EGO–how to deal with it.

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I’ve had a tough week.

As an accountant, I have had my share of meetings full of fragile egos and people who seem to exhibit sociopath tendencies and do not seem to care about throwing people under the bus.

Difficult people.  You know what I’m talking about. There should be a Difficult People 101 course.

Okay, you are right–I’m probably overreacting but I’m sure I am not alone when I say, dealing with difficult people sucks the life out of you and makes you wonder how you can deal with them.

Soon after I started my mindfulness journey, I began to really pay attention to the types of difficult people I normally deal with.  I started grouping them in the  following categories: 

1) Talkers (they talk more than they listen and they interrupt incessantly!),

2) Perfect (they are NEVER wrong),

3) Fake (they often lie to get their way),

4) Control freaks (they are controlling and their way is the only way),

5) Only Me (they bring down others to prop themselves up). 

I’ve thought of this long and hard and I think I may have a way that may ease the pain a bit.  I’m not saying that it will be roses and wine from now on but it may give you a new perspective on how to deal with difficult people.

E—Empathy.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in one’s shoes and understand what they are going through.  In most cases, I have to remind myself that everyone has a back story.  It may be that they are under stress and feeling overwhelmed, or they have some personal issues they are currently dealing with.

G—Gratitude. Be grateful that you have a difficult person who you can practice your mindfulness on!  In the Buddhist tradition, difficult people are to be cherished. 

O—Opportunity. View difficult people as an opportunity for growth.  Pay attention to what your body is feeling.  Are you holding your breath? Did you just tense up? Tighten your jaw? Stay present. Stay silent and just listen with a beginners mind.  Perhaps, the difficult person may have a good point and emotions are getting in the way, or it may be YOUR EGO that is clouding your judgement.

One final thought–I always believed that these difficult people had inflated egos.  Now that I think more mindfully about it, it may be quite the opposite–they have deflated egos and they need to push people onto oncoming traffic because they believe that by doing so, they can attract more attention and elevate their own value.

What do you think?

At any rate, as I finish my second glass of wine, I am not looking forward to the coming week.  However, armed with a new perspective about ego and how to deal with difficult people, meetings may finally be something to look forward to.

Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Debbie.

 

 

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A new year’s resolution: another look at Work-Life Balance….

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As another year draws to a close and a new year just around the corner, this is generally the time when everyone takes a deep breath and comes up with an impossibly unsustainable new years’ resolution…like going (back?) to the gym, eating out less, or spending more time with the family.  However, one resolution that tends to come up with most of my workaholic friends is striking the right “work-life balance”. 

I first heard of the phrase “work life balance” in the early part of my career as an accountant for one of the Big 4 accounting firms (it used to be the big 5).  The managers and senior managers were always talking about not having time for dinner with their families during the peak of audit season.  In fact, they had not seen their wives or husbands in daylight as they generally left for work before sunrise and when they came home, the whole house was already asleep.  They always said, “I have to get a job with more work life balance, man.”  

What exactly is “work-life balance”?  In a nutshell, it is the holy grail of the art of balancing work (i.e. career and ambition) with life (i.e. family, leisure, health).  This balancing act can be tricky and many of us have fallen into the trap of focusing on the work aspect….leading to the demise of the other.  Burnout and the compounding stress of a never ending workday in contrast with boredom and the compounding stress of always watching the purse strings are just some of the results of too much focus on either work or life.

In Nigel Marsh’s TEDtalk about work life balance, he brilliantly sums the paradox as “it is quite easy to balance work and life when you don’t have any work; not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.”

So where does this leave us?  Work life balance is different for everyone but these are some of my thoughts and tips that may help in find YOUR balance:

1.  It was never about Balance

Consider the three words again:  Work, Life, Balance. 

It was just recently that I realized that perhaps I was looking at this phrase all wrong.  Isn’t “work” really just part of “life”?  Why would “work” garner 50% of this equation? In fact, in thinking about this more deeply, MY life would likely be broken down into these components:  work, my family and friends, and my SELF.   All of these contribute to my overall happiness—but certainly not 50% of work!!!

Work is just part of life, such as my family and my health and wellbeing would also be.  Put another way, work is really just a piece of the Pie of Life; we should not give it more (or less) importance as the other parts of our lives. Alas, sometimes, this realization comes too late when our health fails us or when we suffer our first anxiety attack, for example. As far as I know, no one on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.

So perhaps, a change in perspective is warranted since it was never about balance to begin with….it is really about integration of the work in the overall scheme of things.

2.  Beware the Golden Handcuffs

Maybe it was just me but I found that even though I made a good living, it seemed as if it was never enough.  So, I went for promotions that paid me more money which meant more responsibility and more stress; other times, I would change jobs just for the fact that it paid more.  You would think that if I had more money, I could save more and be happier.  Quite the opposite.  Ironically, I found that the more money I made, the more expenses I seemed to have!  So, when finally I realized my happiness was inexplicably connected to my work life imbalance, it was so much more difficult to just throw in the towel and say, ENOUGH! 

