Burnout Turnabout

Photo by Gleb Krasnoborov on Pexels.com

As many of us are experiencing trying times right now, I wanted to address the experience of burnout. My experience of this is pre-COVID and specific to mental health and human services. The levels of burnout described by first responders and medical personnel exceeds this and is of another level I have never experienced. I mean to shed some light on the more common experience of burnout in the workplace rather than the extraordinary levels seen right now among essential personnel.

The thing to remember about burnout is those around you will likely notice it before you do. Supervisors, particularly those in the mental health field, typically encourage their teams to talk about challenging cases and difficult feelings around them. I think what confounds many new to the industry is we don’t always know what to talk about. Supervisors can work with what we discuss with them, but what if it is unclear about what is concerning or troubling? What if we don’t know what is troubling and worthy of discussion?

Burnout rarely takes care of itself in my experience. Genuine rest and recharging is necessary and our “do everything” style of work does not always lend itself to that. I don’t think I was especially good at discussing triggering events with supervisors, I just a higher than average capacity for being around emotional trauma. This is by no means a boast on my part. I would wait until my trauma receptacle was overflowing and then some sort of explosion would occur to signal I needed a break. Don’t do what I did, there is a better way.

I remember not talking about warning signs because I didn’t know they were warning signs. Some warning signs are universal, such as repeated emotional outbursts that do not match the severity of a given situation. For example, If I had known near-constant angry thoughts were a warning sign for me, I would have talked about them much sooner. I thought that was just how I was wired and the thoughts would diminish after I left the office or over the weekend. Not so. Angry thoughts bordering on the intrusive is a gigantic red flag for me, one that I didn’t truly notice until I was many years into my career as a therapist. Feeling intense anger on a daily basis, whether it is intermittent or not, can lead to burnout. So if you happen upon me IRL and I am scowling and seem preoccupied, it is likely you have caught me doing just that.

Some of this may seem obvious, but obvious depends on how your individual operating system works. My operating system says drive on, keep going, I can’t help anyone if I go to pieces, etc. For others, it may be trouble sleeping or road raging (full disclosure: I’ve experienced plenty of both, sometimes concurrently.) For a variety of reasons, I grew up having angry thoughts and I believed we were supposed to use them as fuel. This is actually extremely unhealthy, but no one told me. How could they? I rarely spoke them out loud. This would catch up with me and I learned there was a healthier way.

I began to schedule breaks and adding an extra day to my weekends at the urging of a supervisor. The idea being I take a little extra time off at regular intervals whether I think I need it or not. This way I don’t hit critical mass, which is better for me, my family, my clients, and my coworkers. In short it’s better for everybody. The key detail with this method is don’t assume when your scheduled day off arrives that you don’t need it because you feel “ok.” You need it. Take it. Extending yourself further for “just one more week” will blow up in your face. This is especially true in mental health and human services circles. Take the break, trust me.

To heal a wound, you need to stop touching it. I’ll leave you with that bit of wisdom that found it’s way into my inbox recently. Be well, and take care of yourselves.

So I Turned Myself To Face Me…Part 2

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This resumes where Part 1 left off. I encourage everyone to read both parts for the sake of continuity.

I found a job as a coach with a stop smoking tobacco program and left my position in the marijuana industry. Training for this position began at the beginning of March. This job seemed like an adequate fit while I worked on my next move and I would have a chance to work with people in a helping capacity. Those of you with good memories for timelines probably know what’s coming next. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the parameters for this job changed quickly. The funding for this program was diverted to COVID-19 resources and the training team for new coaches was also diverted elsewhere. Essentially I was now a customer service rep rather than a coach due to program diversions and funding shortages. This was also a poor fit for me as I typically do not have the patience for customer service. I will give the company credit for keeping us on as long as they could, however. I kept this job until I was laid off at the beginning of May. I honestly did not mind getting laid off. There will be a postscript to this specific situation later.

Around this time I had been on the transitions roller coaster for about two years. I had come to the conclusion I was not going to be truly happy until I was working for myself. This conclusion was echoed by several people who knew me well. I had never done anything like starting my own business but I suddenly had free time to design and create literally whatever I wanted. I think we are raised to fear stillness and quiet because we are not striving, achieving, etc. We are conditioned to believe that external noise is a sign of productivity. This actually keeps us from listening for what we need for ourselves. Truth be told, there is no great time to start your own business, most people just decide to do it. After toying with this idea for a bit, I moved forward by building my own website.

This forced me to detail what kind of clients I wanted to work with and to formulate how I intended to help others with my skills and message. I had reached the point in my transition where I no longer wanted to spend my hours doing someone else’s thing. Doing someone else’s thing did not make the hours and aggravation worth it. I will gladly put up with challenges and aggravation if it is for my cause. Toiling for someone else is not worth it to me anymore. I’m not against talking a part time gig to keep things going, but my emphasis is on short term.

Getting laid off seemed like a clear cut message to begin working on my own business. A huge challenge for me was setting up my own structure and prioritizing what to do week to week. My website became a home base to work from. I can always direct a potential client to my website. Here is what I am doing. That feels fantastic to me. I can emphatically state I am not the same person I was when this transition started. I have a foundation and a direction and I know I will thrive. Where I have trouble is when I’m directionless. Now I have a new career to build, new things to learn, new goals to create for myself. If I am doing this anyone can. I am not special in any way other than commitment and consistency. I coach because I want others to experience this feeling.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Building my website was challenging and brand new to me, but really not terribly difficult after I had made my mind up. It reintroduced me to thinking creatively from both a writing and a design perspective. I honestly hadn’t had much opportunity for either of those things while I was a therapist. I could write mental health evaluations and reports for the Court, but none of that was terribly creative, It was time to stretch some muscles I had not used for a very long time. I became reacquainted with how much I enjoy writing and how I genuinely like writing about things I care about.

Here is another wrinkle I encountered during my transition rollercoaster ride: Over the past two years I have had to come to terms with how much ADHD has influenced my actions and opinions, particularly in the workplace. I really wasn’t aware of my ADHD blind spots and sometimes this could make me exceedingly defensive. This was an odd part of my transition. On the one hand, I was glad to be more fully informed regarding ADHD, the truth is the truth after all. On the other hand this knowledge rocked me a bit because I felt like I didn’t know the limits of my control or when my own brain might sabotage me. This was unnerving to me because I couldn’t just charge in bravely to a situation and hope for the best. I had to recognize and then seriously evaluate whether certain situations were manageable for me, or likely to implode due to my neurodivergence. I had to be ruthlessly honest with myself and apply experience and discernment.

