What You’re Feeling is Burnout

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I felt it was time to speak about burnout.

Considering the year that we have all muddled through, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my developing burnout saga. First let me say, the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is possible that the roots may have already been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake. It is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a consultant, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. But, no one is immune. We seem to experience burnout as individuals — so its particular course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and possibly leave us unprepared.

Know that burnout will not look the same across contributors, and should be addressed when it is likely a factor. (See my targeted session here.)

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested like a thunderstorm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course. As a rule, I believe we opt to compensate and press on.

We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives.

We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our work lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from our responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when approaching burnout.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We have broken psychological agreements about work life with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability, is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to your well-being as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations a build stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

Do Our Relationships with Social Media Say More Than We Think?

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I seem to have developed the habit of personifying social media outlets.

That may sound a bit off. But trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve engaged in this strategy. As a consultant, I’ve always thought of organizations as having a distinct vibe or personality, separate from the clients that I meet. (Some are depressed. Others frenetic.) Over the years, I’ve developed a strong propensity to craft stories out of disjointed facts, observations and conversations. It may be a bad habit. Yet, it helps me makes sense of things at the start of a project, when there are one million details to consider.

This habit seems to have extended to social media. To be quite honest, I usually find Facebook tedious and bit needy. Instagram often feels fickle & hyped up on pretty places (which I truly enjoy, btw) & success-oriented quotes. LinkedIn nearly always feels focused & fair (I have more than my share of followers over there, so I am likely biased.). Twitter feels balanced on most days; a bit like my memory of my high school cafeteria at lunchtime, except for the realm of politics. You are clearly aware that all of the groups are present, but no one really cares if they hang out near you.

My assessment of a social media definitely impacts my willingness to enter into a relationship with them. My patience can be worn thin, just as I would feel when ready to leave a noisy party.

These days, I’m only willing to invest my time and trouble where I feel loosely accepted. I’ll scale back, if I have a clear and present sense that the algorithm is on a path to “ostracize” me. (I’m a proud sort.) I’ve also learned some hard lessons. When re-starting on Instagram, I re-shared a random photo of an old structure in London and the photographer reported me to the powers that be. This unfolded even though I had clearly attributed her, took the photo down immediately & tendered an apology. Turns out she was somewhat of a big deal over there. I explained that my articles are often shared without my direct permission, but if attributed I’m usually ok with it. But, alas this was her foul to call. The onus was on me.

Lesson learned: Don’t share great photos on Instagram? Well, I now know that Instagram is a business for many — and I whole-hardheartedly respect that.

If a coaching client were to ask me about this topic, I know how I would respond: Spend time where you feel uplifted. If something feels wrong, stay away. Build your personal brand where you feel aligned with the “vibe” & you can express yourself.

By now, you’re likely getting the sense that my relationships with social media bear a resemblance a Rorschach assessment. I concur. It is entirely possible that social media has re-ignited my teenage insecurities & I am projecting.

On the other hand, it may simply be a lack of stimulation during the marathon that is this pandemic.

I’m unsure.

You make the call.

Have you ever personified social media?

Share your experiences.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

First Jobs, Foundations & the Movies

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Our early experiences with work are foundational. We tend to write these jobs off as our careers progress, likely because of our age or the role. Yet, whether these occurred at 16 or 22, with a second look — there is always more there than meets the eye. While these roles may not correlate with what we do down the line, they offer opportunities to learn about people, expectations & environments. When I work with developing leaders, history is never ignored & always respected. The Core Intensive begins with exercises that explore the past, and first jobs (along with first bosses) — are often a common discussion topic. For better or worse, these experiences shape us.

The moment I turned 16, my father inquired about where I intended to work.

To be quite honest, this came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really discussed work in any concrete fashion until that moment. We did have frequent conversations about school work, most often chemistry and my assessment that I didn’t have the brain power to pass the course (he was having none of that). Yet, the expression on his face as he posed the question, let me know that the conversation was a serious one. I needed to find a job — and pronto.

Well, I did find that job.

