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?
I am not good at sleeping. I used to be, but as I’ve gotten older I seem to have forgotten how. That is one reason that I was captivated when I heard Jocelyn Glei’s interview with Rubin Naiman, a sleep psychologist and professor, on her podcast Hurry Slowly. A combination of the subject matter, Naiman’s earnestness, and his soothing tone makes the episode a sort of ‘meta’ experience. I get calm and sleepy every time I hear it, and so I’ve listened to it a lot.
I’ve been breaking a lot of my rules lately, and I paid for it this week.
No coffee after 1pm
Log off Twitter an hour before bed
Only skip the gym if you’re sick or in (non-DOMS) pain
Bring your own lunch
These are small things. They sound pretty easy. Inconsequential even. Breaking one does not result in immediate calamity. But I know through trial and error that ignoring one or more of these for even a week or two leads to quick fraying of the cord that tethers me to my capacity as a functioning human being.
I’m working on policies right now, which is always slightly depressing. Developing policies always feels like a lose-lose situation. At least some of them are necessary, but no one loves them. Organizations tend to view policy in very binary ways, either embracing it too tightly as a protective talisman against risk, or rejecting it outright as being oppressive. On its own, policy isn’t either of those things (protective or oppressive). That all depends on how its applied.
The only job I’ve ever been fired from was at The Body Shop, and I totally deserved it. In my last year of high school I had enough credits to need only a handful of classes, so I got two retail jobs at the local mall to pay for car insurance and cigarettes (gross, I know). The Body Shop was a tight-knit collective of diligent young women who seemed to re-invest most of their paycheques back into Body Shop products. They loved the ethos of the company, and completed intensive product knowledge training that allowed them to chirpily recite the ingredients on demand for any one of our vast array of aromatic offerings.
I did not fit in.
Adaptive. Agile. Responsive.
Whether you believe that the world is changing faster than ever or not, I suspect there is near-universal agreement among leaders that organizations must become more nimble to succeed.
However, as is often the case, the desire for an organization to be something different seems to be strangely disconnected from the doing it will entail at the individual level. That is to say, adaptive and agile sound like fantastic destinations when considered in isolation from the daily practices required to get us there.
To the untrained, distracted, or overworked observer, rebels and cynics can easily be confused at first glance. This is particularly true in a habitat populated by otherwise homogeneous fauna. Their non-standard vocalizations and often contradictory postures might result in confusion unless further observation is undertaken.
Before you get out your binoculars, and this metaphor grows unwieldy, can I suggest taking a moment to reflect on the image that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘rebel’.
As humans, there are certain common aspects of existence that we are all supposed to dislike. Mother-in-laws, the Department of Motor Vehicles, final exams, root canals…and networking.
“I know I have to network to get a job, but it’s so hard.”
As a textbook introvert, I used to take these lamentations to mean that I must not be doing it right, because, well, I rather enjoyed “networking”. And that couldn’t be right, could it?
Being a knowledge worker is so 2016. At a recent event, a speaker described our economy as being on the threshold of the ‘post knowledge era‘ – a period in which companies will achieve competitive advantage not by accruing the most data, but by honing the ability to focus on the most salient information, and coax relevant insights and analysis from it. While AI will increasingly be used for routine, repeatable tasks which can be governed by rules, our human intelligence is still unmatched at using context and intuition to reach non-linear insights, and in a world awash in information our attention (rather than knowledge) will become the scarce resource.
I’ve just spent a week working with a few of my Actionable colleagues on the other side of the world. This gave me cause to reflect on both the obvious and intangible elements that contribute to our exceptionally collaborative team culture. It also meant that I had a lot of time on several airplanes to catch up on my reading list. Something that had been in my Pocket list for awhile was this short article by Olivia Godhill about employee happiness. I wrote about this topic years ago, and have since mostly ignored the employee happiness hype, but it continues to be an alarmingly popular aspiration for many in HR.