Transition can be wrenchingly hard and it can seem unending. I felt like I was walking through the proverbial desert with no guidance. And you know what? I absolutely was. I gave everything I had to my career as a therapist and giving everything can extract a price. Burnout is rough; being directionless can be even rougher. However, there is no way to short-cut that process, not when you realize genuine change is required. I had to make genuine change otherwise I would have exploded. Time away from community mental health has improved my perspective tremendously. In retrospect, I know I will never be able to care about a career that does not inspire genuine passion in me. My time as a therapist working with sex offenders did come with a cost, but I don’t regret it. That was part of my journey and I would not have been effective had I not jumped in with both feet. I regret nothing.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

For those of you who subscribe to astrology, look up the aspect called a Chiron Return. While I know astrology is not for everyone, this term does describe my experience. The term midlife crisis also applies somewhat, except I didn’t buy the sports car or remarry a twenty-two year old. I was, however, miserable and lost for a bit. Telling someone to “embrace the suck” is catchy, but actually going through it is something you can only do by yourself and it will hurt. No matter who we are, we all have unresolved issues that can rear up and bite us in the ass when we least expect or can afford it. These will likely come up when we are initiating big changes. Please remember big changes can yield big results.

The post script I mentioned earlier pertains to the coaching job I got laid off from. They asked me back, guaranteeing I will be hired back on as a coach. I could use the cash injection and I will have time to develop my business into a viable full-time venture. Taking my experiences and viewpoints and tailoring them for others in order to help them seems like the best way to cap my transition experience. There are lots of worthy causes out there, but I want to front mine. What else am I here for? We’ll see how this goes. Stick around.

So I Turned Myself To Face Me…

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

When I became serious about starting my own coaching practice during the summer of 2020, it was after I had been undergoing serious personal transitions since I left my therapist position in early 2018. This started a crazy, upside-down, emotionally wrenching time for me.

I had been a therapist for 15 years at this point, but I knew I could not continue on that path any longer.

During my career as a therapist, I worked with convicted sex offenders for 12 years and then for 3 years as a crisis counselor at a mental health walk-in clinic. I still have difficulty processing which one of these was more challenging. The day-to-day of working with felony sex offenders had left me jaded by many accounts. I was able to work with that population because parts of me no longer had feeling. The wires were disconnected. I could digest the content of a police report detailing a sexual assault quite easily and formulate a treatment strategy from there. I no longer had many feelings about the abuses I read about and discussed every day. I understood these details intellectually, but I had divorced myself from the emotions connected to these acts long ago.

By contrast, working in a crisis clinic was a different experience altogether. As a clinician in a crisis clinic, you are waiting for someone to come in on the worst day of their life. There are differing levels of crisis, of course, and some used the clinic as a preemptive resource, which I always supported and applauded. Many others came to the clinic during their worst, and our job was to stabilize them sufficiently for outpatient treatment. Many others needed what we called a “higher level of care.” This means their issues were very serious and they would need more than a five day stay at a crisis unit to stabilize. It was our job to triage this and see they got to where they needed to go.

This was a fun change for me initially. But program changes made after I had been there six months tilted everything on it’s head. Due to program shifts and management issues, I was selected to work a twelve-hour overnight shift. I can verify, just like the phrase says, nothing good ever happens after 2am. I was on that shift for seven months and didn’t know which way was up during my off hours. The human body typically does not sleep well during the daylight hours and I never really adjusted. It also added to the burnout that I never really dealt with after I transferred from my position working with sex offenders.

While I thoroughly enjoyed helping people, the system I was working within had more than a few flaws. In addition to the intensity of the diagnoses I had to deal with, there were also the byzantine systems of insurance companies to navigate and a mental health system that routinely eats it’s own. Dealing with clients who have serious mental health challenges is difficult enough, combining it with multiple layers of bureaucracy is a recipe for disaster and burnout. Let me be clear: I loved being a therapist, but I had grown to hate the systems therapists and clients had to navigate daily.

Photo by Soulful Pizza on Pexels.com

This situation is what set the table for my transition. By this time I was in my late 40’s and experienced enough to know I couldn’t continue on this path without getting fired, arrested, or both. There was one particular situation that brought this home for me, but I do not feel it necessary to detail it here. Suffice to say I walked away when I had to, safely. It also occurs to me at this time I had been divorced just over one year. More transition.

As I write this, I see I had a lot of transition going on at one time. I was also in a position where I had to leave fast, before I could find another job. I frankly was not in a great place to begin working for anyone at the time and I needed a genuine break from the mental health business.

The unnerving part of this situation was I knew couldn’t stay where I was for my own mental health, but I had no idea where to go or what to do next. I was beginning a very difficult transition and I truly had no idea how difficult it would be. Whether you classify this as middle age or fall back on some other belief system such as psychology or astrology, not having a mission or purpose was sheer torture for me. I didn’t know what to do next. Going to graduate school at age 31 in 2001 opened up a huge new world for me that I readily took to. My perspective 15 years later was markedly different. Older and smarter? Yes. But I was also older and really quite jaded and cynical, as well as more than a little bit lost.

What followed after that was a series of jobs that tested me in ways I never could have anticipated. Let me preface this part with a bit of an introduction and explanation. I was diagnosed with adult ADHD at age 34. I have the inattentive variety of ADHD. At the time I thought it was informative, but I also completely underestimated how ADHD had impacted me, both as a kid and as an adult. When I was first diagnosed, I had just completed graduate school, I was about to get married, and I had started a fantastic new career. My life was great, how bad could my ADHD be?

Without reviewing every single situation where my ADHD made itself known during a 15 year career, suffice to say it was painfully obvious. This was especially evident during multiple deadlines and after my caseload grew beyond a certain point. During these periods, I was typically angry all the time because I had a very hard time catching up. Repeat cycle. Upon reflection, I found working for smaller teams with lower caseload numbers worked much better for me. I was about the people, not the system.

None of this wisdom was in the front of my mind when I began my transition. I hardly ever thought about ADHD. The first position I took on this journey was as a trainer in a gym. I had always wanted to work in a gym and this was a perfect time to look into that. I had become used to working in an office where most of the materials I needed were generally stationary and easy to find. I went to an environment where in addition to teaching fitness classes, I needed to enroll new clients into the gym billing system. This was done on a laptop that moved all over the gym. I didn’t think that working in a different place in the same building throughout the day would be a problem for me, but it was. Combine that with a billing system that was temperamental and not intuitive, I had a lot of extra stress I hadn’t counted on.

