t want to).

When I’m struggling to start writing (which is basically everyday), I will often say to myself, “Okay, I’ll just create an outline,” or “I can at least write down the thoughts that are in my head,”  or “Fine, I’ll write ONE paragraph.” Oftentimes I’ll find that as a result, moving onto other parts becomes much easier because I’ll have ideas for how to do so (and maybe even a bit of excitement).

Maybe I’ll have an idea for a second paragraph or the introduction or a totally different point I want to make later in the chapter (or blog post…). In any case, once you’ve actually started, it’s so much easier to keep going and I almost always find myself thinking something along the lines of, “That wasn’t so difficult (but I’m definitely not going to admit that I may have even enjoyed myself a bit), I don’t know why I put this off — I’ll just do a bit more.”

When I’m really stumped (or just because), one of my favorite things to do is to create a timeline. It doesn’t have to be very detailed when you begin, it can literally just be an estimated start and end date. Bench marks (tasks that need to be completed along the way) will begin to form in your mind and then you can break down how long each item will take you to complete. After you’ve completed your working or tentative timeline (because it’s always subject to change), you can look to the first task and start working on it immediately.

Be realistic in your expectations. Sometimes we come to a phase in life where we feel compelled to overhaul our entire state of being. If you’re trying to lose weight for instance, you may want to drastically change your diet, workout routine, and sleep habits all at once. While these behaviors likely work together and could potentially reinforce each other, making several drastic life changes at once is almost always a guaranteed recipe for failure.

It’s not at all because we don’t possess the ability to do so, but rather that we’re asking ourselves to do something that is virtually impossible and unsustainable. Meaningful and lasting changes tend to occur through small incremental changes over time. In the example I gave above, you could start with changing just one aspect of your life (like diet) and integrate the others later once you’ve accomplished your initial goal. Another option might be to set two attainable goals to begin (like eating out one day less each week and getting up 10 minutes earlier) which you make more challenging over time (like eating out only once a week and getting up an hour earlier).

As with the above points discussed, this approach tends to work because small, attainable goals help us experience a sense of achievement which in turn, builds self-confidence. Why should you care about self-confidence? Because self-confidence is really about learning to trust ourselves. Imagine if you had someone in your life who you continually told you they would meet you at a certain time tomorrow and then for weeks, they never showed up, day after day. After a few days (or maybe even just the first day), you would stop waiting for them because you wouldn’t trust them.

Every time we break a commitment to ourselves, we break our own trust. We trust ourselves less and less until we come to believe that we won’t follow through with anything and are incapable of accomplishing any goals. We diminish our self-confidence until there is nothing left (just writing this makes me feel so sad!!). Why do we treat ourselves with so little regard? We are important and so worthy of self-love and of keeping our commitments to ourselves (which fits so well with my next point)!

Before we move on, let me just say once more — YOU are important and YOU are worthy of love.

More compassion, less criticism. There’s a lot of research which shows that self-criticism actually works to demotivate us. (Which is probably not so surprising after reading the last few paragraphs.) When we fail, as we inevitably will, it’s important to have some self-compassion. Be gracious with yourself in recognizing that at any moment we can start again and try our best to do better.

More compassion may mean that you go off your diet for a night because it’s important to enjoy a special occasion with your family and not worry about monitoring your food choices. It may mean that you while you didn’t stick to your diet for breakfast (because maybe someone brought donuts to the office this morning), you’re committed to making good food choices for lunch (or dinner if you call it that) and supper instead of throwing the whole day out the window. It may mean that while you missed your deadline for a project or goal, you recognize that you’ve still made a lot of progress and you’re committed to seeing it through, even if it’s a little bit later than you had hoped.

I want to note that there’s a healthy balance between being self-compassionate and not falling into overly-compromising on a commitment to yourself (which can harbor distrust). That balance will be different depending on the individual and the circumstances. I genuinely believe however, you know the difference— you know when you’re showing a little bit of grace, flexibility, and self-compassion (which is sometimes needed) and you know when you’re breaking a commitment or promise to yourself. Be mindful of the difference and do what’s best for you.

Stay in the present moment. When that moment of conflict arises and you find yourself with the desire to compromise your goal, whatever it may be, know that this is only natural. This is an inevitable occurrence within the process of change. Instead of seeking a distraction, stay present in the moment. Try facing these moments with a sense of curiosity (instead of chastising yourself). Consider what it mean to cheat on your goal today or in this moment. Likely, it would mean breaking a promise you’ve made to yourself.

Remind yourself of your goal’s importance and worth (and perhaps also of your importance and worth as well). Why did you commit to this goal in the first place? Why was (is) it important to you? Stay with these feelings and allow them to pass (because they definitely will!). You may be surprised at the emotions connected to these experiences — you may feel anger or sadness or remorse (or something else altogether). Just know that it’s okay to feel; we’re human and that’s what we do.

Recruit an ally. Accountability can be a powerful tool especially if you’re someone who struggles to keep resolutions for yourself. *raises hand slowly* This doesn’t have to come in the form of a person (though it certainly may!), it could be in the form of keeping a reflection journal or logging your progress in an app. There are a lot of great apps out there for tracking fitness goals through logging your food and workout habits, for example. (I use Fitbit and know a lot of people who use MyFitnessPal, but there are many other good apps out there beyond these.)

The most important thing here, is finding whatever works to help hold you accountable and provide some support toward reaching your goals. I recently installed an aerial yoga hammock in my house (it was actually a gift from my parents – thank you!!) which I had been wanting to do for some time. I was initially drawn to it because it looked like fun, – which it totally is – but since practicing with it, I’ve realized it has immense value in its ability to act as a support in learning to do things like inversions or for working on balance in poses like Warrior 3. I’m telling you this because I happened to mention my observation to my doctoral Advisor and she, in her infinite wisdom, remarked how perfectly this demonstrated that with the right supports in place, virtually anything is attainable (it literally gives me goosebumps even now).

Isn’t that the truth? Things that sometimes feel out of reach or even impossible to us, suddenly become realities when we just have the right tools or the right people around us. So spend a bit of time thinking about what might be most helpful to you and recognize that it may take some trial and error to figure it out. Once it’s there, the sky is the limit – literally, anything is possible.

Channel your inner rebel. If you’re the type of person who resists being told what to do and when to do it (as many of us are), you may not love the idea of setting boundaries for yourself. However, the same characteristics that compel us to resist constraints also drive us to fight and fight hard; we love to defy expectations, prove others wrong, and most of all, we LOVE to win!

I have a good friend who’s taking his sibling rivalry to a whole new level by competing with his sister to make his fitness goals. That desire to beat her (or maybe just to not let her win?) is a big part of what’s driving him to make it to the gym every morning before work. Healthy competition can be highly motivational for individuals like this (myself included). It may not be possible (or ideal) in every case, but for something like losing weight, it could be really fun to challenge a friend or family member.

I will add a word of caution on this point, however. Yes, spite can be a powerful motivator, but I’m not sure it’s always a healthy one – especially if it’s the ONLY thing that’s driving you to accomplish a goal. It’s important that our goals be things that we have chosen to pursue because they are meaningful and important to us in some way. If the desire to prove someone wrong or to be better than someone else is the only thing that is driving you to pursue a goal, I urge you to consider whether it’s truly something worth the effort. Is it something that will bring joy or peace to your life in some way? If not, it may be time to drop it.

Do some investigative work. It can be really helpful to do a little research about your goal and to find out what others have done to achieve the same goal. If it’s a particularly broad topic area (like weight loss ), you may find the amount of information online to be overwhelming at first because there are literally thousands of articles available. Consider starting with friends, family members, or colleagues who may have had similar experiences and ask what’s worked well for them. Most people are happy to share their success stories and will probably give you more information than you asked for!  Once you have a good starting point (like maybe the name of a particular diet to research), you can narrow your search online for additional information if needed.

This approach can be particularly helpful if you’re someone who likes to make a clear plan ahead of time or if you have a tendency to want to know the “best” or “right” way to do something. Just be sure to keep in mind that what’s best for you may be different from what’s best or has worked for someone else and that’s completely okay (really, it’s to be expected). You may even need to try some things out to find the best fit before making a decision. Remember, what’s most important is to actually take the first steps toward achieving your goal (back to that point about “Do something. Do Anything.”) – even if it’s not quite right when you first start. Don’t get stuck in the research and planning phase at the cost of delaying your goal any longer.

Make your commitment a big deal. It may be tempting to say you’ll start your diet (or virtually any other goal) on Monday, but it’s really important to set an official start date. Lots of people get stuck in the planning and preparation phase; they continually procrastinate actually acting on their resolution. Look at your calendar and mark the start date. Look at the events you have coming up in the near future – will you be traveling or do you have a big celebration to attend? You may want to plan around these things to help ensure you will be successful (just don’t put it off for too long).

Once you have a start date, commit to working on your goal for a set length of time. It may be 30 days, or 3 months, or 6 months depending on your goal and the amount of time you think you will realistically need to accomplish it. Something you may also want to consider are conditions for breaking your commitment. For instance, what will happen if you break your commitment one day or you don’t reach your goal for a week? Will you start over at Day 1?

It may sound harsh, but having some conditions or even consequences in place can actually help us stay committed on those days when we just want to give up. We’ll think to ourselves, “I don’t want to cheat because I don’t want to start over!” I didn’t invent this idea, it’s been used by many people and it’s one of the principles of the Whole30 diet which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. When you get to day 25 and you just want to eat some bread, you’re much less likely to do so because you only have five days left and you don’t want to start the 30 days all the way from the beginning again!!

Okay, enough of that – here’s the fun part: Find a way to commemorate your first day by doing something special. Celebrate in some way or get something that brings meaning to the day for you. It doesn’t have to cost anything – it could be as simply as writing your goal in a place that you will see it every day. It might be finding a mantra that you will remind yourself of as you work on your goal such as, “I trust in myself and the decisions I make,” or simply, “I am enough.”  Consider also telling friends and family members about your plan as they may want to know and could help cheer you along the way (and celebrate in your success!).

Trust the transformational process. Recognize that change occurs over time and when we are ready to change. If you have the intention to change and put forth the effort, you will absolutely change — but it’s probably not going to happen overnight. Trust that you will reach your goal in your own time — every day is a day of progress along that journey.

Celebrate your small successes along the way to help remind yourself of your progress. Additionally, you may consider journaling so that you can frequently reflect on how far you’ve come. Even if you did everything on this list and mapped your goal out perfectly, life has a tendency to get in the way on occasion. Remember that we can’t control everything. In unexpected moments, have some self-compassion and then trust that we will all be okay. You will be okay.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of ideas mentioned in the paragraphs above to help you channel your own motivational fire. However, there are a few common threads that seem to be focused around:

  • Taking action – even if it’s not quite the right action, just trying something out can be helpful in creating the momentum to move forward
  • Growing our self-confidence (which involves building trust with ourselves) often provides the empowerment required to commit to and achieve our goals
  • Knowing there isn’t a one-size fits all approach; what works best for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances (so don’t be afraid to try out some different things)
  • Recognizing that meaningful and sustainable change take time to create (so have patience with the process)

I hope you enjoyed today’s post and I encourage you to share any questions or comments below. I would love to hear about your own goals, plans, challenges, successes, etc.!

All my best to you,

Tiff

References

Fessler, L. (2018). Psychologists have surprising advice people who feel unmotivated. Quartz at Work. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from https://qz.com/work/1363911/two-psychologists-have-a-surprising-theory-on-how-to-get-motivated/

Manson, M. (2011). The “do something” principle. MM.net. Retrieved from January 6, 2019, from https://markmanson.net/do-something

Vozza, S. (2018). How these 4 different personality types find motivation. Fast Company. Retrieved January 6, 2019, from https://www.fastcompany.com/40560193/how-these-4-different-personality-types-find-motivation

Wilson, A. (2016). Playing with fire: The power of Tapas to help us fulfill our intentions. Kripalu: Center for Yoga & Health. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from https://kripalu.org/resources/playing-fire-power-tapas-help-us-fulfill-our-intentions

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Fire, Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash
  2. Books on bookshelf, Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
  3. Calendar, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  4. Crossed hands, Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash
  5. Ladder to sky, Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
  6. Monarch butterflies, Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

A Quick Note…

I hope this finds you all well and that your 2019 is off to a great start! I just wanted to post a few lines and apologize for the lack of recent posts! As many of you can probably relate, finding my sense of balance and routine in the new year has been a bit chaotic.

While change is a necessary part of life (which often leads to positive and desirable outcomes), it can be painful and scary and downright difficult at times! If you can relate, remember that you will be okay – everything will work out. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of all the challenges you’ve faced and conquered in the past (let’s face it, you’re a badass). Be empowered and face tomorrow head-on. You’ve got this.

Here’s a quick update of what’s happening:

  1. I’m currently in the final stages of my doctoral program and working toward completing my dissertation (basically a book – and I’ll tell you all about it if you care to know) over the next few months. In short, this means I will likely be spending several hours every day designated to writing between now and May. And, as much as I absolutely love writing for this blog, I’m taking some of my own advice on avoiding Burnout which means I won’t be posting as frequently to the Whole Leader site.
  2. However, I have asked a few of my favorite colleagues and friends to help contribute by guest blogging over the next few months – so you can look forward to excellent content and insights from some very exceptional people. More to come on this later…
  3. I’ve been working on becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher (200-hour) over the past several months and I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching yoga classes locally starting next month. For those of you who are located in the Kearney area and have any interest in yoga (even if you’ve never done it before), I would love to see you at a class! Once the details are finalized, I will post them to the Whole Leader site with a full schedule and information about how to sign up.
  4. I’m currently finishing a blog post on getting and staying motivated (and to be honest, it’s really as much for me as it is for any of you lovely readers out there!) which will be posted sometime in the next week. The topic was inspired by a dear friend and loyal reader (you know who you are) and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Please feel free to post any comments or questions below and I will respond to you as soon as possible!

All my very best to you,
Tiff

Photo Credit:

Typewriter, Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

How to be a Better Communicator (a.k.a. Listener)

So often, we actually stop listening before the speaker has even finished sharing their thoughts. We’re always a few steps ahead; predicting, planning our next steps, preparing a response, or allowing our minds to wander to other (perhaps more pressing) thoughts.

Learning to be a good listener is fundamental to becoming a good communicator. Research suggests that people who are good at listening tend to be more successful in their careers and experience better relationships. Yet most people are not very good at listening. Why is that?

Well for one thing, we don’t really practice listening and we definitely don’t emphasize it in education (have you ever seen a class on listening?). While listening is the very first communication skill we learn as children, parents and teachers tend to prioritize the development of speaking, reading, and writing skills over listening.

This may have something to do with culture as our society tends to value the ability to articulate our individual thoughts and ideas more than openness toward or acceptance of ideas that are different from our own.

Listening it something I’ve been studying for years. In fact, my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Communication and I’ve taught an interpersonal skills course several times. So in preparation for today’s post, I even dusted off a couple of my old textbooks to brush up a bit. 🙂

Based on my own experiences and the opinions of a few experts, here are some of the best practices for becoming better listeners:

Listen beyond just hearing. Hearing is the physical process of sound entering our ears and being processed by the brain. We hear many things throughout the day, but we only choose to listen to some of those messages. Listening, on the other hand, is a voluntary process that requires our attention and energy.

Think back to your college classes – did you tend to retain information better when you were actively paying attention and taking notes, or when you were distracted – perhaps talking with a neighbor or doodling in your notebook? We all know the answer to this question – listening takes intention and it requires our full attention (so put your phone down!).

Actually pay attention to what’s being said. The most common issue we face in effective listening is our failure to block out distractions. It tends to be harder than we might think given all of the stimuli that surrounds us. Of course our phones are a major distraction, but things like background noise or even personal stress can act to deter us from giving our full attention as well. We all know what it feels like when someone is distracted from listening to us and it’s not fun, so let’s commit to minimizing barriers when possible.

Barriers may be environmental (like background noise or televisions on the wall or people walking by or phone notifications popping up), physiological (like when our minds start to wander or when we have a cold which impacts our ability to hear well), or psychological (like when we have a poor attitude about what’s being said or we disagree with the message).

Again, it takes intention to block out distractions so be thoughtful about where you meet people or even the time of day. For instance, trying to have a conversation when we’re hungry or tired could impact our ability to focus. When possible, meet in a quiet space. Try to minimize distractions by, perhaps, closing the door or playing soft background music without words.

You know when you are most alert and productive during your day, so consider scheduling meetings for times of the day when you feel the best. For me, this tends to be mid-morning and mid-afternoon (which is when I schedule almost all of my meetings).

Don’t anticipate what’s next. A lot of us have this bad habit of anticipating what someone is going to say next, so we stop listening. Or worse, we start strategizing what we’re going to say in response, before they’re even done talking. Stop anticipating what’s next and actually listen with an open mind to what is being said.

Sometimes, people will surprise us. Sometimes, we will be wrong. And sometimes, we may actually learn something new or change the way we think as a result of what we hear. There is no shame in taking a second to process what we’ve heard and to gather our thoughts in order to prepare a response – so there’s no need to rush. And sometime, silence is a good thing because every now and then, the speaker will open up without any prompting at all.

Slow down and really listen.

Be aware of the whole message. Between 75% and 90% of the information we gather from others is attained through nonverbal communication. This means that while the actual words are incredibly important, understanding the meaning beyond those words is also necessary.

Be observant of things like body language, inflection, and tone which provide clues to the real meaning of the message.  Is the speaker being sarcastic? Are they communicating frustration? Are they attempting to deflect blame or guilt by minimizing a request?

If you’re not sure, ask! Simply asking can provide us with the additional information that tells us the true meaning of the message. Beyond this, it shows that we are really listening and engaging in the conversation at hand. Try something like, “Are you sure you’re okay? I hear you saying that you are, but your body language and tone seem to say that you’re not actually okay.” Sometimes a caring and empathetic voice is all a person needs to open up a little.

Evaluate what you hear with open-mindedness.  Part of listening is not simply accepting the words we hear, but considering how they resonate with what we know from our own life experiences. Recognize that we all have different experiences which have shaped our individual perceptions of the world.

While you may not agree with someone’s message (which is completely okay!), keep in mind that your goal should be to connect with the speaker’s underlying emotion or attitude about the content. Even if you don’t agree with the speaker’s point, you can likely understand their emotion. Something as simple as, “I can see why that would be frustrating,” can provide a sense of support and understanding.

Keep in mind also that the speaker may not want or expect you to respond to what they’re saying with a solution. Sometimes, people just need to feel like they’re being heard, like they have a voice. A good way to check this is to simply ask, “How can I help or support you?” or “Do you want to strategize possible solutions?”

Provide feedback with acceptance and positivity. In responding, it is best to avoid challenging an individual’s intelligence or honesty. Such approaches are personal attacks and will almost certainly be met defensively. Instead, good feedback should be immediate, honest, and supportive.

We can show that we are engaged and responsive by making eye contact, showing the appropriate facial expressions (like smiling or frowning), gesturing with our head movements (like nodding), providing touch when appropriate (like touching one’s arm to provide comfort), or giving verbal affirmations (like simply encouraging the speaker to continue or checking to ensure we understand their meaning). Paraphrasing can also demonstrate empathetic listening.

Being empathetic or supportive doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t disagree with the speaker’s message if we don’t agree – quite the contrary. In working with students, there were a few instances in which I disagreed with their line of thinking (e.g., what’s fair or not fair). However, we have the ability to articulate our perspective without attacking the speaker.

One good approach might be looking at facts or evidence. In my experiences, this generally involved looking at things like how many days a student had missed and/or how many assignments they hadn’t submitted. This could involve providing specific personal examples or citing current (reliable) news articles. Whatever the case, focus on the content of the message itself, not the speaker.

Final Thoughts

Being intentional in listening starts with thoughtful planning to minimize distractions and to actually be prepared to listen.

It takes work to listen and understand the real meaning of the message. If you’re not sure that you’re really getting it – just ask! It’s much more authentic than pretending to understand or just tuning out altogether.

Empathy is an important component to listening. Focus on connecting with the emotion of the speaker and look for opportunities to be supportive when appropriate.

References

Arntson, A. (2017). Most of us are bad listeners – Here are some small ways to fix that. Verily. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://verilymag.com/2017/12/listening-skills-relationship-communication-active-constructive-responding

Fritz, S., Brown, F. W., Lunde, J. P., & Banset, E. A. (2005). Interpersonal skills for leadership (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Henderson, N. (2018). How to be a better listener: Fixing 5 common bad habits. Welltuned. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from http://bcbstwelltuned.com/2018/07/26/how-to-be-a-better-listener-fixing-5-common-bad-habits/

Trenholm, S. (2008). Thinking through communication: An introduction to the study of human communication (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Wong, K. (2017). How to be an excellent (or at least pretty good) listener. The Cut. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://www.thecut.com/2017/12/how-to-be-a-better-listener.html

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Boy screaming, Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
  2. Fashion’s untold stories, Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
  3. Coffee talks, Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash
  4. Leaning on each other, Photo by Shamim Nakhaei on Unsplash

The Truth About Self-Destruction

I have to admit that this has probably been the most difficult post for me to write to date. For me, the topic of self-destruction hits really close to home. I feel like this entire past week, I’ve been challenged to look myself in the mirror and consider the ways in which I am and have been self-destructive.

Before we delve into this conversation, I want to be very clear in stating that I am not a trained mental health care professional and I can only speak from my own experiences. In developing today’s discussion, I’ve selected sources which I believe to be the most credible and to contain the most helpful information about this topic.

On that note, I want to offer a word of caution if you plan to do additional research on this topic as there are many articles out there which I feel offer incomplete or oversimplified and even potentially harmful information about this very complex topic.

Really, it’s impossible to expect that a single blog post could provide a comprehensive discussion of everything there is to know about self-destruction. So to that end, I would encourage you to read more about this topic herehere, here, and here. These articles will be a good start to understanding this topic – for yourself or perhaps for a loved one who has self-destructive tendencies.

Some of you may be wondering what it means to be self-destructive or you may be asking if you are self-destructive. Nearly any behavior can become self-destructive when it has the potential to cause us harm.

Some of the most common self-destructive behaviors include:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Over eating (and under eating)
  • Sabotaging relationships
  • Engaging in frequent casual sex
  • Committing self-harm
  • Smoking

The list goes on and on. Even things that sometimes appear “healthy” on the surface can become destructive – like dieting (e.g., under eating), over exercising, unnecessary self-sacrifice (e.g., which result in giving up on your own goals), or being overly independent (e.g., refusing to ask for or accept help).

Have you ever done something and then asked yourself why you did it because it seemed irrational afterwards? For example, I can think of at least a few people I know who feared that their relationship with a significant other was about to end and then they caused a huge fight with that person. Almost inevitably the relationship ended as a result. Why do we sometimes sabotage ourselves like that?

Do you know someone who seems to have a skill for making a bad situation worse? Or maybe you are that person? *raises hand* In reality,we probably all know someone who struggles with self-destructive behaviors. We see them do the same things over and over again which have damaging effects on nearly every aspect of their lives and result in disappointment and failure.

Self-sabotage or self-destruction is not a rational behavior. In fact, for the most part, we tend to know it’s a bad idea when we’re doing it. We know it’s probably going to cause us (or possibly others) harm in the long run, but we go ahead and do it anyway. Sometimes, it feels like it’s impossible to stop doing whatever it is.

In this case, logic doesn’t really work because we already know that logically, this is a bad idea. Whether you believe you may have some self-destructive tendencies or you have a loved one who is self-destructive, I think you will find the information provided in today’s post to be helpful.

