For many years, I've held the belief that we shape our own work situations and experiences. And by that, I mean the story we tell ourselves or the actions we take. True empowerment comes from assuming personal responsibility, examining our role, and understanding how we contribute to the way we perceive and navigate what's happening around us.
In this episode, join me as I share ways we can take responsibility of our working experiences instead of assigning blame to external factors.
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Hi everyone, and welcome to Making Censor Work. Today's podcast is on a slightly different slant. I want to share with you and explore the idea of how we can take responsibility for our experience. of our working lives. I covered this briefly in a recent episode on 11 ways to be happy and successful at work. And quite a few people have commented to me about it. And it's something that I've been working on a lot in my own working life, and I work on it with clients. And so I thought it warranted its own episode. I'm going to share a personal story and then I'm going to build the idea from there, sharing really what I believe, which is that we can change our experience of work if we're prepared to be brutally honest with ourselves, particularly about how we are creating the situation. For many years, I've seen and believed that we create our own situations and our own experience of work. And by that, I mean the story we tell ourselves or the actions we take. And I believe that our experience of work is as much about that as it is about our bosses or our organizations. But what I see is, in myself and others, that we find it so easy to blame the things external to ourselves, but I think it's through taking personal responsibility, that looking at what's my part in it, how am I creating the way I'm experiencing what's happening, that we have so much more power and choice about our experience. Before I go into that, I do want to acknowledge that by saying this, I'm not ignoring the fact that we may of course be working in environments that are really unhealthy. We may work with people who are bullying us. We may have a toxic work culture, whatever we would describe that as. We may be working in the face of implicit or explicit bias, discrimination, or we may be working in an organization where we're extremely underpaid, overworked, and stuck because of our financial or practical constraints. So I'm not ignoring that. I'm not ignoring All the difficult things that we see happening in organizations. I'm really acknowledging that that is very real. But I also believe, that there are choices we have about how we approach the situation or how we experience it. My thinking about this was crystallized when I heard a quote from Jerry Colonna. He is a serial entrepreneur, but also now coaching senior executives and mainly leaders in startups. And he has a question that he asks his coaching clients to ask themselves. This is the question. In what way might I be complicit? in creating the situation I'm in? And we would say it again. In what way might I be complicit in creating the situation? I love this question because even if there are so many external factors going on, we can look at the part we're playing. And see what we can do about this. We can go on a journey of personal inquiry into our own experience. We can face into ourselves and explore our part in the situation. And even if we discover that our part is in the situation, that we're staying in a job and we should leave and then we leave, we discover that. But so often it's about things that are about us that are creating the difficulty in the conversation. Maybe we're struggling with a colleague, but actually it's because that colleague reminds us of something that happened to us at university or at school or in our childhood. It's all connected and we have choice about how we see that. So let me share with you my example and use the drama triangle to explain this. So the drama triangle was developed by Cartman and he said that when we weren't in our best adult space, so in a good Even temperament. There are three, there are three places that we can go. We can feel like we're the victim. We're hard done by. Or we can look for somebody to rescue us. Come save me. Or we can be the persecutor, the bully in fact, by Blaming and saying, you did this to me, you created this situation. And in the situation I'm going to talk about, I'll share where I was and where I go in these places. But I'd like to say that I have a natural victim. So I can very easily feel sorry for myself and end up in that space. And then I end up moving to persecutor, blaming others for what's happening, often in a passive aggressive way. And then I say, please come rescue me, please help me. And we're all of us doing this at times. And you'll probably, as you hear this, be able to witness it in some behavior of other people at times, but we're doing it. We need to look to ourselves first. So here's an example of how this played out with me with my own drive for work. So when I was in my late thirties, I was in a full time job that I loved. I worked in healthcare and then I worked and moved into consultancy. And in both of these situations, I Worked really, really hard and I had this fantasy that when I left those jobs, I would have work life balance. When I'd been in those jobs, I had really done a lot of blaming and a lot of feeling sorry for myself, being a victim, working too hard, not liking this or really just being pretty unpleasant actually and then sometimes looking to my bosses to rescue me, to come save me, to make the situation different. And this is even though these were jobs I'd applied for, I'd been promoted, I'd sought promotion, so I had been moving in the organization, but I was still in this space. Then in 2001, I did, I went out, set my own business up, and I remember thinking, yeah, this is it, I'm going to crack this work life balance thing, and I'm going to work less and just work part time maybe. And I remember about six months in thinking, what's happened? I'm still working all the time. And if we fast forward nearly 23 years, 22 and a half years, I'm still there. I'm still in that struggle with work life balance. It still eludes me and it's because of me. It's me. I'm creating the situation. In those first six months when I started I had to really face this reality that this was down to me and that It's my inability or my desire or my drive to work hard that creates the situation I'm in and still now I notice myself feeling hard done by I've got so much work or Blaming others. You're not looking after this enough or something. Sorry team and I'm guessing I make other people miserable with that but You know, this is my choice. This is my creation. It's down to me to work out. What is it about the way I work that means that I work too hard, get tired, and then become miserable? It's my choice. It's down to me. So this is a, uh, I just want to say a small example. It doesn't feel small to me because I'm still trying to work on it. But an example of how we can be in a situation We're blaming, pointing the finger elsewhere, but actually it's about us. And when we see that it's about us, when we see that those external circumstances are there, they are facts, but it's the story that we're creating about it, it's our relationship to those experience that's creating our misery, then we've got choice. Because then we can say, what part am I playing in how I experience this and what can I do with it? So let's stay with this, I've got too much to do example, because I'm guessing some of you might be familiar with this story and most of us at some stage in our career will have an experience of this and as I said, it's an easy place to see I've got too much to do and to point and move the blame for that externally Before we stay with that, I do just