Faced with choice—would you quit a job that makes you sick or would you just suck it up?

So beware the golden handcuffs…

3.  Establish boundaries

Employers try to attract talent or keep employees by giving incentives like flexible work environments including work from home, the perks of having the newest smartphones in the market, dress down Fridays, or even a daycare in the premises.  If you come to think about this though, these incentives just make your work day even longer!  I am sure that these employers have good intentions but it is critical that boundaries are set early on or else work will definitely take over all of your hours of the day. 

“But wouldn’t that limit my career?” you are probably asking.  Well, that would be up to you.  I think that you would likely come out to be a more productive and happier employee since you actually have time to BREATHE.  Have you ever worked with someone who always seems to be on edge since they have too much on their plate and everyone is tiptoeing and walking on eggshells around them for fear of being yelled at?  I worked for someone like that—I remember I used to take the longer route to the washroom so I wouldn’t have to walk by his office. Yah, not nice.

So, there you have it, a few thoughts to ponder as a new year is once again upon us.

Do you have any work-life balance tips of your own? Let me know in the comments below! Don’t forget to follow me by email so you never miss another blog… sign up below!!!

As always, thank you so much for following and reading my blog and may 2018 be a year filled with smiles, love, much happiness and prosperity.

This is my heartfelt wish from me to you. Happy New Year, everyone!

Debbie.

Multi-tasking: Debunking the Myths

images   I used to work for someone who would be drafting an email, “supposedly” listening to me, and scarfing down a late lunch, all at the same time. When I paused, she would look at me and say “Continue, I’m listening.”

I am not sure if she really was listening but did you know that multi-tasking is not only counter productive, but it is may also be damaging your brain?

The Myth:  “I’m good at it!”

Reality:  No, you’re not.  Our brains were not built to multi-task.  In fact, it can only focus on one complex thing at a time (note the words “one” and “complex”).  This means that while you can read this article and chew gum at the same time, it is a different story when you try to do two input-rich activities –like balancing your budget while talking on the phone with your lawyer.  In reality, our brains switch back and forth between tasks. In the process, we have to disengage neurons involved in one task and activate the new ones and paying less and less attention to either task.  Studies have shown that this task-switching results in an average of 50% more errors and it takes about an average of 23 minutes to get back on track on what you were doing previously, resulting in about 40% decrease in productivity.  Ouch.

The Myth:  “No harm done”

Reality:  A study by the University of London found that multi-taskers experience a drop in their IQ levels comparable to someone who has missed a night of sleep. In some cases, the IQ dropped by as much as 15 points, a level to which would be comparable to the cognitive equivalence of an 8 year old.  In addition, MRI scans have shown that brains of multi-taskers have less brain density in areas that impact our sense of empathy and emotions.  By multi-tasking, we may be damaging our brains in the process….

Definitely something to bear in mind the next time you receive an email that sounds like your gradeschooler wrote it and sounds a tiny bit snarky…

The Myth:  “Hands-free” 

Reality:  If you have not seen the movie “Dr. Strange” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I suggest you do as it is due to multi-tasking that we have a movie.  Driving a fancy fast car while trying to look at an x-ray is just plain stupid.  To dumb it down for us mere mortals, it would be the same as driving and texting at the same time.  Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and focus on driving, people!

The Myth:  “I can just stop” 

Reality:  I dare you to just stop, cold turkey.  Not so easy, is it?  A further complication with multi-tasking is that we become addicted to it.  What we perceive to be a “successful” multi-tasking increases our dopamine levels–the hormone responsible for the feeling of happiness and thus, we don’t want that excitement and stimulation to end. However, the dark side of this equation is that in addition to dopamine, multitasking also releases adrenaline and other stress hormones that contribute to long term health problems.

So, what to do?

Taking all of the above into perspective, multi-tasking really is just another bad habit –like nail biting.  You need a concerted effort to be more mindful and stay present.  This may include chunking out the time for specific tasks.  For example, check your email only at specific intervals during the day and actually booking a meeting with yourself for an hour to get through without interruptions.  Taking little breaks between tasks also helps in reseting our brain and our mood to what needs to be done next.

In addition, being a role  model of being a “unitasker” goes a long way.  For example, in meetings, put aside your work phone and focus specifically on what is being discussed. Sending out an email during a meeting is not only rude but distracting to the presenter.

So, the next time when you feel that you have that urge to do two things at one time, pause….and say, “Just One Thing at a Time”.

Debbie.

2016: the Year of the “Office Rage” and personal reflections..