Luckily, a friend let me know that the floor manager of a large, local movie theater was looking for recommendations to fill a role. It was my first job interview. Mrs. Killeen was an impressive individual, apart from her title & responsibilities — as I could feel her strength and experience during the interview. She informed me of duties; ensuring that all patrons had a ticket, helping them to their seats if necessary, keeping an eye on theater doors, aisles. She also explained that from the moment my employment started I was a part of a team, a representative of that business and a part of the theater workers union. (She also explained that my parents could come anytime “on the house”. I can recall how she would greet them like visiting diplomats, letting them pass through the velvet ropes.)

At 16 of course, the importance of all of this landed completely over my head.

The job included long hours on your feet and knowing your way around a broom & dustpan. In between Saturday matinées, you spent a great deal of time picking up popcorn containers and drink cups. Saturday evenings were often sold out and busy beyond belief. I felt sorry for my co-workers in the ticket booth & behind the refreshment counter. When a new blockbuster was released, it was a absolute madhouse. We would often have to shift patrons to make room for all ticket holders in a sold-out house, which had to be carried out with respect and some measure of authority. As you can imagine, we took the brunt of complaints. (That never got easier.)

Yet — the experience held glorious moments.

We would of course, see the same movie scores of times. To help the time pass, we would memorize the dialogue and take on the roles at the back of the theater. When we screened a comedy, I never tired of hearing a packed Saturday night crowd roaring in laughter. (Sometimes people were nearly rolling in the aisles.) That fed my soul somehow and I’ll never forget how that looked & felt. (Comedies remain my favorite genre.)

I learned much in that building, about the heart of work & how bringing a bit of joy to people’s lives is a reward in itself. When I did well, I was recognized. When I made mistakes, I was put on the right track. I formed strong bonds with colleagues. When I went off to college, I would come back to work on breaks. It was a solid place to come back to. It felt like home.

Of course, with time, everything ends. I recall hearing that Mrs. Killeen had retired.

The building no longer functions as a theater.

But, as I pass it on Orchard Lake road — my mind is alive with thoughts of Saturday nights, spilled popcorn and laughter.

What was your first work experience? What did you take away from it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Where We Are Now With Work

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There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan

I’ve not felt like writing in weeks. I have 45 open drafts. That’s a record (even for me).

There is a malaise that meets me at my desk on many mornings. I would characterize this as a lack of energy. A bit of resistance to do the work I normally love.  (Indeed, I am grateful to still have a role to occupy my mind.) I will hypothesize that the pace of both challenge and change in our world, has finally caught up with me.

Of course, none of us has all of the answers. We can only bring our collected knowledge and best intentions to forge ahead.

As I usually do, I’ve talked to others about their work as well — how it has changed (for better and worse), how it will remain so for some time, how we must adapt. What I’ve learned, is that we are entering a new phase of work life, “post” the arrival of Covid. The changes we are going through come with an element of loss and we should open to speak about all of it.

We are each affected differently, that goes without saying. But, as aptly expressed in this HBR article: “If we can name it, we can manage it.” I’ll start. You can join in the comments section if you wish.

I am quickly realizing that this crisis isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon. We are in this for the long-haul. Some of the elements of work life that once were — may never return. Some of the changes will be useful. Other changes will likely make us feel oddly out of sync. (We seem to be moving through a crash course in “digital transformation,” in real-time.)

I also know that we should draw from our foundation, our built work life core — to help us along. We must acknowledge what we can bring with us on this journey. More specifically — that we can bring along the good, as well as the challenging. (A strong nod to positive psychology here.) Bolstering our resolve with the positive, is vital. This may be a useful strategy in our arsenal to combat all of the work life twists and turns, yet to come.

What we’ve built.

We bring along the elements of our work lives that we have nurtured. The strong teams. The great colleagues. The challenge of the work. The healthy cultural landscapes.

These elements will help us adapt, help us face the changes with resilience.