want to have a little rant. You maybe heard me do this before. I do also believe that modern organizations and job roles are not good for us. So, most people have a job that's too big, there are too many expectations, it's impossible to get everything done, we're on calls all the time, we've got our phones with us, we're expected to look at our emails, we've got a constant nagging sense of things being unfinished, and we're not really... feeling like we go home having done a job well done. So we are in an endless loop of pressure to do more in less time. And I see this and I know it's true for everyone. And I think we can still think about how we relate to it differently. So acknowledging that, that's the external circumstances. Let's think about our part in how we can shift that, how we can change it. So I'm acknowledging that, not ignoring all of that going on. So let's come back to this workload, too much to do example. So as I've said, the easiest thing is to look to others to sort it out. But I believe we do owe it to ourselves to look at ourselves and see what's going on. So here are a list of possible reasons why we might be having this experience. And I think when I look at this list, I can tell you that all of them apply to me. So, uh, they're all true for me. The first one is perfectionism. So we feel we need to get something right. So we do it until we think it's perfect. Second is that we have a strong personal drive. We feel this kind of internal need to be achieving, moving forward, doing hard work because we find it rewarding even though it tips us over into this overwork situation. Maybe we're not very good at delegating so we hold on to things that we could offer to others and my view about delegation is that if we're not delegating, we're not helping other people grow by giving them opportunities to do that work. We could have a please people driver so we may be doing things to keep others happy or we have a fear of failure. This is a bit linked to affection but we keep working really hard in case it falls apart or some coaching clients I've had who've been made redundant in the past are frightened of that happening now and because of that fear they really work extremely hard. A bit linked to drive, we may have an underlying ambition. Um, I think this is what happened to me when I was in organizations. I wanted to get into those roles and so I drove myself in order to achieve that. It could be that we have inability to say no. We maybe have some lack of assertiveness so we're taking on work that we don't need to be doing. We could just have poor planning or time management or we could be struggling with our focus so we're constantly distracted so we're not getting things done. And finally, we could actually have some personal commitments or things that are happening that are affecting our working life and so on. You can probably think that there are a few things for you that are affecting this situation. So even if our job is poorly designed or our boss is bullying us to take more, when we start to be curious about what we're contributing, We actually move first of all off the drama triangle into adult and then we begin to think okay I've got some choice here. What am I going to do about the situation? So If it's perfectionism, am I going to find a way to learn to put things down before that perfect? in my mind. And when we do this level of inquiry or maybe calling it radical honesty with ourselves, we have got options to change. We can look for those and choose how to do it. And even if, in the inquiry, we see that our job is poorly designed, there's objectively too much to do. And we can see that we're also a people pleaser and find it hard to say no. We can then negotiate that. We can go and have a conversation with our boss if our boss is open to that. And it's a very different conversation. Instead of me going and saying, this job's really badly designed, I'm going and saying, can we talk about the job? I'm noticing I've got too much to do. I know some of it, I think, is about the way the job's designed. And some of it is because I'm not very good at saying no. And I'd like it to be different. I would like to stop struggling, to stop feeling like I'm chasing my tail all the time, and to see if we can do something about this together. I'll own my part of it, but can we also look at the organization's part of it? When we're doing this, we're not in blame, we're not in passive aggressive or aggressive behavior. And we're also saying, I see the situation for what it is, and I'm going to see what I can do about it, and I'm going to own the solution, I'm going to own my partner, and see if we can move forward. The thing for me, so if I think back to my situation, is that the more I've focused on this, the more choices I have, and the better I am at designing my working life, I will always work. I have good role models in the family, if my dad's still working in his 90s, I will always work. And, I think that I can get better and better and better at doing it in a more balanced way, in a more, a way that doesn't leave me tired, cranky, and exhausted. And this example here is just one example of the places that we can go to inquiry with ourselves about situations. So maybe we're working with a colleague and we're having a not great, reaction to this colleague. We can say, what is it about me that's being triggered? What is it about my history, my story, my values? Which of my buttons are they pressing? Because I can't change them. I can't do anything about that. The only thing I can do is take responsibility for my relationship to my experience of what's happening. That's all I can change. I can be curious about how to do this and I can... We can see all the difficult things that we have at work and look at how can I approach this differently? How can I feel differently about it? How can I think differently about it? And maybe that means I see, as I think about that, that I'm choosing to maybe stay passively in a job that really isn't working for me, or I'm loyal to an organization and I need to choose somewhere else. It's about seeing our part in it that's really important. It relates to so many things, you know, it can be about things like being overlooked for promotion and, and blaming instead of saying what part am I playing, or, struggling with wanting different opportunities in the organization, but not. seeing that maybe I could be creating those. I could be doing more to create them. So this is very powerful. It's about doing that personal inquiry, that radical honesty with ourselves and taking responsibility for not blaming, for not being the victim, but not wanting somebody to rescue us and saying, okay, if I'm an adult, what choices do I have? How can I go about this? Just as a final thought as we end, there is one piece about this that I want us to be a bit cautious about. As someone, myself, who has a tendency to take too much responsibility for things or to be overly self critical, if you're embracing this approach, it's also important that we don't end up in self blame, that we don't use this as an opportunity for our inner critic to have a field day telling us, look, you created that, you should just put up with it. So do be gentle and kind with yourself around that and if you're struggling with that, go and talk to somebody. Talk to a friend or a colleague and say, can you just help me get some perspective on this? Which part am I playing in it that I could change or which part is just my inner critic being a nag? So, if you take the belief, as I do, that work presents us with masses of lifelong opportunities for personal growth, this is one of them. And I encourage you to think about how you can think about situations that you're in, that you're maybe struggling a bit with, and think, what is my part in this? How am I complicit in this? And what could I do to bring about change?