A few other things I hadn’t counted on: I really liked the people I was working with, but they were mostly half my age. This wasn’t a bad thing, but it spun my work experience on it’s head. I had gone from being experienced and senior in my field to quite the opposite in a substantially different environment. I had become very comfortable with my “seen it all, done it all,” position as a therapist. To say I was scrambling internally for an emotional life raft is accurate. I was scrambling for a kind of security that no longer existed. Superficially, I liked the job as trainer/coach OK, but didn’t know if I wanted to do that forever. The struggles and uncertainties I experienced beat my confidence up in a way I had not felt in over twenty years. The gym I was working for abruptly laid off half of their staff after I had been there six months. While I needed a job, I didn’t complain. I said my goodbyes and that was that.

Something else I learned about transition during this time: Uncertainty can sometimes push us back in the direction we just left. I have always treated myself like my own laboratory experiment, which is why I am writing this now… I applied for another job in the mental health industry while trying to figure if I wanted to start my own business. I was far from certain about that at this time. I felt a little beat up.

I took a job as a mental health tech primarily because I wanted to continue using my skills at running treatment groups so they didn’t atrophy. Mental health tech is a general term for staff that interact with clients on a daily basis and support the therapists and case managers. I was hired to run the first group of the morning at an agency that specialized in live-in alcohol and drug treatment. Initially I enjoyed running the morning groups, but the best part of my day was over for me by 9am. I toyed with the idea of becoming a certified addictions counselor, but my heart wasn’t in it. I would have been going right back into the same structures I had chosen to leave behind. I also noticed early on I didn’t have the patience to handle grumpy clients in detox. Upper management was late in doing my 90 day review and I said enough. I left.

Photo by jorien Stel on Pexels.com

Let me take a moment to detail this part of the mental health industry a bit more. The mental health industry does not necessarily look out for the well being of it’s employees just because they are in the business of helping people. Like most businesses in the U.S., the emphasis on employee well-being varies greatly from agency to agency. Some companies will look out for their employees, others will not. In reference to the position I mentioned in the paragraph above, I deliberately took a pay cut for a position that did not require a master’s degree and they hired me for $13.25 an hour. Terrible pay, but I was in transition. After I left there, I took a job at a grow house trimming marijuana plants for $13.00. My point in mentioning this is I got paid twenty-five cents less an hour at an unskilled labor job with about 10% of the responsibility of my previous position. The mental heath industry needs to seriously re-evaluate this.

Much of the mental health industry grossly underpays their front line staff. This is one of the industry’s most serious problems. When I was a therapist, good mental health staff made my job 100% easier. These are the staff who do the real dirty work, sometimes quite literally putting themselves in physical danger to work with very difficult populations. There is no excuse for them to be so egregiously underpaid, particularly when these positions typically require a college degree. If you want to address chronic staff shortages and burnout, pay more. Do better, mental health industry, do better. Start now. I will put my soapbox back in the cabinet now.

Transition can get crazy. At the age of 50, I was in the marijuana industry trimming plants. My plan was to take a job where I could clock in and clock out, with minimum stress and no headaches. This is where ADHD bit me in the ass again. For this position, you needed to get a given number of plants done in a day. The gist of it was, I needed to be thorough and fast. ADHD gave me the ability to do one or the other, but not both at the same time. I alternated between monotony and stressed out. This position was OK, but not a great fit. The upside was I met a wide variety of really cool people I would not have met otherwise. The individuals I worked with were generally great. This experience also reminded me of one of the adages I swore by when I was a therapist: People are people. No one is better than another and we are all trying to make lives for ourselves and our families out in the world. OK, for real, I’m gonna put the soapbox away for the rest of this post.

I will address the rest of my transition right up to the pandemic in the next part. Stick around.

#transitions #ADHD #mentalhealth #coaching

Compassion Ration

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

My observation over the years has been many people learn compassion after experiencing a lack of it when they needed it, I have met a precious few who come by compassion naturally and some whose families taught them compassion because it was highly valued to them. These are the exceptions however, at least from my point of view. Compassion is another human quality, a higher quality if you will, that does not seem to be consistently observed or particularly revered. I think this topic has become more prevalent lately because so many people are struggling and are in need of compassion

I feel like I was taught my family to have compassion for others “like us.” For me, that meant other military families. There was an unspoken caveat, however, as if compassion was a rare resource that should be used sparingly so as not to waste it. Don’t use it on just anybody, ’cause then you won’t have any left when you need it for someone who deserves it (you know, people like us.) It was a weird dichotomy to grow up with. Everyone deserves compassion, but some people are more deserving than others. How are we supposed to choose? I learned in time that only showing compassion to those within your immediate group was not living up to the definition of compassion.

I was scratching my head on this one for many years. My eyes were opened further at age thirty-three while I was a few months into my internship prior to becoming a therapist. I was assigned a case by my internship supervisor. Typically, these cases are cherry picked by the supervisor so as to not overwhelm the student therapist who has yet to graduate. I had been working with my fifteen year-old client for about two months before he disclosed to me he had been sexually assaulted. A week later he told me he had been sexually victimizing his younger brother. By this point I knew my client fairly well and understood how he had come to victimize his younger brother. I couldn’t turn my back on him. This was not a professional consideration. As an intern, I could have tapped out and told my supervisor, “sorry this is too much for me.” But I didn’t. I understood the kid and I felt for him.

For clarity and context, it is very common for victims of childhood sexual assault to assault others in an attempt to reclaim the power and autonomy that has been taken from them. While this is maladaptive and doesn’t work, it is a common pattern among sexual abuse victims. It also creates more victims. Our culture pities victims and is generally uncomfortable with them. However, our culture dislikes abusers even more. Crossing the line from victim to abuser typically isolates an individual even more than they were previously. This is even more true of an adolescent. Because I understood these dynamics, I couldn’t turn my back on this client. This was another big step in my learning compassion.

It is also a common sentiment in our culture to have zero compassion for anyone who commits sexual assault. Many subscribe to the “they should be shot on site” philosophy. They subscribe to this until their brother, son, father, uncle, cousin or best friend get convicted of sexual assault. Now it is not so simple. A common refrain is “he wasn’t like this when we were growing up.” You’re right, he probably wasn’t. He was likely a victim and couldn’t tell you. In an attempt to alleviate his own pain, he assaulted someone else. Now he is an abuser and you have to make a choice to be compassionate or turn your back on a family member. This may seem an extreme example, but it is an example I have seen play out countless times in the eleven years I worked with convicted sex offenders.