Of course, when the dust settles we’ll have decide if we still fit — and at least assess where we find ourselves within our current organization. The outcomes of which will not be easy to predict. It is hard to know what choices (good or bad) an organization will make. What choices you must make. Yet, I do know that you should pause to re-evaluate constructs such as the psychological contract. Discuss it openly. Declare what you need to stay engaged and healthy. Managers should have an open and honest conversation with each one of their employees to take stock.

Ultimately, our world of work is now characterized by change.

To keep pace — look to your core.

Lean in to the great things you have built.

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker, who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. Her course, The Core Masterclass teach managers how to build core stability for themselves and their team.

5 Unexpected Things I’ve Learned About People, Work & Organizations

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Photo: @jamieinemo at Instagram

What we need to know about our line of work, can never be conveyed completely in a classroom setting.

Scores of valuable lessons are learned through our experiences. In some cases, they emerge as topic gaps. For example, a course entitled “consulting for success” was not a part of my curriculum. (It should have been.) In other cases, the guidance is shared, but delivered far too early — as we require a certain breadth of experience to comprehend its importance. (Only maturity brings this.)

Ultimately, we discover many of these vital lessons on our own.

On some occasions, just in the nick of time. On other occasions, that timing is not as fortunate.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned with time:

  1. No matter how driven or successful — work cannot be corralled into a neat, confined space.
    Early in my career, I was caught in an elevator with the most senior level employee in my department. (Her office was just a stone’s throw from mine and I would only see her breezing to and from meetings.) Normally stoic, on this particular day she was uncharacteristically open, “In this organization you need to learn to leave your personal life at the door. Remember that, Marla.”, as she huffed out of the elevator. As the doors closed, I was so struck by her admission that I forgot to exit. I realized years on, that work affects us broadly — because of its central importance in the operation of our everyday lives. Work-life balance is really more of an integration challenge. Moreover, when an organization ignores this fact, undo pressure and stress often develop. Everyone loses, as she likely felt in that moment.
  2. Never make assumptions about people how people feel about their work.
    I left school believing that my training and reasoning skills, could help me solve most of the encountered work life problems. However, that belief was inherently flawed. Over time, I came to realize that the true nature of someone else’s experience, isn’t obvious. The only way to gain access and understand that perspective, is to develop a trusting relationship and inquire. True feelings and dynamics are often shrouded — and leading with curiosity is vital.
  3. Growing pains aren’t just for kids. They apply to work life as well.
    My father was a family physician, so I was well versed concerning the pain experienced as tendons stretch to accommodate bone growth. I’ve also realized that organizations and careers paths, suffer from a similar dynamic. As individuals & organizations approach important inflection points, they must stretch to meet the challenge. This can become quite uncomfortable. My role is to help them through it.
  4. Goals which once motivated us, can also trip us up.
    If you’ve ever been stuck trying to force your way forward, you may have experienced this issue. Sometimes the goals that we establish for ourselves and seek, actually begin to hold us back. This happens when we see things one way — and cannot budge to see an alternative path. In some cases, it may be time to let the goal go.
  5. Authenticity isn’t always a good thing.
    I’ve worked with more than one individual, whose authentic “brand” or work style, literally stood in the way of progress. I’m not referring to awful people, who fail to possess concern for their employees or colleagues. I’m speaking of talented, kind individuals who have a working style or flow, that happens to affect others adversely. When made aware of how their quirks derailed others, they are usually horrified. (Know yourself and how you work best. But, also build awareness of how that might impacts others. If you aren’t completely sure — ask.)

Work life is a journey.

If approached with the right mindset, it is also a non-stop learning experience.

What have you learned about work life that was unexpected? Share in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

4 Lessons That Burnout Can Teach Us About Productivity

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Jack Seeds @Unsplash

Have you ever considered stepping away from something you love? A task that you previously enjoyed — but in the present not as much? A team? A role? An organization?

I realize the question may seem counter-intuitive. Why would we ever consider doing that? Yet, in reality this is precisely what may need to happen.

Most of us deliver value to our clients or customers because we love our work and are committed to progress. However, loving an element of your work life is not synonymous with a vaccine against burnout. In fact, it may leave you somewhat vulnerable. (Writing always checked this box on my side. But that process no longer fed my work life core as it once had. Looking back on the impasse, I hovered near “burnout” for quite some time before deciding to scale back.)