I came to a realization that 2016 was not such a good year for me. Actually, that is an understatement. It was crap.

I also came to a realization that I have come a long way with my mindfulness journey this year.

Well, okay…if I take those two together and net them, I guess this year has not been so bad after all.

I quit my job of over 10 years and was forced to rethink my future as an accountant. The culture at work had changed and I didn’t like where it was heading. On the positive side, it made me question whether I really wanted to work in a field full of egos, where arrogance masked personal insecurities, where favouritism trumped hard work, where WHO you knew was more important than WHAT you knew.

The stress in the office was too much, not just for me but for everyone. I heard  the saying “I got thrown under the bus by so-and-so” almost daily.

It became every person for themselves.

“Office Rage”, I call it.

People buckled under the stress and in some instances came up with outlandish excuses why things were going wrong.

“She actually did not want to work for so-and-so, that’s why she quit.”

“Only he knows what is going on…”

“She was not doing her job that someone else had to work the weekend for her.”

“I’m going to give her something so difficult so that she screws up and quits.”

“She was not really sick so she had come back to work.”

“The units are all stupid.”

“It’s all her fault…”

“It’s all his fault…”

“Idiot.”

When I recall the instances when I heard these sayings, I cringe. How can people say these things about each other?

I wanted out. I realized I needed to spend more time with my daughter and rethink, regroup, and reconsider what I really wanted to do. I’ve dubbed them my “3Rs”.  Besides, did I really want to work with people whom I had considered “friends” all this time and then find out that they had thrown me under the bus several times!?!? Were they ever my “friends”? Or was I just a pawn in a game of office politics, just as everyone else?

My family was supportive and understood that it was time to leave. I can honestly say that I was so relieved when I quit.

I must admit that it is because I have been in this mindfulness journey that I have survived such a toxic environment.

I too could have played the game and thrown people under the bus. I recall I was pretty good at playing the finger pointing game in my previous life…I could have convinced myself “only the fittest survive” or it’s a “dog eat dog world.”

Yet..

How can one look at themselves in the mirror and like what they see?

How could one not feel as if you sold your soul to the devil when you do something like that?

…and for what, a few minutes of feeling superior?

Is it really worth it?

Perhaps for some people it is a means of getting ahead. But this is definitely not me.

I also believe in karma. It will always come back to you in some form. I remember listening to someone who was going through a rough day. When asked what she should do, I said “Do Nothing. Believe in karma.”  Her response was “Well, I can’t wait for Karma! It takes too long!”

Mindfulness helped me navigate the minefields of getting through the days, through the year. Not to say that I escaped unscathed, but at least I stayed true to myself.  I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say “You are alright.”

Ironically, a few days after I quit, I was offered another job with another company–still accounting related but more theoretical. I guess these things happen for a reason.

I am looking forward to 2017 and I’m interested where it will take me….

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2017, everyone!

Debbie

They come in all shapes and sizes…

School is out and so my daughter is now off for the summer. This is also the time that she looks back over the past school year and how it went.

She doesn’t talk much about marks or the classes. She knows she was excellent in that front. Instead, one lazy afternoon, over a plate of paleo cookies and milk, she talked about how some of her classmates were trying to bully her and how she dealt with it.

Actually, this gave me pause since I knew she was going through a rough time with some kids ever since she told the principal that one of the kids (let’s call him JD) was saying nasty things and throwing things at another (let’s call him AD). AD was in tears but JD was on a roll and everyone just stood by laughing..that is until my daughter decided to call the principal to break it up. My daughter knew she could not handle JD on her own so she called someone who could.

The backlash for what she did was immediate.

Who she thought were her friends went up to her and asked why she called the principal over and got JD in trouble. They called her a “snitch”, that they would never trust her again, that she would never survive high school, that she was just trying to get attention, and that she is a teacher’s pet.

Whatever name she was called, my daughter stood her ground.  She asked her accusers what they would do if it was their sister or brother that was being bullied.  Would they just stand by?  Or what if they saw a murder happening, what would they just keep it to themselves?

Not sure how the battle of wills ended but as she was telling me this story, I could see the steely look of conviction in her eyes and it was then and there that I realized that my daughter is STRONG. Somehow, somewhere, she learned to stand strong for what she believes in.

….and then she said “I’m sure bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They are all around us and we just have to deal with them.”

Interesting.

I think I agree. I would think that bullies are not isolated to the playground…they could happen in the workplace as well.

The difficult part of workplace bullying may be recognizing that you are being bullied!

Let’s think about that for a minute….

Imagine this….

Your supervisors yells and accuses you of not doing your job, for leaving early, or showing up late and other insidious deeds you are apparently guilty of. Your supervisor’s angry voice is interspersed with profanities and for added effect, papers are thrown around on the desk.

You know the accusations are without merit and will not stand up in court in the event you are wrongfully dismissed.