“Compassion fatigue” is interesting in that it refers to those in the helping professions running out of compassion because they have had to pour out so much to so many.

Ted Morris

Let me also say I am not excusing sexual abuse or explaining it away. Personal choice and accountability are also key pieces to this that should never be discounted. I am also not saying that all victims of sexual assault become abusers, that is not accurate either. There are other scenarios that can lead to sexual abuse, but this particular scenario was monumental for me regarding compassion.

How do we come by compassion? How do we teach it? The old saying “There but for the grace of God, go I” seems relevant, but is it enough? We struggle to care about each other globally and nationally. Help is typically conditional and reliant on reciprocation rather than help for the sake of help. Sometimes people need help beyond what self-reliance and independence will cover. I have learned from both my partners and in my professional life that compassion is not a limited commodity. The phrase “compassion fatigue” is interesting in that it refers to those in the helping professions running out of compassion because they have had to pour out so much to so many. Could this be because no one else is showing compassion? Is it a case of “not my job?”

I have experienced compassion fatigue myself. I felt hardened and resentful to those who needed help for longer than a passing amount of my time. This is common among therapists and other helpers. A rebalancing was necessary for me to regain a sense of caring again. It took me about two years. Certain professions lend themselves to compassion more than others, but if we spread the compassion around more evenly within our daily lives there would be more to go around for everyone.

Many of us are looking for new ways to live due to our current circumstances (of which there are many.) Extending compassion towards those outside of our immediate circle could be an exemplary addition to our collective lifestyles. If you have ever needed help, you know what it feels like if it is not forthcoming. Making compassion a bigger part of our lives will highlight what we have in common with each other. The more we have in common with each other the less likely we will be to turn our backs on others when they need help. If we can balance our compassion with timely self-care, we will be creating a new environment where there is room for everyone.

#selfcare #compassion #mentalhealth #changethegame

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Mind Your Boundaries, Part 1

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

What is a boundary? What are they and why do we have them? A common answer is “a physical barrier.” Very true. Now what purpose do they serve? The question is the same and so is the answer. They keep people outside a comfortable and appropriate space from you. Whether in front of your house or at the lunch table at work a boundary is a line that cannot be crossed without permission, if ever. Some people hold their boundaries in very close to themselves, some much less so.

Some people I know are routinely approached by total strangers while in line to pay for their groceries. These strangers would dump their life stories at the feet of another stranger without so much as a “hello, my name is…” When I was still working in community mental health, there would typically be 2-3 people who would raise their hands and say “Yep, that’s me.” They would also be unsure why this was happening and they were not always comfortable with these interactions. Something about their energy indicated they were not going to slam the door as soon as a stranger opened up to them. It was also common for many of these individuals to share they had difficulties with boundaries within their intimate relationships. Approaching total strangers with your life story could be, at the very least, unwanted and at worst triggering and traumatic depending on the content of the life story.

These group members tended to benefit most from the group because they were able to realize their boundaries needed to be worked on, according to what they were comfortable with. Some people are comfortable with strangers laying their life stories on them in random public places, but many are not. Where I have noticed people struggling is when boundaries are inconsistent or porous. Boundaries must be consistent otherwise they are merely suggestions or guidelines, both of which imply that adhering to them is optional rather than mandatory. Solid boundaries are necessary for healthy self-esteem and personal agency.

A common line of thought in mental health circles is “we teach people how to treat us.”

How boundaries are communicated to others is also important. If boundaries are enforced too vigorously the situation could potentially result in some sort of aggression. Delivery is a key component, which brings me to communication styles. We have three main styles of communication: aggressive, passive, and assertive. There is a fourth style of communication that I will address later in part two, simply because it usually comes up in discussion.

It is my observation that most of us learn aggressive communication first. This is unfortunate. It comes at us from school, work, and many different types of media. It also comes at us within the home when we are very young. Simple examples of aggressive communication are yelling, name calling, and include body language, such as banging on tables or slamming doors. This is viewed as a win/lose situation because the aggressive communicator gets their needs met by stepping on the needs of whomever they are addressing. Passive communicators do not get their needs met because they lay down and do not advocate for themselves. An example of this is agreeing to something you feel is unfair or unreasonable, because you want to avoid confrontation. This is viewed as a lose/win because the passive communicator does not assert themselves.

Assertive communicators get their needs met without taking away from the needs of others.

Our third communication style is assertive communication. Assertive communication gets it’s own paragraph because I feel its most important. Assertive communicators get their needs met without taking away from the needs of others. I view this as win/win because everyone involved gets their needs met without taking from the needs of the other. This is tricky because we don’t teach this very well as a culture. If we are lucky enough to come from families who teach this early, we find the people we go to school with do not know how to communicate in this way, and much of the teaching from home goes by the wayside. A lot of us learn assertive communication later in life. A great many of us do not learn to communicate assertively until we are well into high school, or even later when we begin our first jobs and have to work closely with others. Assertive communication reflects The Golden Rule, i.e. treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Healthy boundaries lend themselves to assertive communication. If you don’t enjoy someone talking down to you, you won’t talk to others that way. Assertive communication and healthy boundaries work together in that one builds off of the other. They feed each other in a positive way. A common line of thought in mental health circles is “we teach people how to treat us.” I believe this is true and no matter how assertive we are in our daily lives, occasions will arise wherein we will need to clearly define (or redefine) our boundaries to someone in a given situation. The ability to do this clearly without escalating into conflict is crucial.

This is done by clearly stating the issue and the boundary in question. For example, your room mate is eating your food (a lot of us have been there.) State clearly what the issue is. “You are eating my food.” Next, state a remedy: “I expect you to replace the food you ate within the next 24 hours.” Lastly, state what consequences will follow if your boundaries are not honored. “If my food is not replaced within 24 hours, I will put a chain and padlock on the refrigerator.” (This is an extreme example, but please continue to follow along.) The essential component here is that the consequences MUST follow consistently, exactly as described. If they are not, the boundaries are not boundaries and thus ineffective. This is the most difficult part of maintaining boundaries with most people. Sometimes boundaries are violated accidentally and it is an honest mistake. Sometimes they are violated deliberately and that is when enforcement becomes crucial. Unfortunately, we cannot count on everyone around us to observe common courtesy.

Healthy boundaries lend themselves to assertive communication.

Boundaries vary from location to location and are frequently situational. The boundaries we observe in the grocery store are different from the boundaries we observe in an elevator. We rely on our environment to dictate our boundaries. For example, the expected social boundaries in Japan differ from those in the United States. When unsure about what boundaries are appropriate for the setting you are in, observe what others around you are doing. This is sometimes known as “reading the room.” Another option is to simply ask. “Do you mind if I do this…?” This can go a long way in getting along with those around you.