I’m going to break this discussion into two major parts. First, to understand why we do this and second, to understand what we can do about. Awareness is key here because once we’re down the path of self-sabotage, it’s pretty hard to pull ourselves back. Prevention and self-care are the best tools to help us manage our self-destructive tendencies, but I’ll talk more about that later.

Part 1: Why do we do this?

Self-destruction is not an indication of someone who is broken or defective. It can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that we must have something ‘wrong’ with us – an addictive personality type or some other disorder that compels us to be this way. However, that’s simply not true. There are many intelligent, successful people who struggle with self-destructive behaviors. (And chances are, you know some of them.)

Self-destruction is not driven by a desire to suffer or fail. Some therapists have made this claim, but that line of thinking is outdated and completely unsupported. Additionally, when we blame ourselves and begin to believe that we are simply bad people, or that we are incapable of making the right decisions, we tend to exacerbate the situation. We create a greater sense of stress (and perhaps even guilt) and continue to behave in the same way because we have failed to understand the true cause of our self-destruction.

Self-destructive behaviors provide a sense of relief. Despite the fact that some self-destructive behaviors  seem rather unpleasant (e.g., self-harm), they share the commonality of providing a sense of relief for their actors. This relief may come through pleasure or distraction or escape or as a means of expressing emotion. Certainly, what provides a sense of relief for one person will not be the same for another. Yet, the most important thing to understand here is that the behavior is something that feels helpful in the moment, but is actually harmful over time.

Self-destruction is a coping mechanism. In the simplest terms, individuals seek relief through self-destructive behaviors because they are attempting to cope with overwhelming negative emotion. The behavior itself allows them to “turn off” the emotion even if it’s just temporary. While individuals who act self-destructively are actually very diverse, Wupperman (2018) notes that they tend to share these common characteristics:

  • Experiencing emotion more strongly than others
  • Growing up in an adverse or invalidating environment

It’s important to note that this is a great oversimplification and may not apply to every person in every situation. Again, I encourage you to learn more about this topic by seeking out qualified individuals and credible resources.

Part 2: What can we do about it?

If we understand the underlying cause for our behavior, we gain awareness to better address our self-destructive tendencies. While we will always encounter unexpected events which trigger negative emotional responses (like the death of a loved one, going through a breakup or divorce, the loss of a job, and so on), we have the opportunity to better prepare ourselves for these experiences through self-care and planning.

In a moment, we’ll get to some practical and hopefully meaningful approaches for learning how to overcome (or prevent) our self-destructive behaviors, but first I want to address what doesn’t work (because there’s a lot of poor – and just plain incorrect – information out there).

Shaming doesn’t work. Telling someone they’re going to die, or destroy their life, or whatever other consequences you can think up, by continuing their behavior will not help them stop committing that behavior. In fact, it may very well have the opposite effect because the desire and pressure for relief will likely increase. And worse, it may also alienate you from this person.

This is why the idea of letting a person hit ‘rock bottom,’ or tearing them down to build them up, or posting embarrassing pictures of them (like the ones where an obese person has a heaping plate of food in front of them) tend not to work (as in, almost never). If we acknowledge that the self-destructive behavior is being committed in order to “turn off” negative emotion, we can begin to understand why shaming simply doesn’t work.

Distraction from or avoidance of the emotion doesn’t work. You may have heard people say things like, “You just need to find a hobby to distract you from doing (whatever your destructive behavior is)” Remember earlier when I said that virtually any behavior has the potential to become self-destructive? That’s because even if you give up smoking for say snacking, you’re only exchanging one self-destructive behavior for another potentially self-destructive behavior. Substituting doesn’t work because ultimately we’re still avoiding the emotion and that’s what got us here in the first place.

This is particularly dangerous because avoidance of our emotions accumulates over time. It’s not that the emotion ever goes away when we ignore it. In reality it builds much like steam in a pressure cooker. The more we ignore our emotions, the more steam we add to the pressure cooker, until one day we simply can’t hold it in and it explodes (think mid-life crisis, nervous breakdown, etc.). We have to learn healthy ways to feel and cope with our emotions without always needing to escape from them.

The following paragraphs will include some of these healthier ways to cope with our emotions.

Stay present with the emotion. Instead of ignoring or attempting to distract ourselves from our emotions, recognize them for what they are; be mindful of them. Name them, acknowledge them, and address them with curiosity. You may find that you’re feeling particularly anxious and ask yourself why you might be feeling that way. Oftentimes, our emotional responses are justified by something that is occurring in our lives (either internally or externally). It’s okay to feel sad, or angry, or frustrated, or anxious.

Acknowledging that you feel down doesn’t mean that you are in any way failing – quite the contrary, emotional experiences are a normal part of life! When we acknowledge our emotions and allow ourselves to feel without judgement, we can be empowered to move forward. Remember, the emotion is temporary and it will pass. The key is not to let these emotions impede our ability to continue living – we can coexist with our emotions, acknowledging that they are present (and uncomfortable), but that we will still persevere despite them.

Seek support and assistance from others. Finding a qualified mental health care professional can be invaluable. I want to make a point here that terms like “counselor” tend to be used rather loosely. If you’re seeking professional help, look for someone with the title of Certified Mental Health Counselor, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist to be sure you’re going to receive the best level of care from a trained and qualified professional.

Additionally, know that you may need to ‘try out’ a couple of different professionals before you find the right one. Finding the best mental health care professional for you is a bit like finding the right hairdresser (I think women may be able to relate to this example a bit better than men, but hopefully you will still get the idea). If you don’t find that you have a good connection with the first provider you meet, don’t get discouraged – simply make an appointment with someone else and try again (then repeat this until you find the right fit).

Ultimately, your ideal mental health professional will be someone who is able to provide help and support without judgement.

Practice self-compassion. Instead of beating ourselves up when we feel the need to behave self-destructively, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can in this moment. Practice positive self-talk like, “I know I can do this if I put my mind to it.” This is something that tends to be difficult for most people, so it may be helpful to think of what you would tell a friend in the same situation and then compassionately say those words to yourself.