What does burnout look like? How does it present? It’s not as if it sends a note, letting you know of its arrival — and know that crossing into that territory is often undetected. However, there are clear signs that we’ve arrived: Apathy, where there was once passion. Anxiety, where there was previously anticipation. Exhaustion. Dread.

Stepping away or slowing down may be needed.
This will serve you longer-term — helping you to re-engage more productively with your work.

What I’ve learned:

1. When to stop isn’t discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. How to do more. Deliver more value in less time. Be more. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should walk away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest.

2. Don’t wait for a savoir. Know this: It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are doing well, you seem mentally exhausted.”  You must play the governor of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.

3. Restructure/re-imagine your work. Becoming inflexible concerning how you contribute can become an issue, when we focus on one thing. When we pigeon-hole our contribution into a single form — we can become very, very weary. We fail to explore modifications that might support our energy level.

4. We cannot ignore evolution. When people do something reasonably well — we naturally assume we should continue. We also assume that we will remain motivated indefinitely. That’s not always the case. As contributors, our needs and motivation can subtly shift.

We cannot always step away completely from important aspects of our work. Yet, we can acknowledge how we feel about them. I encourage you take a step back and take the temperature. Explore the options. Talk with someone about how you feel — and brainstorm solutions.

Is there is an aspect of your work life that you no longer enjoy, in the way you once had?

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions Using Positive Psychology

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We all engage in goal setting.

Historically, we do more of this as we approach the New Year. I like to look at resolutions as wolf-like goals, but in sheep’s clothing. They are every bit as challenging to accomplish (perhaps, more so); but often vague & unstructured. As we’ve discussed previously, goals can help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize us. As a workplace strategist, I’ve often advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Why? Goals can actually let us down and fail to direct our behavior in a meaningful way.

Resolutions often fall prey to this same malaise. So, I’m wondering — can we craft resolutions that are better for us?

One promising strategy, is to apply what we already know about positive psychology to the process. With roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Goals & resolutions could stand some re-framing right now. So, let’s pursue this thread.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-cast resolutions (and goals in general) with a nod toward what has gone right and not wrong. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has worked over the past year — taking the time to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. To acknowledge all of the positive steps we have forged, even if the end-state has not been reached. This might provide the fuel that we need to protect energy and build resilience.

So — ask yourself: What has brought you some measure of accomplishment recently? Have you overlooked some of the good? Have you cast a shadow over the small successes?

We should take a second look and consider that sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge all of our effort. That we acknowledge how small steps have power and can prove instrumental. That we make progress in ways that are often subtle, yet foundational.

Step 1.

Carefully consider a goal or resolution — and take a second look at what you have done to achieve it. Offer yourself credit, for your efforts. (If this a new resolution for 2021, you can jump to Step 2).

  • Draft a list of all of the steps already taken.
  • Do not apply a value judgement as grounds for inclusion.
  • Be sure your list is complete. All steps are progress. No step too small.
  • Now, what was obviously successful?
  • What steps may not have been entirely successful, yet had real value, after a second look? Why?
  • What have you learned from detours, failures or disappointments?
  • How have you managed to actively recover and continue to move forward? (This is also a success.)
  • How did the acquired knowledge in general, inform your journey?

Step 2

Craft behaviorally-anchored steps for the future which build upon progress noted in Step 1. Be sure to integrate what you have learned from previous highs and lows. If this is a new goal or resolution, try to improve upon any broad sweeping statements such as “be healthier” or “beaming an influencer”. Be specific. Think of yourself actively engaging in goal-directed behavior.

  • What are you actually doing?
  • What are the specific steps you will take?
  • Describe these steps. Verbs should figure prominently in your plan: reading, seeking, calling, contacting, developing, etc.
  • Add specificity to every action.

For example, if your broader resolution is “becoming an influencer” — you should note all discrete steps that may contribute to success, applying the specificity rule. For example: ” I will submit 2 pitches a week, to these 4 media outlets for potential articles/posts.”