Would this be workplace bullying?

Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

I guess if this has only happened once, then I would probably chalk it up to heat of the moment, a momentary lapse of judgement or maybe low blood sugar…

Now consider this….

What if….say, in addition to the above case and on a regular basis, the supervisor makes you feel stupid in public, says profanities to attendees during meetings, or talks about people behind their backs, or will give you work that sets you up for failure so you would leave, or coerces you to put favourable insights in employee satisfaction survey.

Would this be workplace bullying…? or just normal office politics gone crazy?

Whatever name you put on this, this supervisor is definitely not someone you want to work for.

Even if you wanted to report these incidences, I don’t believe there would be an appetite for such confrontation…especially when  you have bills to pay.

The sad part about workplace bullying is that the backlash would likely not be immediate but rather very slow and painful….and the stress of dealing with such a roller coaster at work will likely take a toll over your health, both mentally and physically.

I feel for those  who are unfortunate enough to be in this position since the feeling of hopelessness AND helplessness must seem insurmountable. Anxiety and depression may become constant companions much like unwanted visitors who have overstayed their welcome.

Fear is probably the main factor behind one’s inability to act in these circumstances….fear of losing one’s job, fear of not getting another job, fear of looking like a failure, fear of what people are going to say, fear of going out of one’s comfort zone, fear of the uncertainty and the unknown.

I must admit, that is a lot of fear to carry around inside your head.

So, what would you do?

My daughter’s way is face it head on and damn the consequences.  As for me, I am not sure how I would deal with bullying in the office (or anywhere for that matter!) but I certainly wish for all of her courage if and when I find myself in such a dire situation.

As she finished her milk and brushed away the crumbs,  I could not help but be proud that she is growing up to be an admirable young lady….

I also thought that maybe we should have more cookies with milk over this summer….

Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

The injustice of it all…

My daughter got an A on her school essay about Canadian history. However, instead of being happy with her mark, she felt that she did not deserve it and thought that compared to a fellow classmate’s piece, it was just an A- or just a solid B+.

“JD should have gotten a higher mark than me but Mr.S gave me a better mark because everyone thinks I am one of his favourite students.”

I have always known Mr.S to be a fair teacher and so I would not put a lot of weight on that reasoning.  He would have taken all the factors into consideration–the perspectives presented, the flow of the writing, the research gathered and conclusions reached. After reading the essay, I thought it was deserving of the A.

But, let’s step back for a minute.

What if…someone you did not perceive to deserve such accolades but due to favouritism, received more opportunities than others?

Not quite fair, is it?

This is of course assuming that your perspective is accurate that they do not deserve to be the favourite and the opportunities in question are truly opportunities that everyone would die for…

I recall a recent conversation with one of my closest friends from school …the promotion she was working hard for was given to a more junior person (let’s call him Junior) who always went for coffee with the boss, did not rock the boat and followed whatever was asked of him. Whatever his work ethic was, I did not know and my friend was not in the mood to tell me.

“I went to MIT and Wharton! Junior went to a small college in the US!”

“I had all these ideas and he had none!”

“He made all these mistakes that cost millions but no consequences!”

At any rate, the comparisons went on and on and all one sided. I don’t think she even spared a thought of how Junior must feel…perhaps he doesn’t really want to be the favoured one? I am not entirely sure if all of it were true or even relevant but at that time, it was not a good idea to interrupt her rant..

Sound familiar?

Last I heard from my dear friend, she quit and moved to a better job where she makes loads more money…and more importantly, where favoritism is not as crippling. She is happier and I’m extremely glad that all turned out fine for her.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where it doesn’t impact yourself directly but you may have to take on more work to help the favoured one out?

Or how about when the favoured one has a protective shield and is immune to any consequences while the ordinary people have to watch out for their own backs?

I hear lots of these types of indignant stories….in the elevator, on the train to and from work, while waiting in line at Starbucks…and almost always involves the workplace.

So, what is one to do when faced with such injustice?

I personally think…do nothing.

It is what it is.

I think it is part of our human nature to indulge in favoritism and try as you might to change someone’s perspective about their favorite person, you cannot do anything until that person is ready to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them.

My daughter says “sounds like a defeatist attitude to me.”

Is it?

I don’t believe so. Doing nothing does not mean that I consider favoritism in the workplace to be okay. On the contrary. It does a great disservice to everyone in the team and no one wins. However, most of the time, one cannot do anything about it.

So, I accept that it is unfair but it is out of my control. Continue doing a good job and move on. Focus on something else more important outside of work and move on.

Of course, if it becomes intolerable, doing what my dear friend did would be the best course of action….leave a potentially toxic environment and hope that you find greener pastures.

In the perfect world, we would all be the favoured ones….but sadly, the world is not perfect.

Accept and move on.

Debbie.