Practice

There’s a difference between rest and reflection. Spoiler alert: You need both.

“Being a leader is not about production; it’s about being there for the people I lead, support, and serve. And I need to prepare myself to be a decent human being so that
I can be there for others and be approachable.”
– Andrew, Clear Harbor member

I have to exist as a human to show up at work. And when I show up as a cog and a machine, I feel the least fulfilled in my life.”
– Shannon, Clear Harbor member

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had many conversations about rest and reflection. We talked about why it’s important and how to fit it into our busy lives. The two quotes I shared above were from those conversations and examples of why we must find time to rest and reflect individually and in groups if we want to show up as leaders in our lives. 

Rest can happen when you reflect, but rest is not always reflection time. Sometimes the reflection piece gets left behind. We hear a lot about self-care and well-being on the topic of rest. But often, reflection is missing.

Leaders, in particular, need both rest and reflection to:

  • keep going,
  • keep leading, 
  • stay in their role (and lane), 
  • not burn out,  
  • make decisions, and 
  • recognize that pauses are necessary. 

Leaders need built-in time to reflect on themselves. The results? You avoid bringing knee-jerk reactions and your own bias to your team. We must reflect internally first before we can show up and lead a reflection with others. Reflection can bring you back to your why and passion and help you feel human. Time for reflection for yourself and then in groups is a critical tool for building a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

“Your goal is not to stick to a given schedule at all costs; it’s instead to maintain, at all times,
a thoughtful say in what you’re doing with your time.”
– Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Most times, teams will retrospect at the end of a project by looking at how things went, what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be improved. But you can do this at any time as a team! Build those moments into groups in the arc of the process with reflection points to pause and observe. 

I build rest and reflection into meetings – we stop, take a breath, take a break, and look away from the screens and each other. We write on our own before we share in the group. These practices are critical when building your team and group processes. 

At times, I work with teams after they’ve missed opportunities to reflect – on the big picture or on cultural dynamics. They always had lots of work to complete but little time to reflect. The good news? It’s never too late to change this. We can find time to reflect. 

You CAN build in time to reflect starting now to avoid big crises and conflicts in the future. When you practice slowing down and reflecting now, you will remember how to do it in the middle of stressful moments and not leap into fast decision-making based on assumptions and stories. When we slow down and recognize our own biases, we change how we do things. That’s one step toward making our work more equitable and inclusive. 

This is one reason I created Clear Harbor for leaders – more here if you’re intrigued.
Clear Harbor is a built-in time for groups of people to reflect outside of the day-to-day pressures to respond.
It’s a commitment on your calendar to other people.
It’s a space to step back and reflect with a more significant viewpoint.

We not only show you it’s possible to build this into your workday, but we show you how.  

I promised you a list of ways to build in time for rest and reflection. You can grab the list here. Remember, this isn’t MY list. These thoughts and ideas are from friends, clients, colleagues, and maybe even from you. Browse the list and see if anything sparks your interest. Try a few of the ideas yourself.

How can you build reflection into your day?

Rheanna SmithThere’s a difference between rest and reflection. Spoiler alert: You need both.
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Keep your tank full

I feel sadness and worry, anger and fear as a new war begins, and the rights of trans kids and families, LGBTQ+ people and communities, and women are under attack.

When is it going to end?

“It” isn’t going to end. We must continue to get better at being in “it” and responding with peace, courage, resolve, resilience, joy, and outrage.

We need to maintain nourishing waters within.

You will need to keep your internal stores up to stay awake to others, your team, your responsibilities, and the struggle, traumas, and injustice around us.

What do I mean?

You have an internal storehouse of energy to draw from, and it needs reserves. You need to know you have the vitality to respond to your basic needs and solve problems. 

If subconsciously you know that you do not have enough energy to keep yourself and others needs plus your work afloat – parts of you will shut down. Your body and mind will shut parts of your operating system down to conserve the little energy you have left. The components that stop working well can include the part of you that can respond to the needs of others. And the parts of you that can vision, imagine, hope, and problem solve.

You may stop listening to the joys and pains of others when you feel parched.

You could stop listening to the joys of your life and the needs of yourself when you feel depleted.