Please keep in mind these are standard pre-Covid 19 boundaries. Dealing with a pandemic has forced us to modify our boundaries on global basis. This is another example of the environment dictating the boundaries. Remember, boundaries are a combination of clear communication and expected social norms. Boundaries are not suggestions or guidelines. If you feel your boundaries need improvement, an easy solution is to mimic the boundaries of someone you know and admire. You might like the way they handle themselves and emulating them is a great place to start. You could also practice improving your boundaries by scripting. Physically write out the scenario, as described above. Include the problem, the proposed solution, and the consequences if not followed. Best of luck in your practice!

Help Me Help You Help Yourself

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the many things that became apparent early into the pandemic was many people were able to work from home efficiently and easily. I remember reading this news was met with some surprise across a wide variety of industries. Much of the surprise came from industries that were thought to be office based only. When push came to shove, however, a great many people found a way to work from home seamlessly. Many who were laid off during the first wave also found they were able to work from home if required when they were re-employed later.

We have a reliance on corporate structure in the U.S. even of we don’t personally work in an office. The chances are good we take advice or direction from someone who is in an office even if we are not. Is corporate structure and hierarchy still a workable structure for us? I have worked primarily in the mental health field for most of my thirties and forties. Before that a had about six years in the television industry and a smattering of sales jobs here and there. Both industries have their share of bloat and bureaucracy. To be fair, I have not worked in TV since the 1990’s and I imagine it has changed somewhat. Mental Health I know better, and it tends to follow the American corporate structure fairly closely, with some borrowing from the medical/hospital model.

What is common in mental health and many other industries is having many layers of managers and supervisors and a mixing and comingling of responsibilities. I have had several outstanding supervisors while I was a therapist, but many of them were stymied by their supervisors due to corporate policies. This is a common story many have heard time and again. My question is, do we still need gigantic behemoth corporate structures like this? I understand why our federal government needs a large bureaucracy due to the size of our country and the needs that come with governing, but that is for an entire nation. Do we still need to cling to this traditional corporate structure for business?

Some industries need onsite supervision round the clock for safety or logistical reasons, but certainly not all industries. Do we still need an endless line of supervisors supervising supervision (get it?) or would we benefit from less management and more autonomy? Typically speaking, after I learn the basics of a position, I work best if left alone to do my job. That does not mean I’m not receptive to feedback along the way, but it is my preferred method. I have worked for large companies and smaller ones. Generally, smaller companies can work work more quickly, depending on the industry. Decisions can be made and acted upon far more easily without layers upon layers of corporate bloat.

I’m writing this from a psychological/people first perspective because this is what I know. We have all of these great big multi-layered systems that do not necessarily increase productivity. More is not always better, more is just more. This is part of why I have chosen to work for myself. I answer to me. I have a handful of people I can go to for questions and advice, but they are never looking over my shoulder. I think a big cause of the over-layered corporate structure is an addiction to power and control. In the day-to-day, this looks like the person watching you is being watched by someone else. We have become byzantine in our quest for wealth, efficiency, and power. Could we all benefit from downsizing?

I think we can. I like making my own decisions on my own content. I like scheduling my professional life the way I want it, rather than juggling a myriad of details and events for multiple people who are often at cross purposes with each other. Do we ever take stock of how all these mental and emotional gymnastics take away from the job we were hired to do? Large undertakings frequently require large groups of people. Large groups of people often come with infighting and conflicting agendas. Maybe we can try this huge corporate thing in a hundred years or so when we have figured out a better way to get along and work with each other.

I think we have shown we are adaptable, responsible, and able to handle our duties without constant supervision. This may threaten our corporate structures, but too many cooks spoil the broth. Middle layers of management are added after a company reaches a certain size. I think if we are intending to grow business past a certain point, the structures to accommodate said growth need to be in place beforehand. This is not a new observation, but I mention it because I’ve worked for companies who grew and had nothing in place to accommodate that growth. The resulting outcome was a series of costly mistakes that threatened that growth.

I honestly hope everyone has a legitimate opportunity to do work they enjoy. I feel like we are looking at widespread change that will enable many of us to work in smaller business environments. In theory, that will make it easier to work with like-minded people rather than continuing to contort ourselves into shapes that are foreign to us in order to fit into the corporate mold.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It took many years before I determined I was not a good fit for the standard American corporate gig. Some of that was due to individual temperament, adult ADHD, and uncertainty about what I wanted to do in my 20’s. I went back to school at age 31, got a Master’s degree in psychology, and worked as a therapist for 15 years. I worked for larger mental health agencies and I worked for smaller privately owned companies. One thing I found is that smaller companies are better for me, but working for myself is even better. This may be due to age, but my views on gigantic corporations and how the bottom line takes precedence over human needs became a paradigm I didn’t want to deal with any longer. The mental health industry, at least in my 15 years of experience, is not necessarily better about taking care of it’s employees than any other industry. A considerable amount of time is spent training therapists and counselors about vicarious trauma and burnout, but as an industry they create conditions that encourage burnout and chronic overwork. My conclusion on this is “that’s life in corporate America.” Because it is. These companies are set up like most other corporations in the U.S., so it stands to reason the impact on front line employees will be widely disregarded in order to continue the revenue stream.

Benefits are dangled in front of us like the carrot on the stick and a lot of us put up with far too much in order to keep those benefits for ourselves and our families. It is hard to walk away from a system that uses that carrot and stick so effectively. We are a long way away from universal healthcare, 20 hour work weeks, and many other systems other countries seem to use very effectively. My aim is to help anyone who wants to break away from that. Do your own thing, get paid for it, and have a joyous and productive life. Need help communicating more effectively? I can help. Need help goal-setting so you can set up your own shop? I can help you with that vision, if not the nuts and bolts of it. Confidence-building, self-esteem exercises, assertiveness training? I got it. Please help me help you.

Playing Those Man Games

Photo by Zakaria Boumliha on Pexels.com

I recently read an article outlining all of the psychological reasons why men avoid seeking medical attention. The article was from a psychology journal and it reminded me of similar discussions I have had with former clients about “why we are the way we are.” This article observed this issue from several different psychological schools of thought and focused specifically on why men won’t seek medical attention unless it is an absolute dire emergency. The gist of it was we, as men, have been raised to make things harder for ourselves largely because we do not want to appear weak. This goes back generations, centuries and ages. I want to urge us to be a bit smarter, however. At the root of this is men’s refusal to ask for help, even for minor instances.

This really came home for me when I was running therapy groups and in one of my groups I would typically ask “how many people in here stop and ask for directions if they are lost?” Keep in mind, this was a little before GPS and Google Maps and other personal navigation methods. Usually about half of the men in the group would raise their hands with knowing smiles. My next question was always “You know you’re lost, you’ve been lost for a while. Why haven’t you asked for directions?” Typically I would hear a collective “Nope” from that part of the group. Men don’t ask for directions. Taken a bit further, men don’t ask for help.

I’m all for self-reliance, independence and all that other good man stuff. However, if you know you are lost, sick, or injured, why won’t you ask for help? You already know you’re fucked up, why do you want to continue being fucked up? Is it your aim to be more fucked up? Asking for directions is not as serious as seeking medical attention, which was the thrust of the article that inspired this. Being perceived as weak or less than has been the bane of male existence since civilization became civilized. The problem with this is when legitimate need for help exists, we won’t address it. This frequently leads to the injury worsening. We are taught to suck it up, but at what cost? Is this a smart way to do things, particularly as we age?

Photo by Brian James on Pexels.com

I understand the need for resilience against the elements when we were cave dwellers, hunter gatherers, farmers, ranchers, and so on. But most of us have left our caves behind and our resilience can be focused on other endeavors. Medical attention is available, shouldn’t we use it when the need is legitimate? Longevity and quality of life are also talked about frequently these days. I have been in positions where I didn’t have medical insurance and had to do without and I understand this from personal experience. But if we do have benefits and access, why do we, as men, avoid it?

The article examined this issue from several different psychological schools of thought. The influence of peer pressure was evident, as was the influence of superiors who feel if they had to do it, then we have to do it. This is how an 8-hour workday turns into a 12-hour workday. We will injure ourselves or make ourselves sick through neglect rather than examine why we are afraid to seek aid when we need it. This seems particularly true when it is job related. Regular maintenance keeps the car on the road, no? Ignoring maintenance eventually pulls the car off the road for an extended period of time. Humans are no different in this regard.

If we were not so worried about appearing weak, we would likely be able to create many new and amazing things. At the very least we could work longer and smarter at our current jobs. We have accepted we must be stoic and grim and resolute. I have been accused of being all three of these things, sometimes for good causes, but frequently for causes less good. The article mentioned the amount of cultural pressure men are under in this very specific instance.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It seems we are in a constant state of looking over our shoulders to see if anyone is watching us to see if we “slip.” Slip in this case means showing human needs. During stressful situations we wait to see who the first one to crack will be. We don’t care so much who it is, as long as it is not us. The collective refrain here is usually “at least I’m not that guy.” We could reach out and help, but is that our typical first response?

Are we basing our concept of manhood on outdated models? Likely we are. We have access to brilliant medical technology but we refuse to use it because it will make us look weak. The longer term impact of this is our injuries or sickness gets worse because we refuse to treat it. The end result is we really do wind up weaker. We get sidelined because our ailment has reached critical mass due to being untreated. This seems pointless. Regular upkeep can bulletproof us rather than weaken us. We have found an ingenious way to keep ourselves sick, injured and compromised all under the guise of not being viewed as weak.

We know why we do this, but do we want to keep doing it? Sometimes we have to do without and it’s useful to know if we can, but this is not all day, every day. We have come to the point where admitting any sort of human limitation is seen as shameful rather than a product of being human. How can we redefine masculinity for the 21st century? Again, resiliency, strength, and resourcefulness are all qualities I value, but I feel we have been taught to misapply them. Given our reliance on technology, working smarter rather than harder should be a higher priority.

My take on this? If you need help, ask for it. This will enable you to improve more quickly and be more successful in your endeavor of choice. You want to be good? Get a coach, therapist, or teacher and ask questions. If you are injured, see a doctor. Stop seeing the need for assistance as a weakness and view it as a sign of wanting to improve. I have had to modify my own thoughts on this many times over the years due to career changes, age, and the shift in expectations that come from rolling with life’s punches. I will likely expand on this in the near future. Change the game.

Course Correction

Photo by Maddog 229 on Pexels.com

Most of us have seen some sort of statement or assessment stating where we were in March 2020 will never be again. So many things have happened both in the U.S. and globally that indicate our old way of doing things may be coming to a close. Why is it important to make something new in the world? Is it because we have to or is it because it is the right thing to do? I think we passed doing it because its the right thing a long time ago. Huge systemic change, unfortunately, rarely occurs because it is the right thing to do. Huge systemic change occurs when the old way has become completely broken down and no longer functions. Huge systemic change happens when people just won’t play the game anymore, either because they can’t afford to financially, or because the system has been exposed as thoroughly corrupt and broken.

Historically we don’t much care about corruption unless it impacts a A LOT of us. Corruption impacting a small minority is typically overlooked. The fact this is unfair is typically of little importance to the majority lesser-impacted by corruption. Another reason why change has been slow is that many of us do not learn compassion until we experience discrimination or when we are in great need of compassion due to hardship and it is shown to us. In other words, we get the experience of walking in the shoes of others and discover how hard it is.

How different would it be if we cared about others outside our immediate circle just as a normal matter of course? Turning a blind eye to the suffering of others seems to be the easier default for most of us. Now that our collective awareness seems to be “awakening” there are a lot of unanswered questions and unaddressed issues. We are a culture of selective decency, meaning that decency is not extended to minorities of many different kinds. Still, this begs the question, why are we so shitty to each other? We have put a lot of effort into hiding our collective deficiencies, now there is nowhere left to hide. Ideally, more of us want to address this directly rather than finding a new hiding place.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Why we must find a different way…

How much examination and re-examination is necessary? We have established equality is highly emphasized in our Constitution; we have also been heartily invested in making sure not everyone benefits from said equality. Why is equality so threatening? If equality was genuinely observed, would we have all the cultural problems and imbalances we have now? There is a misconception that equality for all is actually threatening. Who benefits from keeping others down and why? Current observation supports the position that hoarding wealth leads to nothing but eventual upheaval. Constant, slow-grinding upheaval that churns up everything and reveals generations of ugliness.

Do we know what true equality looks like? Culturally, I don’t think we do because we have never truly experienced it. We have read the words on the page, but it has never been truly and wholly applied in our country. Equality for all humankind sounds beautiful, but we have messed that up too by having the bloody mindedness to argue about the definition of “human.” Somehow we have found we can declare other occupants of our planet as “not human” or “not as human as me.”

