I sat in bed rubbing my eyes, trying to wake up. The clock read 6:29 am. Europe was well into their day. After navigating a tricky conflict the day before, my energy tank was dangerously low. I longed to stay in bed but five urgent issues loomed in Slack. I lumbered out of bed, slipped into a pair of pants and a nice sweater, forcing mental exhaustion to the back of my mind. Pushing back my own concerns was just part of leadership. This was one morning but it could have been any number of them as a leader.
Emotional fatigue was a daily occurrence so I thought nothing of it at the time. When I left the company, I was closer to the edge of burnout than I’d ever been. The impact was total: my physical, mental and emotional health were all compromised. I couldn’t work full time for several months. I even contemplated leaving the industry all together. Eventually I found my way back to full health and excitement for my work. Still, I wondered how I’d gotten so close to the burnout edge. …
“I’m complaining too much. I’m stomping around like an angry child who doesn’t get their way. I need to find a new way of interacting instead of loudly complaining when I don’t agree with a decision.”
A new leader confided this to me a few months after their promotion to VP. I applaud their self awareness. They aren’t alone — many new leaders grapple with the transition to having more authority in an executive role. Leaders often long for more authority and when they get it they don’t always know how to wield it. Sometimes they go too far with it, directing and micromanaging the team. This is a common mistake that’s talked about often. Leaders can also shy away from their authority leaving them feeling disempowered rather than in charge. This was the case new leader who confessed to stomping around and complaining often. Once this leader realized they felt disempowered despite their authority, they were able to change their behavior. …
A shiny new year has unfurled, a blank canvas rolled out in front of us. New beginnings help us make plans. This can feel like we’ve got things under control. 2021 is unlike other years. The world feels more chaotic than years past. Everything feels like it’s hanging in the atmosphere unresolved.
A virus ripping through communities, leaping over oceans and crossing the globe. A changing political landscape. An unsteady economy that companies try to surf long enough to stay alive until the world stabilizes.
These are just a few of the external pressures the team is facing. They’re dealing with Zoom fatigue from wall-to-wall video calls each day. They’re learning how to navigate conflict without being able to resolve it face to face. They’re teaching their children at home between meetings, they don’t know when they’ll be able to go back to school. They wonder if this mysterious illness will invade them and if they’ll be hospitalized. They miss their parents, their siblings, their friends — unsure when they can see or hug them again. They’re worried they won’t have a job in a month or be unable to pay their bills. …
Daydreaming is part of the human experience. It helps us get through difficult days, giving us hope for the future. As kids, we daydream about fantastical scenarios of our adult life. We dream of living in Africa, running wild with our pet cheetah. Instead, we grow up to live in Brooklyn hunched over a laptop 12 hours a day.
When we want something, we imagine how good we’ll feel, how having this thing will change our lives. When reality doesn’t match our imagination, we’re disappointed. One of the best film representations of the chasm between expectations and reality is 500 Days of Summer. In the film Tom spends the better part of a year courting Summer. He puts all his hopes and dreams into building a relationship with her. She breaks up with him. He’s bitterly disappointed. A few months later they run into each other at a wedding. After they spend the evening laughing, dancing and reminiscing about their past she invites him to a party at her apartment. He arrives excited about the promise of a reunion. He imagines all the fun they’ll have, expecting they’ll be back together for good. His expectations fall apart almost as soon as he enters the apartment. Instead of a passionate kiss she greets him with a friendly hug. Rather than spending the party arm-in-arm he pours stiff drinks by himself. The final gut punch comes when he realizes she’s engaged to someone else. Reality takes over, his hopes for the relationship dashed. …
Was it unlucky
to be born with lungs
to push air
through twisty canals
narrowing one night
until my face
the bells of a a new year
had just rung
my parents sped across freeways
the ER accepted its youngest patient
heaves of relief
my place on this planet
Was it unlucky
to have caught a virus
my body transforming it into
a virulent strep
invading my fibrous core
producing a torrent of fluid
creating a vise grip around
squeezing it shut
laying in cardiac ICU
of impending extinction
saved at the last moment
by a sprightly doctor. …
I was never one of those kids who played with Ouija boards. Was it a game or a spooky prediction tool? I didn’t know and frankly, trying to predict the future scared me. I was afraid it might predict someone’s death, or my own. I stayed far away.
That changed when, as an adult, I turned to Tarot cards. I went to my first reading in an occult bookstore in New Orleans as a fun afternoon diversion. I left a believer and purchased my first Tarot deck that day. I told myself I was just having fun — but after a failed relationship and job loss, a little part of me wanted the cards to predict my future. I wanted to know if my bad luck would continue. I wanted more control over my future, or at least to know if something bad was coming. …
Just what dwells in your heart?
Which way does it bend?
In domination of others?
of earth’s resources
of her creatures
of communion, recognition
of a connecting line
through birds, beasts, craggy crevices
humans, eras, the ages
the continuity of existence
from the paleozoic to the mesozoic
to grapple — with those
or do you
allow them to run
wild through your veins
to swallow you whole
invade your membrane
subsume everything in its path?
Have you excised
let it lay
like a disembodied appendage
believing it a useless organ
like your appendix
an ancient, no longer necessary
an obscured door in a dark closet.
like an accessory
when it suits
when it doesn’t
casting it aside
an orphaned organ
within an inch of its existence. …
Rob’s product roadmaps were brilliant, pieces of artwork. He was diligent, spent years learning every aspect of product management. He rose through the company like a rocket. A sudden departure left a leadership void, catapulting him into head of product. A dream role. He was thrilled to land this coveted position at a respected growing company. He went to sleep with product roadmaps lingering in his head, moving the pieces around for the most company impact. The CEO told him to make the product into a must-have for their customers. Rob was certain his roadmap was the key.
Tension grew rapidly between Rob and the engineering team. That roadmap became a source of tension. Rob’s style more directive than collaborative. Suggestions for features, timing and any aspect of the roadmap went ignored. The engineers complained to their managers, then in Slack channels, even creating private channels to strategize alternate strategies. Headstrong and stubborn, Rob saw the team as haters of his vision. Feeling disrespected, he grew frustrated, often transmitting his emotions publicly. Even though Rob said he was open, his eyes rolls and defensive tone betrayed him. Other times he vowed to change the roadmap but never did. Every meeting grew more contentious. Finally the team appealed to the CEO. Rob diminished concerns about the division his approach created. He wrote off the complaints as gossip and trolling behavior. He doubled down on his philosophy to “ignore the haters” suggesting the CEO do the same. …
I invested in my relationships like others invest in stock.
I transformed my talkative nature into being an adept listener. I learned breathing exercises to stay calm during conflict. I became more collaborative with others by using the skill of “yes, and” I mastered during a year of improv classes. When conflict brewed, I leaned into listening to their point of view rather than advancing my own. I focused on what I loved about others, giving plenty of space for their humanity, even when it ignored my own. I gave patience and understanding, sometimes swallowing my own pain. I made sure others felt understood even when I didn’t feel the same. I was proud of being emotionally generous with others. …
Libraries have always felt like home. As a 12-year-old, I preferred reading to kickball. Getting lost in stories helped me escape to worlds beyond my suburb that abutted Detroit. The weekly trip to the library was my favorite. I consumed every book I could tearing through the stacks at a ferocious pace. I read it all — I even read the encyclopedia. One day I discovered a new shelf. Tucked all the way in the corner by the window, it held a treasure trove of books on great leaders. Each week I’d race over to that sunny corner to explore their lives: Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Susan B. Anthony. I wanted to understand how they led movements, made important decisions and what drove them to serve others. …