Consider the following as positive steps, which are often overlooked.

  • Communication Channels. Establishing information networks to support your journey (joining a group, seeking guidance from a professional, engaging with social media).
  • Strategy preparation. Engaging with books, podcasts & articles to explore strategies.
  • The Deep Work. Taking steps to shift your outlook or mindset to support your journey.
  • The Everyday Work. Aligning your goal/resolution with specific habits or daily rituals.

Remember that progress is often synonymous with a collection of small steps — which occur with little fanfare. (I’ve lived this. In 2010, I made a resolution to establish myself as a work life write writer. It was pain-staking, but I tried to revel in the small successes.)

It may be high time — to offer those steps the glory they deserve.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her Core Coaching Series — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How Letting Go (of Goals) Can Help Your Work Life

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“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse

Most of us are challenged to let go of disappointment within our work lives.

We bemoan the collaborations that didn’t prove fertile, the target we may have missed  or the client that got away. We are taught repeatedly to “stick with things” and to “never give up“. Yet, I’ve seen this strategy backfire and cause a great deal of stress.

As a psychologist, I’ve seen this unusual type of guilt — “goal guilt” as I like to call it — affect all types of contributors, from those new to the workforce, to seasoned CEOs and entrepreneurs. In may cases, the unfulfilled elements in the past, simply get in the way of a fulfilling, more work life in the future.

Invariably, the elements that we value the most, that live at our core, cause us the most trouble.

Big, audacious goals are touted as a cornerstone of our work lives. (Some advice here, on how to set them wisely.) We are encouraged not only to set them, but to live alongside them with each and every breath we draw. I’m good with goals and we all need them. Yet, just like the battery that feeds our favorite device — goals have a “life span”. They reach a state, where they are no longer viable or serve as a meaningful motivator. How this affects us is something we should pause and note.

People also cycle in and out, of our work lives. There are expectations attached to them as well — and not all of these might have been fulfilled. There may have been a mismatch, or we (or they) have changed or circumstances influenced the outcomes. Our time with them may have felt unproductive and frustrating, but inevitably, “it was what it was”.

All of this holding on requires energy and “headspace”. Yet, our attention cannot be infinitely divided. (Research has shown that our minds burns through 20% of our energy requirements though it represents only 2% of body mass.) In a sense, wasting that precious energy, is squandering our own potential.

Sometimes we simply must move on — and let go.

How you would describe your own history in this regard? Do you find it easy to let go? Or are you challenged to do so? If you lean toward the stubborn and notably inflexible end of the continuum, the process can be arduous. However, all of this hanging on doesn’t serve us. It can bring a fog that clouds new opportunities and can fuel bitterness. Nevertheless, turning away and leaving these things behind can be challenging and bring a certain sadness.

Letting go of people and goals that define yesterday can be a good thing. We must challenge our mindset to allow us to do so.

Here are a few thoughts concerning what letting go is and isn’t:

  • Letting go of a goal isn’t a defeat.
  • It does not signal failure on your part.
  • It may mean that the goal no longer serves you.
  • It may mean you have committed your best effort — and the outcomes/rewards weren’t there.
  • It is closure.
  • It is about shifting your energies to fertile ground.
  • It is about becoming more agile.
  • It can foster resilience.
  • It can build a sense of adventure; restore a certain hope and confidence in the future.
  • It can mark the moment of a new beginning.

In many cases letting go, creates room for pursuits that are far more rewarding — and carves out a place for the goals and people that will help move us forward.

I would say that softens the blow.

Is letting go challenging for you? Have you mastered the art? Share your experiences with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How to Survive When Challenging People Knock You Off Your Game

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No one relishes the thought of meeting the client, colleague or manager whose mere mention is synonymous with stress. Yet, challenging people (and the situations they create) are a work life fact. Chances are high that you will encounter one of these individuals along the way. When you’ve landed in a tight spot with someone who just isn’t playing fair, it can feel like a tidal wave of emotions.