Your strength is always in you. 

However, access is blocked.

Getting depleted can happen in two simple ways:

  • Not enough nourishment is coming into your system. 
  • There is a great strain on your being that is causing lots of output. 

There are two ways to enrich your soil, fill up your cup, and increase your stores.

Nourish your system.

Decrease the strain on your system.

It is simple and requires self-awareness, outside support, and letting go.

Use the check-in tool of “Tending, Tuning In, Checking In, & Changing” to find out what you can do to keep your energy flowing.

Please – so many of us are running on empty. Dear friend – take a moment to check in and give yourself what you need to restore. You are needed for the long haul. This journey is not over. However, we cannot keep going on empty.

Download this check-in tool here!

A note about decreasing the strain on your system:

There are times when you cannot do anything about what is straining you. These could be moments when tremendous caretaking of others is needed. Times of urgent, necessary deadlines. Times of significant change. Times of loss. Times of violence and trauma.

In these straining moments, you do the best you can do. You ask for support. And find the easiest, minimal ways to take care. You hold on. And give yourself as much love, space, and grace as possible.

P.S.
I wanted to share a poem and essay with you. My partner & beloved Roberto Ascalon was asked to re-imagine Seattle. It is a reminder of all we are experiencing in this time –loss, politics, the pandemic, racial reckonings, injustice, love. Also, it is a glimpse into our small family life during this big moment in time.

A few places you can take action and take care:

Grief practices From Valerie Kaur
Donate to Ukraine (from Valerie Kaur)
Support LGBTQ rights – ACLUHuman Rights Campaign

Rheanna SmithKeep your tank full
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How do we stay awake?

A while ago, I was on a call with Milagros Phillips that continues to reverberate in my body. (I have mentioned her work before – check out her work here.) Milagros was commenting on how different the calls she is leading about racial healing are at the end of 2021 compared to a year ago. A year ago, her zoom calls were packed. Each conversation had multiple screens of black, brown, and white faces, all tuning in to listen, learn, and talk about race and racism in the USA and our world. 

The call I tuned in to at the end of September (in response to the violence against Haitian refugees at the border) was a single screen of faces.  

Milagros Phillips said, “We must remain awake.”  

She reminded us that the most significant social change will come when a large group of us stays awake, continuing to recognize what is wrong and unjust in the world, and then speaks about it and takes action to increase justice. 

At the beginning of this new year – that perhaps does not feel so new.
I offer this as a reminder for all of us – to remain awake.  

I am not suggesting this from a place of punishment or to call any of us out.  

Instead, as you read this, see how you can ask yourself with kindness, “How am I remaining awake to the issues in our world that I want to improve?” 

How do we stay awake in the fight against racism? How do we stay awake in response to climate change? How do we stay awake in support of LGBTQ+ rights? How do we stay awake in support of our team’s and our community’s mental health and well-being?  How do we stay awake in support of workplace rights?  

Add your own question here: How do I stay awake… ? 

We need to remain awake to build a loving and just world.  

What does this mean – “to stay awake”?  

For me, it means that I do not shut out the real stories and experiences of people and the natural world. I hear them, and I listen, and I get curious. I let myself feel emotions.  

And when I can, I name what I am seeing. I talk about it with others.  

And I act by – changing my behavior, talking with others, voting, changing policies, organizing, building a different kind of business, donating money, volunteering. 

But if I am honest with you. I get tired. The days here are short, and the rain (and snow) is setting in. 

The news continues to show stories of systems built explicitly to cut groups off from their rights and humans carrying out acts of horror against other humans from a place of rage or numbness.  

We have been in a pandemic for almost two years. I, and countless others, have had people they love dearly die.

People are drudging through their days. Families are still caring for small children while working.  

How do you remain awake when you are tired? 

Perhaps you are very awake.  

Perhaps you live within identities and communities where you are reminded of injustices often. Maybe you were born with a heart and fire that does not let you stop seeing, naming, and acting to create an equitable world. 

And if this is you, perhaps you still find yourself in the quiet moments, tired. 

How do you rest while not falling into a state of numbness? 

