Happy to be here … let me introduce myself:
My name is Mildred Lynn McDonald. I hail from the bonnie shores of Nova Scotia, Canada and this is my first post as part of the UCSC blog community. Last month I moved to Los Altos, so as you can imagine, skipping The Great Canadian Winter whilst enjoying the sun-kissed days in the South Bay area, is just awesome!
The reason that I am writing for UCSC is that I’m eager share with you what I have learned and experienced about the softer-side of project management in a career that has spanned coast-to-coast. I’ve opened new departments at hospitals, run national marketing for commodities and computer technology products, done personal PR for one of Cisco’s top six people and stepped gaily off into complimentary medicine, green tech, and most recently a pioneering new area called healing conversations.
When people first meet me, I often joke that I used to be “a suit”. Meaning that up until about eight years ago, I was driven, and organized (yes siree, loved a good checklist!) and lived and breathed everything about running a project successfully. This all changed when I saw success wasn’t just following a critical path on a Gantt chart.
So what changed and ultimately improved my ability to manage projects with a greater sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and gusto? I learned to understand and nourish my professional self better and in doing so, shifted my perception of project management from being a science to project management being a both science and an art.
Disappointed? 5 Insightful Ways to Rise Again
As a professional life coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with all kinds of project managers including business owners, health practitioners, corporate personnel, and everything wild and wonderful in-between.
Across the board, I’ve noticed a pattern that there are two key human (or art related) conditions that consistently drain and distract people in the work place (… because, after all, we are all first and foremost, human beings).
The first condition is disappointment. Unless you are a bona fide Zen Master, everyone experiences some degree of disappointment and regret in the work place. We know this innately, because our culture is peppered with expressions like “don’t cry over split milk”, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, and the tried and true, “this too will pass.”
How we choose to acknowledge and navigate through our workplace disappointment, with the strongest suit being what we chose to make it mean about ourselves and our co-workers, can basically empower or derail you over and over again.
For example, this morning I was talking to a well-seasoned project manager in Newfoundland, Canada about work place disappointment. She shared that even with her years of experience and well-honed skill set; she was experiencing a good bout of disappointment regarding a project that she is tackling. Things like failure to get buy-in, changing funding, or diminished timelines (gasp!), still manage to get the best of her and drain her energy, especially in the shower or driving on the highway when the mind is free to spin away. Even before the work day begins, disappointment casts a shadow over the project, zapping personal productivity. Yuck.
On the bright side, here are five scenarios (plus antidotes, for your consideration) that I’ve noticed and tracked in my Life Coaching practice that might help you or someone you know navigate through a disappointing work experience – quickly:
Scenario 1: Play It Again, Sam
About 35% of people try to gain clarity about a disappointing project management situation by getting lost in an endless cycle of what if (what if I did this, what if I said that). It is like walking into a wall over and over again!
If you are in this category, the good news is that this draining, repetitive energy can be shifted. I’ve found that the most effective self-speak to employ is as follows: “I did the best that I could with the information at hand, so when there is more information, I’ll plug it in. Until then, I’ll relax and let it go.”
Scenario 2: Busy as a Bee
About 15% of people try to outrun work-related disappointment by distracting themselves with a frenzy of shopping, eating, and other social activities. In fact, anything goes as long as it resonates with “busy, busy, busy”.
If you are in this category, the good news is that this draining, distracting energy can often be shifted by reconnecting with Nature, breathing deeply, centering yourself, plus cultivating patience and perspective. If you are not sure how to do this, start walking.
Scenario 3: I am an Island
From what I’ve observed in my practice, there are about 15% of people who decide that they “never, ever want to be disappointed again” and create a protective barrier around themselves. This approach is akin to “numbing out”. I say this because although the illusion of the protective barrier may keep out work place disappointment, it also keeps out all the good and synergistic things in your work life too, setting the stage for disconnection, cynicism, and even bitterness.
If you are in this category, the good news is that this draining, protective energy can be shifted by tapping into personal courage, tempered with a sense of maturity and responsibility. In essence, the antidote is choosing to be true to yourself, which means taking down the walls, centering your core, standing tall, and allowing the natural ebb and flow of life to move through you as you navigate the situation.
Scenario 4: Who Me?
I’ve found that about 20% of people try to deflect the blame of a work disappointment to others; in these cases, anyone will do because the focus is not discernment, honesty and resolution, but on creating lots of smoke and mirrors around the work event.
If you are in this category, the good news is that this draining, deflective energy can be shifted by becoming aware of the automatic response to create a distraction and asking down-to-earth, character-building questions such as: “How does blaming others for my work disappointment serve me?”
Scenario 5: Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Interestingly enough, I’ve observed that about 20% of people in a disappointing situation simply acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers right now, and trust that they will come in. Being in-sync with this requires a steady heart, trust in yourself and in the Bigger Picture. I share this with you because although I hear many people talking about trusting self and the Bigger Picture, I have noticed that this is not always the case when an unsettling work event manifests in their lives. (As you may have guessed, unless you or your colleagues are living your talk, you often shift or drift by default into Scenario 1, 2, 3 or 4).
Many people try to be stoic, hide, or deny their feelings of disappointment in the workplace. Perhaps they view this as being strong. As a point for consideration, I have found that suppressing disappointment hurts the person on many levels. There is a wise adage that says “If you don’t cry; your body cries”; meaning that your suppressed feelings of disappointment will always show up somewhere else, often in the form of a stress or illness in your body.
From what I’ve observed, the best path forward in the workplace is to honestly admit to yourself that you are disappointed by a turn of events and letting the feelings that go along with this disappointment express themselves. Sometimes this means being sad, or pausing to reflect, or crying or simply being silent. The good thing about this emotional cleansing is that once the feelings of disappointment have been expressed in a healthy way, the reckoning is over. It is almost as if there is a quota of half-a-cup of tears available for each disappointment, and once those tears are spent, the energy clears.
On the upside, with a little mindfulness, time and attention, most people can successfully break an energy draining pattern of dealing with work place disappointment and replace it with a healthy, vibrant, life-supporting one. The net-net being a positive, empowering impact on the quality of your “worklife”. Remember the second syllable is really more important than the first!