When we experience negative emotions, it can also be helpful to practice self-soothing behaviors. Try listening to some calming music or taking a bubble bath or playing with a pet or going for a walk. When you find that it’s difficult to focus, taking a break to relax can be so much more productive than forcing ourselves to push through it – show yourself a little grace, you deserve it.

Find creative outlets to express emotion. Drawing, painting, dancing, playing an instrument, writing music or poetry, journaling, or any other practice that allows for creativity can be highly productive outlets for expressing our emotions.

In many ways, doing so allows us to explore our emotion with some curiosity and to face it, rather than ignore it. We don’t have to be ‘good’ at any of these art forms and it doesn’t have to be pretty (more than likely, it will result in something ugly and that’s okay). The point of this expression is that in some way, we are able let the emotion out – it’s a means of processing our feelings, and it can be very cathartic.

Learn to let go. Letting go of the past is so much easier said than done – I know. Forgiveness for ourselves and those who have hurt us can be incredibly freeing, however. You don’t even need to tell someone you’re forgiving them, you can simply have the intention and then commit to doing it. And, you can do the same in order to forgive yourself. You may even practice reciting a mantra such as, “I am worthy of compassion” to help you do this.

One activity which has been helpful for me in the past was writing a letter to someone who hurt me which said everything I wished I could say to them (all of the good, the bad, and the ugly). Afterwards, I buried the letter as a symbol of letting those things go; putting some sort of closure on the past and committing to moving forward.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that while I mentioned I have some self-destructive tendencies, I didn’t actually name them. I was extremely purposeful in writing this week’s post and I intentionally left this out because quite frankly, it’s not important.

Additionally, as I’ve mentioned in others posts, I don’t think it’s healthy for us to compare ourselves to others because it sets us up to think in terms of ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ which is unproductive and damaging. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to simply recognize ourselves for who we are as individuals and show some grace for the areas where we have room for growth.

Whether you read this post in an effort to find some help for yourself or for someone else, I hope you will walk away knowing that you are not alone. So many people struggle with self-destructive behaviors. Remember that our negative emotions will pass with time and that there are many healthy ways to practice coping.

If you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to post them below or to send me a private email.

All my best to you,

Tiff

References

Babauta, L. (2014). A guide to changing self-destructive behaviors. Zen Habits. Retrieved November 30, 2018, from https://zenhabits.net/destruct/

Hathaway, K. (Ed.) (2016). Dealing with negativity. University of Minnesota. Retrieved November 30, 2018, from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/health/thoughts-emotions/deal-negativity-healthy-way

Neuman, F. (2017). Why do some people do self-destructive things? Psychology Today. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fighting-fear/201701/why-do-some-people-do-self-destructive-things

Rollin, J. (2018).What if you changed the way that you view self-destructive behaviors? The Eating Disorder Center. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://www.theeatingdisordercenter.com/blog/what-if-you-changed-the-way-that-you-viewed-self-destructive-behaviors

Wupperman, P. (2018). Beyond self-destructive behavior. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-self-destructive-behavior

Photos (in order of appearance)

  1. Don’t give up, Photo by taha ajmi on Unsplash
  2. Cry, Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash
  3. Naufragus, Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash
  4. Stories: Ch. 1, Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Get Your Grit On

Over the past 2 years, I’ve been working toward achieving a fitness goal of reducing my body fat to 17%. When I started this journey in November of 2016, my body fat was at 29.7%. Last week, I finally achieved my goal and I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the hard work and time I’ve invested in making this goal.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, I had a nasty shoulder injury that prevented me from doing much of any lifting last winter. (Plus, I developed a pretty lousy attitude for a while and gained some weight back as a result.) Today, I’m still learning to cope with my SLAP tear and I continue to make time to get to the gym on a regular basis.

I wanted to dedicate today’s topic to grit because I think it’s a really important ingredient in helping us achieve our goals. While grit isn’t the only factor that determines success, I fully believe it’s a necessary one.

According to Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, grit is even more important than intelligence and skills in predicting individual success. It’s the combination of passion and persistence over time that really sets people apart — those who reach their goals and those who don’t.

Want to find out how gritty you are? You can take the grit scale for your individual score. If your score isn’t what you had hoped today, there’s great news because Duckworth believes (and I agree with her) that everyone has the potential to improve their grittiness if they have the desire to do so.

Why should you care? Because gritty people tend to be more successful and happier with the circumstances of their lives. And couldn’t we all benefit from those things?

Here’s how to grow your grit:

Set a goal and stick to it. Simply setting a goal isn’t enough to work on developing your grit and it won’t work for just any old goal. This goal needs to be something in which you have a genuine interest and it needs to be personally meaningful to you. These components are important because they are what define passion and grit has everything to do with passion that drives us forward over time.

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It could be a goal related to your health (like mine) or it may be a goal for your career or education or any other meaningful goal. It should be something that will take some time (probably several months or even years) and will give you a sense of purpose. Chances are, you already have a goal that you’re working towards, but it’s important to actually articulate that goal and to start thinking about the actions you will need to take in order to reach it.

Avoid getting sidetracked. It can be easy to get deterred by new interests or goals. While we will always have things to balance in our lives (like time with our families, work assignments, hobbies, etc.), it’s important to set our focus on what’s most important and commit to staying on course towards our overarching goal. Some things that can help us do this include:

Setting benchmarks along the way. If your long term goal is Z, then think through the required steps A, B, C, and so on to get you to goal Z. These are short term goals or bench marks that will help keep you on track along the way. Once you have a list of short term goals, you can create a timeline.

For instance, if your goal is to buy a house in 5 years, you need to figure out how much money you will need to save for a down payment. Let’s say you want to put $20,000 down. That means you need to save $4,000 per year and approximately $333 each month. If you get paid biweekly, you will need to designate $167 from each paycheck in order to reach your goal in 5 years.

It’s relatively easy to do this with numbers, but you can actually break down any big goal into smaller measurable goals (if you’re really stumped, feel free to write me a note in the comments section below and I will do my best to offer some suggestions).

Checking your progress regularly. If you’ve created a detailed timeline with bench marks, it will be easy to check your progress. It’s best to make this a regular habit so that it’s at the forefront of our minds. I would recommend checking in on a weekly basis (if possible) to see if you’re making the progress you had hoped.

