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At the Threshold – Liminality and New Roles

I began a new role at a new organization a few weeks ago, and I’m once again appreciating the unique and precious experience of being in a liminal space.

The concept of liminality comes from anthropology, and refers to a finite period in which we stand with one foot in a new literal or metaphorical place and identity, and one foot out in our old place and identity. We are still an outsider, but are in the process of deliberately becoming an insider. This is a special, fluid, and confusing time, one in which our understanding is incomplete, and our new role is still solidifying. In a liminal period, we still lack much of the context that insiders have, which means our understanding of the new is incomplete. But this lack of shared history with other insiders (and often the assumptions that shared history creates) can sometimes help us briefly see with greater clarity than the insiders.

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Where the Cracks Come From

Burnout. Like a particularly unforgettable destination, those of us who’ve paid a visit nod knowingly to one another. No matter how long ago it was, we recall the familiar landmarks of our journey with easy clarity. And we never want to go back.

And yet, earlier this year I found myself retracing my steps along the route to burnout. The déjà vu gave way to a gnawing anger at myself. I was older, even a little wiser! How could I let this happen again?

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You Are What You Read

We are awash in great writing. There’s never been a time in history when so many have had access to so much high-quality content, often for no more than the price of a monthly data plan.  As an avid reader, this is a blessing and a curse. I’ve failed again and again to deliberately direct my attention to the things I plan to read, rather than be distracted by enticing articles or blog posts floating along in the current of my Twitter feed.

One of the strategies that’s helping me get better at this has been outsourcing my reading decisions to trusted curators by subscribing to their newsletters. I route these newsletters into a folder in my Gmail inbox and work through them on the weekend. This batching process allows me to scan any links shared in these newsletters in one go and decide which, on balance, seems most relevant, interesting, and thus worth the investment of my reading time.

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Cancer & Resilience in the Workplace: an Interview with Alyssa Burkus

Alyssa Burkus is the Head of Learning Strategy at Actionable, the founder of ShiftWisdom, a cancer survivor, a brilliant and hilarious colleague, and a dear friend of mine. I’ve learned so much from watching her navigate her lymphoma diagnosis, treatment, and recovery  –  about what a bad ass she is, about lymphoma, and about what to do (and what not to do) to support a colleague with cancer.

She and I have had lots of amazing discussions over the years about change, learning, and resilience in the workplace, but I’ve been particularly fascinated by the many parallels that Alyssa has drawn between these topics and her most recent experience with cancer. I wanted to invite you to share in that conversation.

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The Utility of Self-Doubt

For a long-time I took self-doubt as a signal that I lacked knowledge or ability. This was particularly difficult to untangle because early in my career (and at regular intervals since) self-doubt has coincided with a lack of knowledge or ability. But untangling these two things (self-doubt and actual capability) was important, because the relationship isn’t causal, and continuing to believe that it was may have prevented me from capitalizing on the value of self-doubt.

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Organizational Microclimates

I was in San Francisco for work last weekend.  It was great. San Francisco is the perfect city for people that hate being hot, hate being cold, and that love being angry all the time. That’s because of its microclimates. Due to hilly terrain and oceanic currents, weather conditions can vary dramatically between different pockets within the city.

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Change. I Don’t Buy It.

Among the many workplace phrases that I would like to make illegal is “getting buy-in”. It’s almost always paired “WIIFM”, which stands for “what’s in it for me?”, and is short-hand for the way we imagine a totally average employee who is also a diabolically shrewd and calculating villain assessing our carefully crafted change initiative or program implementation.

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Beneath the Veneer

Everyone wants to improve their brand. Hardly anyone wants to improve themselves.

I get it. I love to exercise, but will be the first to admit that buying workout clothes is more fun than actually getting myself to the gym. Writing about having difficult conversations is infinitely more enjoyable than actually having them. Talking about your great company culture is much simpler than figuring out how to make sure it lives up to your description every day.

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Civility at Work: Should We Just Do It?

The costs of incivility in the workplace are easily felt, though perhaps harder to quantify. Calls for civility then, a common refrain lately in and out of the workplace, seem like common sense. But is that definitely the case?

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Flexible Work and the Meritocracy Myth

I was at SHRM’s Annual Conference in Chicago last week, speaking about how HR can support effective remote work. I’ve given different versions of this talk in a few contexts, but one of my core messages is always that remote work (in any form, be it fully remote teams or roles, or a ‘work from home’ policy) cannot succeed if it is layered over a low-trust work environment.

When I speak about this topic, I share a few symptoms of low-trust as it relates to remote work, and one of them is an organization in which managers are free to treat ‘work from home’ as a reward, rather than understanding and applying a clearly defined business reason for committing to remote work/’work from home’ as an organization.

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