I do not have all these answers. 
I am continuing to ask myself these questions. 

Honestly, my first step is still to remind myself that staying awake is essential for us as humans to build a more loving and just world. I am grateful to Milagros Phillips for her fervent reminder – we must find ways to stay awake. 
 

For me, I need to find ways to stay awake that are not dogmatic and perfectionistic. I have tried ways of staying in change-making work over the years bound by rigid rules, and I find myself becoming judgmental, burning bridges, and then burning out. However, if I become too gentle and focused on self-acceptance without fire and push, I slide back into a state of “self-care” that indulges my whiteness and other privileged positions. I need a balance of commitment, accountability, and care for my own well-being. 

Here are a few tools that are supporting me to stay awake and support more love and justice: 

  • Time alone to feel emotions and reflect (walks alone, meditation, movement) 
  • Being mindful of what I listen to and what information I take in (listening to diverse experiences in my podcasts, reading and listening to sources of news that fact check & give multiple perspectives) 
  • Bringing up what I am seeing and noticing and feeling in conversations 
  • Asking questions about what others see, know, and feel in conversations, and then trying to listen
  • Make my learnings and the change I want in the world reflected in the daily work I do (how I facilitate, whom I work with, how I build out projects) 
  • Connect and reconnect with the relationships in my life that are not insular (i.e., humans outside of my direct community, diverse because of parental status, profession, race, ethnicity, home country, etc.)
  • Take action with my feet, with my money, with my vote, with my voice, with the power and privileges I do have. (Here is a list of actions around racial justice.) 
  • Practice rest and reflection that brings rejuvenation, and not numbing (for me, this is dance, walking, books, baths. Here is a list you can draw on.  

Most importantly, I recognize when I am numbing out and disconnecting from the injustices and calls of the world and of my friends, family, and work team. And invite me back into the human family. I remind myself that I am strong enough to listen to the stories of loved ones and strangers who are experiencing suffering. I remind myself that I can act to be a part of the solution. And I am not alone, I am connected to imaginative, creative human beings fighting for a more just, loving world. 

I am glad to be with you, a fellow creative human working toward a more caring, just world. 

How are you caring for yourself when you are tired? 

How are you remaining awake? 


Resources to “stay awake” (also take care & rest):

Rheanna SmithHow do we stay awake?
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Summer time is fun time — right?

This sunny Northwest summer is bringing with it a joyful and frenetic energy, and the last few months have been full!

My husband returned to Seattle after his first year of graduate school in a different city. I’ve been working with clients who are in the midst of major organizational changes. I’ve spent lots of time having fun with loved ones. The events in our nation continue to deliver reminders that the bright sunshine does not slow down hateful acts of violence.

Three forces are pulling me in opposite directions. The extra vitamin D induced energy has me wanting to get big things done and move my work forward. The sweet sunny days with my husband close by have me wanting to lie on a blanket by the water’s edge and read a book. And the local and global news reminds me daily that all things are not equal in this world. I’m aware that my safe, warm sun is not everyone’s experience and that if I want the world to be a kinder place I need to pay attention, learn more, and work for change.

How do you contend with different desires during the same season?

Enjoy where you are in each moment.

I have found myself watching little kids splashing in the waves at the beach, and suddenly thinking:  What should we do at that next planning meeting? I have jumped up to write a weekend packing list when I am right in the middle of writing content for my new website.

When I catch myself I say: Whoa, Annie! Where are you right this moment? I breathe deeply, and remind myself: Oh, yes! I have my toes in the sand and there is a sweet three-year-old tossing pebbles with a splash. No need to plan that meeting agenda until Monday.

When you discover that you’ve interrupted one moment with thoughts about your to-dos, take a breath. Remind yourself that this moment matters. You have time.

 

Big change and big projects do not happen on an exact timeline.

I am great at attaching arbitrary meanings to time, and then deciding that things must be done during that time — or else! I have built quite the robust set of summer projects. And guess what? Not all of them are going to get done this summer! I have already had to reconstruct my plan — more than once.

Yes we need timelines or things can drag on forever. However, overloading yourself with too many plans or unrealistic expectations causes a lot of additional stress. Remember that linear time is a helpful yet arbitrary parameter. It’s OK to reschedule some of your plans and even take a few big projects off your list.

 

Build time for the most important things.

It’s good to view time as flexible, but we all need schedules. I’ve learned that if I don’t build in specific time for the things that are critical, those things will not get done. My calendar is one of my most important tools!

Put the most important work, projects, and life events on your calendar and attend to them when your calendar tells you to. This applies to exercise, writing time, having dinner with family or friends, or a meeting at work. Setting time on your calendar for important events keeps projects moving forward and makes space for the things you need most. When you build everything in to your calendar it will also help you see visually if you are over doing it. (If you are cut something out.) And yes both of these things are true for me – my calendar helps me get things done AND things need to be flexible.

 

What about the sad, anger inducing things happening to our communities, here at home and far away?

Hold on to complexity.

I am allowing myself to have complex feelings. I can feel bliss and sadness on the same day. I do not need to run from the bliss because there is so much to be sad about. And I do not need to ignore the sadness because I am afraid it will take away the good feelings. I need both feelings. I can feel both.

 

Face the news. Keep trying.

When I feel guilty because of the opportunities, rights, and privileges I have, I remind myself that I can do something. To deny myself any joy because of all the harm in the world does no one any good. We need more joy. We need people to feel it and shine it out. At the same time, the guilt and sadness I feel is a reminder to not ignore my desire for the world to be a more equal place.

I remind myself that I am responsible for making that change happen. We all are. For me, taking responsibility means not shutting off the news, not turning away from the difficult conversations. It means examining the work I am doing and how it impacts others in good and negative ways and making changes in how I work.
These are a few of my thoughts on dealing with different wants and desires during this summer season.

How do you contend with different desires in the same season?

Post your thoughts in my comments below.

Annie Von EssenSummer time is fun time — right?
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Take a Break

Lately, I have been talking with my clients about taking breaks. How do you take a break when the work piles up and is never-ending?  How do you take a break when stopping for a moment creates a rapid-fire panic?

The deal is, we need breaks. They give us room to see and experience things in a new way. Taking breaks increases our creativity and our productivity.

I know it is hard to take a break. I will work nonstop without pausing to go to the bathroom, even if I have to go REAL bad! (I do not recommend this technique. It is bad for your bladder and your concentration.)  But, like so many people, I have trouble giving myself the gift of a break.

Sometimes, I feel like I might not start again if I stop working. The only way to get the work done is to keep going. I also feel like I do not deserve a break.  Perhaps it’s because I have not completed the work (which is never done). Perhaps because I tell myself, people have it harder than me.

Here is what I have learned. When I stop and take a break from work, I do better work. I enjoy the work and the people I am working with. And if I take breaks, I am less likely to burn out. (It is possible to work so long without taking breaks that you can burn out on the entire sector you work in. I know this because I have done it.)

To avoid burnout and enjoy your work, you need two kinds of breaks.

  1. Short breaks: you need breaks throughout the day.

    Eat lunch away from your desk. Take a quick walk around the block. Stand up and move away from your desk.

  2. Long breaks: three or more days in a row completely off and away from work.

    Plan for long weekends or even a week or two out of the office and as much as possible away from your electronics. More here about preparing for a longer break with less stress.

If you do not take breaks, you will lose the enjoyment of your work. You will not do great work for your clients or customers. You will stop caring. You will wonder why you started doing the work in the first place, and you will lose connection to your passion. You will dislike the people you work with. You will be a harder person to be around, and it will be tough on your loved ones.

Is it worth it to take a break?

YES!

You can start today. If you are at work, take a look at today’s schedule. When can you take a break today? When can you get up and step away from your desk?  What could you do to take a short break? Can you stretch? Stroll around the block? Eat lunch in a different part of the building, or even in a park?

Okay, now look at your calendar for the next several weeks and months. Do you have a break scheduled in the next few months? A day off on either side of a weekend? A week away? If you don’t have a break coming up, schedule one?  If you do not have any vacation time available right now, can you make sure you leave work right on time a few days a week and not touch your work after you get home?

It is your responsibility to build in your breaks. It takes discipline. Those of us in the U.S. do not take breaks.

Somewhere along the line, we swallowed the myth that nonstop work leads to success. It doesn’t. It leads to exhaustion and a lack of passion.

Take care of yourself. It is beautiful out. Take a break.

(Stay tuned. Next week I will post the steps to taking a short break.)

Annie Von EssenTake a Break
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Honest Conversations: A checklist

Speaking what is true for you and listening for what is true for another person can lead to internal change and relationship growth. I call this an honest conversation. We do not want to go into honest, difficult conversations because we are afraid. We are afraid that an honest conversation might damage the relationship. We are afraid we might be misunderstood, get hurt, or hurt someone else.

Honest conversations can pave the way to deeper relationships and better understanding. With this checklist, you can decrease the chance that you will get stuck in a nonstop, swirling, angry stew of a conversation. Following these steps will increase the potential for things to change for the better.

This checklist does not guarantee the conversation will be easy. Honest conversations are hard. They require courage. You cannot determine someone else’s response beforehand. You cannot protect yourself from vulnerability if you are going to be truly honest.

Here’s how to prepare for an honest conversation:

What are your intentions?

Ask yourself: Why do you want to have this conversation? What are you asking for? What do you need or want? Check in with yourself and see if you can identify your truest motives, hopes, desires and fears.
Are you tired?

If you are sleepy, DO NOT have the conversation. Get more sleep. If you try to have a big conversation when you are sleep deprived the result will be more intense and emotional than it needs to be. Meanings get twisted in our sleepy brains. Things seem grander and get blown out of proportion. Handling complexity is hard when you are tired.

If you must have the conversation while tired (perhaps you are a new parent) then be as gentle as you can and say that you are lacking in sleep.

Are you hungry?

Wait! If you are hungry, go eat. Eat some protein. Do not attempt a big, honest conversation with low blood sugar. It just does not work out well, ever.

Are you calm?

I know it is hard to be calm if you need to talk about something profoundly upsetting. “Calm” in this case does not mean you are not feeling emotions. You may feel sad or angry. That is okay. You can feel and express emotion from a place that is centered inside yourself.  If you feel yourself getting red hot, take a few breaths. Take a break from the conversation. Locate your belly and feel it move with the breath. Locate your heart and feel it pump.

What are you feeling?

Knowing what you are feeling will help you be clear about your needs. Identify the first feeling. Then explore other underlying emotions. If you are angry, why? Do you also feel jealous? Hurt? Afraid? If you are feeling sad, do you also feel confused? Ashamed? Let down? Alone?

You do not need to tell the other person how you are feeling. Being open about your feelings depends on the person you are talking to. Is it appropriate to share your feelings with this person? Do you want to trust them with your feelings?  Even if you do not share your feelings, figure out what they are.

How much do you want to share?

You can have an honest conversation and not share everything. A lot depends on the context. Make your decisions based on the other person’s ability to hold your vulnerability without judgment. At work, it is important to be careful about how much you share, and with whom. Most workplaces do not hold the space or time for that level of relationship between coworkers or supervisors.

Are you ready to hear the other person?

Are you ready to hear what they have to say? What they need? What they are experiencing?

Are you prepared to give something up based on what you learn and hear?

If you cannot do this kind of deep preparation, then you are not preparing for a conversation. You are looking for a way to drop a bomb. And that will not allow for mutual growth or change.

While you are having the conversation and afterwards, find ways to be gentle to yourself.

Take care of yourself and give yourself time and space to reflect on the conversation.

What did you learn? What do you still desire? Can you find forgiveness?

Honest conversations take practice. They are not easy. They require courage.

We are all capable of having more honest conversations in our lives.

If we do, things will change for the better in the long run.

Annie Von EssenHonest Conversations: A checklist
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How to love the job you’re in (or survive a job you hate)

I am working with a few folks right now who are either exhausted from an overwhelming job they used to love, or working in a job that frankly sucks. They are working with co-workers who drive them nuts. Or they have too much work, not enough time, and not the best pay. Maybe their work does not bring any joy when it is finished, or the office culture is negative and toxic.

I know the typical advice for someone in this situation, especially because of the current “Do What You Love” zeitgeist. People like to say: “Quit that job that is killing you, do what you love!” And yes, I think that is important advice. If you are really unhappy in your job, it might be time to begin the tough work of looking for something new or even building your dream business or position.

But when giving this advice, there are big things people forget about.

First, not everyone can go out and scoop up a new dream job. This economy is difficult and there are many factors that can hold us back from our dream job. Important things like access, poverty, family care, illness, racism, sexism, ageism and more.

Second, even if you decide to make the move to change jobs or careers, the path to change can be long, and you still need to the survive the job you are in in the meantime.

And here is another thing: You could switch jobs and find the culture of your next organization is toxic, with very difficult co-worker relationships and an exhausting workload.

So what now?  Just stay annoyed, exhausted, and unhappy?

No. I do believe and have practiced another way.
Even in the hardest environments, people can survive and sometimes even thrive.
How?

A few practices:

Find a little good

Find something you love about the job. One thing. It can be silly even. Whatever this is will be your little secret. Write it down. Carry it with you or place it in a place you can see it daily.

Practice gratitude

Yes, this helps. It seems sometimes like such a simple thing. Can finding something to be thankful for really help when there is so much to be angry about? Yes. Gratitude is an inoculation from stress and exhaustion. Practicing gratitude helps connect us to the little things surrounding us that serve as reminders that there is always, always something to be thankful for. And the practice of being thankful cultivates a sense of connection in us and reminds us that even in the hardest circumstances there can still be joy. Every day, write down three to five things you’re thankful for. When you wake up or go to bed think of something you are thankful for. Take pictures of things you are thankful for. (Your gratitude does not need to have ANYTHING to do with your job).

Set boundaries and say, “No Thank You”

The difficult co-worker, the long hours, the pile of work… I know it seems impossible, but somewhere in there is actually something you can say, “No” to! It starts with clear communication about your boundaries and capacity. Be clear with co-workers and bosses alike, and you will have less stress and more room to breathe. What could this look like? Telling a co-worker that from 9:00 to 11:00 in the mornings you would like to work quietly without conversation. Figuring out how long certain projects are taking you, and letting your boss know, so that when your boss adds another piece of work to the pile, you ask them to choose the priorities.

Cultivate your life outside of work

Find the things that bring you joy and practice a few. Put energy into things besides your work and take the pressure off having to have the perfect job. Take time for bedtime routines, family dinners, dance classes, coffee with a friend, jogs, weekend road trips, writing, music, or art.  What makes your heart purr? What have you been missing? Do more of that.

Keep tabs on when it is time to leave

Build a plan for getting a different job or even different career. It is possible. You do not have to stay where you are forever. The transition may take a while. Talk to friends about the move or change you want to make. Start looking at options: what jobs exist, what school programs are available, what are all of the ways you can make a change?  Do you need to be saving money for a leap? Or updating your resume? Take one step toward leaving, even a small step. Then use the courage you gained from the small step to take the next step.  (Even grab time with a coach who can walk you through building your plan).

What is helping you survive or even thrive in a job that is too much?

What one thing can you do now to move from exhausted to feeling grateful?

 

Next month I will begin to dig into what organizations and leaders can do to create healthy environments where people enjoy going to work.

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Good resources:

Dealing with difficult people (in life and in work)
Preston Ni
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201309/ten-keys-handling-unreasonable-difficult-people

Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
Louie Schwartzberg along with Brother David Steindl-Rast
http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_nature_beauty_gratitude

Gratitude, gifting and grandpa
John Styn
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOn6MruboY8

How to find 20 hours a week to work on your business (Even if you have a full-time job)
Rosetta Thurman
http://happyblackwoman.com/how-to-find-20-hours-a-week-to-work-on-your-business/

How to approach your job now while you are transitioning out of it
Marie Forleo
http://www.marieforleo.com/2011/06/transition-day-job-dream-business/

Is work killing you?
David Posen, MD
A great book with tools and direct talk about the impact of workplace stress on us and our communities

Annie Von EssenHow to love the job you’re in (or survive a job you hate)
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