We have implemented so many ways as a species to dispute equality. Skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, financial status, level of education, left handedness,…how many more? It seems we may be afraid of equality. Somehow or other equality has become a huge threat. We have become so conditioned to comparing ourselves to others that others have to be missing something or lacking something in order for us to feel good. As in “At least I’m not…” (fill in the blank.)

There is another way to do things. We could make a world where self-worth is not predicated on others having less or being perceived as lesser due to socioeconomic status. I don’t believe we have a genuine understanding of equality because human history is based upon conqueror and conquered. Have we ever taken the true measure of what it takes to hold another down? Particularly when the “other” is causing you no harm whatsoever? We pay a collective cost of looking the other way just because “that’s the way it is.” Eventually fairness will prevail, or… we will all perish. We are a global society and we are in this together. How much more do you think we can take as a species? How much more pressure before the entire dam bursts? Then we lose it all.

Does it have to be that way?

We can do away with otherness by treating others the way we want to be treated. Too easy, too simple, you say? In principle, there is nothing else to it. If it was universally observed, it would spread outward into all of our various rules, regulations, administrations and systems. We would be rewiring everything and this concept would be the underpinning and the fabric of everything we rebuild. I say rebuild specifically because it is clear to many of us what we have currently is not working. Who would love to revisit all of this again twenty years from now? How many of us want to do it again? Not me. I want to fix what is broken, which we may still be repairing and cleaning up twenty years from now.

Business as usual no longer exists. Business as usual was also ugly, unfair, racist, classicist, and many other things too numerous to mention. The guy next door has more in common with you than you think. Same as the family across town. They want and value the same things you do. There may be a few out there who still feel they don’t have to give a shit due to money, class or status, but is that how you want to live? Sooner or later the world will get turned on it’s head and the haves will be have-nots. Values will change and courses will be corrected and then maybe we can build something together in peace.

Envision and plan for what you want to build for the future. Do it without including safeguards for the “others.” Plan it as if the environment and the rest of the world supports it. Watch it grow. Marvel as friends and strangers alike bend over backwards to help you construct it. Everyone else wants you to succeed, even people you haven’t meant yet, simply out of principle. Stick around, it will be a glorious thing.

Change the Game.

Photo by u0410u043bu0435u043au0441u0430u043du0434u0440 u041cu0430u043au0435u0434u043eu043du0441u043au0438u0439 on Pexels.com

It’s been my position for many years we are a culture that eats it’s own. I hesitate to use the phrase toxic masculinity because I feel it is already overused, however, I can’t think of a better term. We are encouraged from the youngest ages to form groups for no other reason than to be in opposition to others. It’s not so much we need to be in a group for protection, because sometimes that is absolutely true. It is more that we form the groups in the first place simply to be in opposition to other groups, whether we are threatened or not.

How am I supposed to engage in conflict with them if I don’t have a group? What am I supposed to do, hang around and watch? I have opinions I must lord over others as “the truth” otherwise why am I here? How can I have an identity without identifying with a group and having other groups to be in opposition to? Unity for the sake of compounding our existing separateness is the name of the game, no? Otherness is what it’s about, right? Oh, and fuck those guys. Which guys, you ask? Doesn’t matter.

Without some sort of opposition, we have no purpose apparently. I am walking, talking proof of this. I was conditioned to prepare for things to go wrong. If I could reasonably ascertain that it was not my fault, then let the blaming begin! “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” is a common saying most of us have heard. But what if that worst thing we are preparing for is another person? The conflict is built in and expected. We often find a way for others to embody our difficulties. The bane of your existence becomes “easier” to focus on if it has a face and walks and talks. I believe this conditions us to expect conflict and find others to fight with. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? No? Then why do we teach it to our male children before they can speak?

If this is our baseline, our standard state of being during regular times, what happens when we factor in stress to this toxic mix? As males in our culture, we are taught to court stress and responsibility. I’m reminded of a training I attended years ago regarding stress in the work place. The speaker said after our stress levels pass a certain point we are nothing more than talking monkeys. Do you know what species can be territorial, temperamental, and likes to fight as a matter of course? Primates. Monkeys. Us. Stress can turn us from reasonably well- adjusted adults to poo-flinging, chest beating gorillas. This can make for a volatile mixture.

I think “us vs them” is where most of us are comfortable. It has become our default. Most of us are seemingly rudderless without a target to attack. As mentioned above, that target can quickly become embodied by another person who has chosen to play the role of “he who exists to fuck my project up.” This also keeps us blind to what we may be doing in opposition to our own goals. It is much easier to hang that on another person. We compare ourselves against other men and may feel inadequate. If we don’t compare ourselves unfavorably to others, many of us will bully others to create that illusion of superiority.

Where is the top? Is there really a King of the Mountain? The answer is “yes, until the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. Seems rather pointless. What could we create if we weren’t so focused on beating each other? There are many historical and evolutionary reasons why mankind has been in opposition to each other. But it makes me wonder if we just got caught up in violence and conflict so early in our history that we never stopped to wonder if there was another way. What is our excuse now? We are not truly lacking in food or clothing anymore, but we selectively distribute it. This also contributes to us vs. them. Again, we are programmed from an early age to be in conflict with each other.

How do all these cultural underpinnings impact 21st century American males? At the age of 51 I feel I have enough life experience to make salient observations. On the one hand, the United States is comprised and influenced by a combination of cultures. This has worked in our favor many times, but we have also let it feed the us vs them paradigm in the forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, and socioeconomic disparities.

Much has been written about the “me first” mindset in the U.S. How big is the difference between that and “Us first?” I would say very little. We are climbing over bodies as a team rather than individually. This reinforces us vs them because now we are in opposition to others collectively, in a team, which implies the act is more acceptable because we are doing it with others. If we are not fighting other nations, we are fighting each other. Is there nothing else to occupy our time with? Does this meet criteria for toxicity or not?

I am all for healthy competition as a form of self-development. I think we have taken this concept far beyond “healthy competition.” Quite often our mindset takes us to a place where the lives and livelihoods of others are forfeit because of conflict for the sake of conflict. Opposition for the sake of opposition tends to be our cultural default. There are more evolutionary reasons for this than I could possibly cover within the scope of this post.

What I want to make clear is that this behavior is a choice. As soon as we are aware of it, it becomes a choice and the continued fallout from this choice has to be recognized as a deliberate course of action.

I am proposing we choose differently. Work with others, rather than against. Forget about teams for a bit and just work with everyone you can within your immediate sphere. Examine your results and see if they are different. Opening ourselves up like this feels risky and maybe even foolish, which is why most will not even attempt it. What are the rewards for this change in behavior? Are they worth it? Once you suspend “us vs them” you will likely find it easier to get along with others. Since you are no longer affiliated with any team, workplace, or group you no longer have a reason for opposition. By the same reasoning, your former opponents no longer have any reason to target you.

Some probable results are you will accomplish more in your chosen area of endeavor, whatever that is. Collaboration typically gets us bigger and better results than conflict or even “healthy competition.” Suspend the need for opposition. I say need specifically because I felt like a rowboat with one oar going in circles the first few times I went into the world like this. It is very likely you will feel extremely vulnerable when you suspend the need for opposition, simply because we are indoctrinated in the culture of conflict. But if you are brave enough to try something new, you may find yourself achieving your personal goals and the goals you share with others far more easily. Quite often the opposition doesn’t exist unless we place it there.

This does not mean conflict and crime will disappear overnight. If you work after dark, continue walking with your coworkers to that dark empty parking lot at the end of the night. This is, in fact, a collaborative exercise. My point is if we stop expecting conflict and seeking it, it won’t be there any longer and our lives will become far easier, both individually and collectively.

Let me be 100% clear that I am a proponent of self-development through competition and adversity. But this form of self-development should be left in its respective place. Me being my best self should not take away from anyone else being their best self. We tend to personalize it if someone is just a little better than us at a given task. If we lose out on a promotion because the other person was just a tiny bit better, we blame them. Let’s break this reaction down further. In essence we are hating someone because they have done something better than we have. While there could be many variables to this, I’m going to keep this simple so as to not lose the point. Hating someone because they are doing the same thing we are (i.e. becoming their best selves in a given activity) is rather hypocritical and nonsensical. It is ingrained in us to take the achievements of others personally, particularly if their doing well costs us something we are seeking (the big promotion for example.)

It was brought to my attention years ago that everyone has just as much right to excel as I do. Me working hard to be good at something does not mean the other guy has to go elsewhere because he is working at being the best he can at the same task. While this can be a bitter pill to swallow, this is part of the game we have bought into. Change the game. We are all competing against each other for things we have been told we must strive for. Yet we are living in a time where resources are routinely wasted more than they are used for their intended purposes. What exactly are we competing so hard for? Is there something else you would rather focus your energy on? I repeat, change the game.

Universe Conspiring Against You?

Photo by Wallace Chuck on Pexels.com

How do you handle adversity? All of us have periods where we feel any progress we make is completely uphill and difficult every step of the way. Other times it feels uphill all the way during a hailstorm walking over broken glass through a forest fire. Things can get unexpectedly tough and then they get tougher. An awful lot has been written lately about resilience and how it is a necessary life skill.

Have you seen anyone take adversity personally? This is different than adapting a “shit happens” mentality, this is adapting the position the Universe has deliberately targeted you because you are you. It is the feeling you are on God’s shit list for some reason you claim to not understand. Personalizing hard times can make the hard times even harder. This is like swimming against the current and throwing on a weighted vest before you jump into the water. A lot of us have a tendency to react so strongly to unexpected challenges we actually make them worse and harder to handle.

Perspective is what determines how we will handle our challenging life situations. This includes our internal reactions and how we talk to others about our challenges. Perspective keeps us in the game or hustles us to the exit, often prematurely. Some of us are head down and head on, while others lament any inconveniences as personal attacks and respond by dropping to their knees and crying about the unfairness of it all. If perspective and mindset are what makes the difference between sinking or prevailing, why are we so resistant to switching our thoughts to a better channel? If the secret to sailing through life is attitude and mindset, shouldn’t we take greater care about the way we think?

A tried and true therapy modality is called cognitive restructuring. Cognitive Restructuring – Simple thought switching, word changing, change the word, change the outcome. A popular concept in cognitive restructuring is thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors (T-F-B.) The idea behind this is whatever we think will cause a feeling of one kind or another. How we feel about something dictates how we behave. This sequence can start and finish within the blink of an eye, but it will always be this order. If we diagram T-F-B, we see how important our thoughts are. Everything starts with our thoughts. Just like breakfast is the most important meal of the day, our thoughts kick everything off and will determine the flavor of our experiences. Negative thoughts invariably lead to negative experiences. And why wouldn’t they? Our thoughts reflect our programming and if we program ourselves to have a negative experience, it follows that we will. Simple equation, yes?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

This is why it is important to not take adversity personally. There are differing degrees of adversity including mild annoyances, difficult work projects, and life-altering events. Life is a series of challenges, big and small. If we were to approach difficulties as if they are puzzles to solve, we can better manage the negative emotions around adversities. Puzzles can be interpreted as fun challenges rather than insurmountable obstacles. While some puzzles have more pieces than others, this makes the completion of the puzzle even more satisfying.

We can look at life as a continual process of reframing. A new frame will always change the look of a picture. This is not the same as judging. Reframing allows us to assign a value of our choice to a given situation with the intent of resolving it. Sometimes dealing with adversity can be a process of talking yourself into the right mindset to resolve it. If you have been reading me for a bit, you have likely noticed I am big on communication skills. Reframing is another way to communicate with yourself without making difficult situations even more difficult.

How we speak to ourselves when we are under duress will determine how we handle the situation. I am all for realistic assessment. However, after the assessment has been made, we still have to jump up and manage the situation. This is even more so if the situation has been assessed to be a gigantic dumpster fire. We can’t stay on the couch and watch it burn, the situation still has to be addressed. Is it really a dumpster fire or is it a festive trash container with natural heat and lighting? See what I did there?

We must be honest in our assessments of situations, they are what they are. But if we program ourselves to make them “less bad” they become more manageable. I am fond of the old saying “how do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” It sounds simplistic (especially if you’ve heard it before) but is it untrue? Not at all. All of us eat one bite at a time. It may be a small bite or a huge bite, but it is still one bite at a time.

Adversity does not have to be personal, even if it has been directed to you maliciously, it can still be handled situationally. It is our job to reframe and persevere. The reframe is the emotional difference between sailing into the wind and having the wind at your back. If you already know its going to be hard, why make it harder? Even though calculated malice is hard to manage due to it’s personal nature, it is still in our best interest to reframe and then manage the situation before we address the emotional fallout of a personal attack. As a former mentor once said to me “things can be personal, but we don’t have to personalize them.”

Reframe. Don’t take adversity personally, you don’t have to. Change the narrative and outcome of the story by making it smaller, fun, and manageable. Make adversity a puzzle you will find a solution to and solve. We are far less likely to go into a downward spiral if we are having fun.