If not, consider if this is something you can change. For instance, okay- I didn’t do all that well this week, but I will definitely do better next week because I’m going to commit to doing (whatever you need to do to make next week’s goal). Or, it may be that you’ve made your short term goals a bit too difficult and you may need to adjust (extend) your timeline to make these goals more achievable.

Seeing your goal through to the end. Don’t’ despair if you need to make adjustments or changes to your goals along the way. This is a normal part of the process and it does not indicate your success or failure. Sometimes, we will find that our long-term goal has evolved or that it is simply not possible because of new circumstance. In these cases, we can revise our long-term goal as needed. Then, repeat the process of creating benchmarks and a timeline.

Remember, grit is indicated by passion and persistence over time which means your commitment is what really counts – not how quickly you achieve your goal or how few times you adjust your goal or that you envision exactly the same outcome throughout the process. In fact, your goal will almost certainly be impacted by unforeseen circumstances because that’s how real life is – unpredictable.

Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. Resilience is perhaps the most important characteristic of grittiness. Acknowledging that setbacks and challenges are likely to occur can help us be more adaptable and readily able to navigate them when they occur. Instead of viewing setbacks as failures, we can recognize them as learning opportunities. In fact, they are normal and necessary to our personal growth and development – it’s literally how we learn. (e.g., “Well that didn’t work, so now I’m going to try this approach instead.”).

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When we face setbacks, it’s best to take a step back and look at the big picture. Think about what needs to change in order for progress to occur. And sometimes, we may need to actually give up a goal. For instance, if continuing to pursue it would be detrimental as in continuing to pour money into a failed business venture. Or if we’ve decided that this is no longer a goal worth pursuing. This could occur when choosing to make a major career change, for example.

Even in such cases, we can immediately begin recreating a revised long term goal. Just because we abandon one goal, doesn’t mean we’re not still working towards something.

Be diligent and hardworking. Maybe these seem obvious, but actually being dedicated to our goals and putting in the quality of work required to achieve them are just as important as the rest of the process. It isn’t enough to simply set goals and then hope we make them.

We have to set ourselves up for success by committing to do the work. This may mean carving out time to work on our goals each day or each week (like actually putting it on your calendar). It may mean that we need to go talk to others who have already achieved similar goals to find out how they did it. Whatever the case, taking action is absolutely required – and it’s often the hardest step.

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Take some time to consider how you can help ensure you will actually do what you need to do. Having accountability in some way can be particularly meaningful. I did this by working out two times a week with a trainer. Not only did this help me meet my goals, it ensured that at least twice each week I would physically be at the gym to workout.

Find a gritty mentor. Finding a mentor can be extremely worthwhile. According to Duckworth, mentors should provide both challenge and support. Without both of these components, we are likely to become discouraged or complacent. For example, if my trainer always told me I could do better and never praised my progress, I would quickly become frustrated. In the same way, if my trainer never challenged me to try harder and always just told me how awesome I am, I would quickly lose motivation to work harder.

Your mentor can be pretty much anyone – a colleague, a friend, a family member. He or she should be a gritty person as well which is indicated by their passion and persistence to a long-term goal. Generally, highly successful people are gritty, so try to find someone you view as successful and who will provide both challenge and support for you.

Final Thoughts

Grit is something that tends to change over time based on the circumstances of our lives and our focused effort at a given time. Recognize that it’s okay to be a work-in-progress – really, we all are. 🙂 It’s about practicing in order to grow your personal grittiness.

You can read a lot more about grit from leading expert, Angela Duckworth, in her book: Grit

I would love to hear about your own meaningful long-term goals and welcome you to share them (or any other questions or comments) in the comments section below.

References

Belli, G. (2018). How to develop grit. PayScale. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://www.payscale.com/career-news/2018/03/how-to-develop-grit

Duckworth, A. (2018). Q&A. Angela Duckworth. https://angeladuckworth.com/qa/

Koehn, N. (2018). Resilience won’t just be there when you need it. You have to train it. Big Think. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://bigthink.com/videos/nancy-koehn-resilience-wont-just-be-there-when-you-need-it-you-have-to-train-it

Lebowitz, S. (2016). A UPenn psychologist says ‘grit’ is key to success in life – here’s how to become a grittier person. Business Insider. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from
https://www.businessinsider.com/angela-duckworth-how-to-become-a-grittier-person-2016-5

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Top of the Morning, Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash
  2. Planner and coffee, Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
  3. Woman, Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash
  4. Climbing, Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

How to Avoid Burning Bridges

Just last week I had a chance encounter with a former employer (who I should note I sincerely enjoyed working for). She was clearly as delighted as I by the meeting and readily offered to rehire me in her new role which allows her to oversee a significantly larger region than previously.

While I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to pursue her offer, the exchange was a great reminder of how important it is not to burn bridges when we leave an employer (because you never know if you may be working with them again in the future, if for no other reason!).

I also thought this would make an excellent follow up post to last week’s discussion of Networking Strategies, because creating connections is only a small part of building your network — it’s also important to both maintain those relationships and to avoid damaging them (aka burning bridges) whenever possible.

Here are some of my best tips for how to avoid burning bridges when you leave an employer:

Keep it professional. Pretty much everyone I know has had a ‘bad boss’ at some point in their career. And if you have been fortunate enough to escape this experience, consider yourself lucky.  (Total side note: I’m actually doing research with some colleagues about abusive supervisors and what makes people continue to work for them despite their bad behavior. — IT. IS. SO. FASCINATING. And, I would love to geek out with you if you ever want to talk more about this. 🙂 )

If you’re among the majority, there’s a chance you’ve even fantasized about resigning and telling your boss just how much you have hated working for him or her. And then you probably envisioned you would storm out of their office and skip merrily away into the sunset, right? While I absolutely see the appeal, I’m going to caution you against making things personal (even though you may have completely real and legitimate reasons) when leaving your job.

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Instead, try to focus on what you’re gaining professionally by moving into your new position. For instance, your new employment may provide opportunities for upward mobility that aren’t available within your current organization. Or, it may offer more flexible working hours, or the option to work from home — which could be especially important if you’re planning to go back to school. Or, it may just be that changing employers will provide you with an immediate pay increase and/or a better benefits package. These are all completely respectable reasons for leaving a job and will likely leave your employer with a more positive impression of you (than in the previous scenario).

In addition to focusing on your professional goals and opportunities, it’s important to give adequate notice of your intent to resign. Don’t leave your employer in a difficult situation by telling them today is your last day. And please, do not tell them you are quitting in a text (this is the social equivalent of breaking up with someone via text and it is totally not okay – in either case!). Instead, provide a formal resignation letter and give at least 2 weeks’ notice. Keep your letter brief and to the point and avoid venting your personal grievances. If your employer offers an exit interview, you may choose to address any issues at that time (or you might consider bringing your concerns to your employer’s attention before you resign so that they actually have an opportunity to do something about it).

Express your gratitude. Has anyone helped you along the way while at your current place of employment? The answer is almost definitely a resounding yes! So, say thank you to those who helped train you, mentor you, assisted you, covered for you when you were gone, and so on. Also, consider thanking your boss or supervisor, especially if you’ve developed a good working relationship with this person. It’s not all that common to actually like the people you work with (sadly), so if the culture of your workplace has rocked, you should make a point of letting those people know!

Saying thank you doesn’t have to be elaborate — You could take some of your colleagues to lunch or maybe throw a small farewell event after hours. A simple handwritten note can also go a long way. You could send a basket of fruit, or flowers, or bring homemade cookies to your office. It doesn’t have to be much, but taking the time to actually show your gratitude can have a huge impact. And honestly, people have a tendency to sort of light up when you let them know how much you’ve enjoyed working with them – which can be so gratifying to witness (because of all the good feels)!

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Assist with the transition. It  can be hard to find an adequate replacement (especially if you’re really good at what you do!). You can help make the transition smoother for your colleagues and all others involved by assisting in this process. Your employer may even invite you to help interview potential candidates (which really, who better than you to help find your replacement – you know exactly what this job takes!). If possible, you could offer to assist with training or other transitional procedures.

It’s also a good idea to tie up any loose ends prior to your last day. For example, you may want to let your clients know you’re leaving and introduce them to a colleague who will be available to assist them during the interim. Be sure to delegate any incomplete work and give colleagues a status update for any ongoing work – including important upcoming deadlines they should know about.

If it’s possible and you’re willing, it’s also good practice to make yourself available after leaving (at least for a short period) to answer questions (like sharing the password to an account that may need to be accessed after you leave). It may not be ideal, but I just think it’s best not to be a jerk to people, especially if it really doesn’t take much effort on your part (like answering a quick question over the phone).

I hope it goes without saying, but part of helping with this transitional process also means not checking out early. It’s easy to get a sort of  “senior-itis”  when you’re nearing the end of your term and getting all pumped up to start that new position.  Remember, your colleagues aren’t leaving for a new and exciting opportunity – they’re staying behind after you leave. So pay them the common courtesy of doing your job and remaining present until you’re actually done.

Avoid badmouthing. You may not like everyone you’ve ever worked with, but badmouthing them or your organization is simply in poor taste. It will not impress your new employer to talk about all of the faults of your previous boss or to list all of the problems within your former organization (in fact, it may do exactly the opposite and cause them to take pause in hiring you).

You definitely can and should use your knowledge and previous experiences to help you in your new role. However, doing so likely won’t require you to provide detailed explanations that could be potentially embarrassing or even damaging for others. In general, I think it’s best to keep those stories to yourself.

If you happen to be in a position where sharing these experiences (e.g., cautionary tales) could actually be valuable to others and provide teachable moments – like as an educator – you can still do so without causing harm. Simply removing the names of actual people, places, organizations, etc. can make your stories totally shareable without the risk of badmouthing. This is something I frequently did as an instructor when sharing  my own experiences to help protect the identity of individuals (and because it wasn’t at all important to the lesson I was teaching).

Respect your former employer. If you worked with a team of people you just loved because they were amazing and innovative individuals (like many of the people I’ve worked with), you may be tempted to entice them to move with you to your new organization. While you may truly have their best interest at heart, realize that poaching your colleagues from your former employer is not a very good practice and it will probably be noticed.

Allow for adequate time to pass after you’ve started your new position before contacting former colleagues about potential opportunities with your new employer. Also, be aware that doing so is likely to get back to other former colleagues who may be hurt that you didn’t think of them!

I generally think a better practice is to offer information only when it is requested. If your former colleagues see that the move you made was an awesome decision for you, they’re likely to ask you about potential opportunities for employment and that’s an excellent invitation to share this information without coming across as pushy or threatening. I also think it just shows that you have enough respect for your previous organization not (attempt) to steal employees away from them.

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Final Thoughts

I love the bridge metaphor because ‘burning a bridge’ means you won’t have the option of crossing it again in the future – it’s simply gone. However, working to maintain the bridges you’ve created will allow you to keep them open for potential opportunities down the road.

Most of the practices I’ve mentioned have a lot to do with common courtesy and professionalism. If you place your focus on these, I think you will find that your resignation will be better received by those you’re leaving.

Remember, your boss and colleagues are human beings (even if they’re not always you’re favorite people to work with). If you show them respect, it is more likely to be reciprocated.

 

References

Kleiman, J. & Hedges, K. (2011). How to avoid burning bridges in the workplace. Forbes. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2011/01/07/how-to-avoid-burning-bridges-in-the-workplace/#7e76b41853cc

Rasmussen, D. (2015). 6 ways to avoid burning bridges by leaving a job. Work It Daily. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://www.workitdaily.com/burning-bridges-job-avoid/

Team Synergis. (2018). How to avoid burning bridges. Synergis. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://www.synergishr.com/how-to-avoid-burning-bridges/

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Bridge, Photo by Matthew Ronder-Seid on Unsplash
  2. Ready, Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
  3. Typewriter and hands, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
  4. Rope Bridge, Photo by Michel Paz on Unsplash