Unfortunately, the experience can leave us feeling off balance and not quite like ourselves. This can be overwhelming. Feeling undermined or attacked is traumatic — and emotions run high. (Completely normal.) Most of us will immediately formulate an internal counter-attack or argument. However the opportunity for this play out in real life, is often dependent on the existing power dynamic. In many cases, we simply have to process the situation to move through it.

If you are not in the position to openly respond  — or directly defend yourself — you can be left with disturbing after-effects. We might feel a little “hung-over”, exhausted or dazed. Ultimately, encountering toxic people can affect our ability to thrive in the workplace. This is a real and present danger. So we must address the situation quickly.

Here is a bit of advice to wade through the fall-out:

  • Psychologically separate. The first thing to protect is your work life well-being. This may require applying mindfulness techniques to observe the situation from a safer psychological distance. Most human beings have a powerful response to extreme negative feedback — so ensure that your emotions (and feelings of worth) are not hijacked or destroyed. Think of things this way: What if the situation happened to a friend or co-worker? What advice would you offer them?
  • Seek support. Touch base with a trusted colleague or supervisor to share your experience and gain some perspective. Knowing that you have support, will help your resolve and deter doubts from taking a foothold.
  • Learn from the experience. A post-mortem review might be challenging — especially when you feel you are not at fault. However, reviewing the entire story to identify where things may have gone off the rails (and to revise future strategy) is warranted. Subtle cues can provoke someone who is already difficult to work with. Protect yourself going forward.
  • Face reality & exit the battlefield. If you feel your reputation may be at stake, attempt to exit the dynamic entirely. Request another colleague to cover the client or complete unfinished project work. Sometimes, more exposure only breeds more trouble.
  • Give things time. The surprise of the initial shock will fade. However, how you process the experience will matter longer-term. You will change as a contributor — but hopefully you will also emerge wiser, stronger and better prepared.
  • Focus on resilience-building. Learning strategies that help us bounce back are critical. Protecting our psychological resources is important, as situations where we feel misunderstood or attacked can have long-standing effects.

How have you dealt with unreasonable individuals in your work life? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist, diagnostician and coach. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at the Harvard Business review, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum

What You Need to Know About Yourself to Help You With (Workplace) Change

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The wind of change, whatever it is, blows most freely through an open mind. — Katharine Whitehorn

I’ve been told more than once, that I’m not the best role model concerning change. (To be candid, I agree with the characterization.) I balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t ever come to pass.

Then adjusting my course will not be necessary.

Honestly, this can become a problem.

As you may have read in this post, I’ve struggled with even the smallest of changes, muddling along until the “new normal” finally appears. Until that moment, I feel somewhat annoyed and completely out of sync. For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to keep my world frozen, until I can carefully consider every aspect of the situation. Unfortunately, holding time at bay usually isn’t often an option. (This also irks me. Why can’t things go at my pace?)

Regardless, I firmly acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. However, knowing ourselves is likely the very first place to look when building this skill set. I believe that we all have a leading predisposition when faced with change at work (and life in general)  — representing both our collected experiences and temperament. Of course, this influences our leading strategy when reacting to change, as well.

That’s where things get tricky. (If you manage others, just reflect on what this means for your team.) We need to come to an understanding of our own tendencies and recognize how this might affect our response.

This realization, is a crucial step.

As a consultant who advocates for change for a living — here are a few of the predispositions I’ve observed over the years:

  • Piners or Grievers. These individuals often lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or completely necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and a good measure of sadness.
  • Researchers. An unbridled penchant to gather information is the leading response for this group — as looking at the issue from all angles often helps them move on. Unfortunately, a leading by-product of this view is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I do pine at the start.)
  • Supporters or Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not be a primary driver of change, yet are happy to see the possibilities, are optimistic — and help things move forward.
  • Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors, that could negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
  • Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept a change. (I would add there is a very mild level of complacency operating). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
  • Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change eventually is perceived as untenable.
  • Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.

After I drafted these, I searched for other frameworks that capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.

Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. She is a Consulting Psychologist at Allied Talent. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum