Depression

Keep Calm and Carry On

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced changes on our society that have never been seen in our lifetimes. People in North America have lived their lives seeing localized skirmishes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and even riots, but these have always been isolated incidents. They have all had a demarcation zone, outside of which life continues normally. You have to actually go back to the Second World War and the Great Depression to observe life being uprooted and restricted universally.

And we don’t like it.

This is change on an incomprehensible scale. Change presents uncertainty and uncertainty breeds fear. The instinctive response to fear is to go to ground – to return to the nest, and to turn to that old, unthinking fight or flight reflex that immediately activates when a threat is present. This helps explain the rush of toilet paper buying that accompanied the first few days of the pandemic news settling in. People had to do something. We can’t run away from this thing. So we instinctively feel the need to stock up on what instinct tells us. This is exacerbated, of course, by seeing others do it, because panic is contagious. It spreads even quicker than a virus, wrapping people up in a reflex of self-preservation.

As we observe everything we know shut down and turn away from us, the fear compounds. Not only is this a strange and unwelcome way of living, it also has direct impacts on all of us, our jobs, our family members and our ability to pay the bills. These are real fears certainly, and this is no time for political leaders to either sugar coat them, distract them or ignore them.

Change management is one of my areas of specialty, and if there’s one common theme about change, it’s that no one likes change being forced upon them.

But there’s something else to consider. Something that will really help. Facts. Facts help manage fear. Each person operates with two sides to their internal selves – we have an emotional side and a logical side. The two are always jostling for supremacy, and emotion always wins. That’s why when you think about some of the large decisions that you have made in your life, like maybe buying a car or a house, or even choosing a school or a job, your choice will likely be based on what feels right. You will use your research and understanding of the facts to back up your decision, but ultimately, it’s what you feel that counts the most.

So, emotion wins all the time. And the most powerful emotion of all is fear.

Fear motivates us to stay safe and protect our children. Fear makes you stay away from food that doesn’t look right, and to keep away from large animals that can do you harm. This type of fear is leveraged to some degree in advertising, making you instinctively worry you are not a good parent if you do not buy this brand of detergent, and you are not a cool person if you do not buy this brand of car.

Obviously, fear is not comfortable. That’s where facts help. Facts help neutralize fear and replace it with a sense of purpose and well-founded optimism. Consider some of the facts of this current lockdown and social distancing measures now in place.

  1. They are temporary. There will be an end to them. Life will return to normal or close to it.
  2. They are being done to get ahead of the rush of patients. This is a treatable disease in most cases. People are not dying in the streets like the bubonic plague. The lockdown is designed to slow the spread to ensure everyone gets the help they need. It’s like a movie theatre on opening night or assigned seating at a concert. Instead of managing a surging crowd of people, you get them to form a line – a queue.
  3. Science understands this virus. Treatments and antivirals are already being created.
  4. Korea, Singapore and China have shown it can be done. The social organization needed to mitigate the damage has now been proven.
  5. People are recovering.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The Second World War was a time of similar scale disruptions, with the added threat of actual bombs and rockets falling from the sky. It bears mentioning that there are a lot of people currently suffering the same thing right now in many parts of the world.

But the scope of the Second World War was almost universal. Anyone living in the countries where the war was being fought, experienced rationing, limited physical movement, and interruption of careers and jobs, to say nothing of all the loved ones lost. Winston Churchill was a master at using the media of radio to deliver words of comfort and advice. In other words, speak to peoples’ emotions first and logic second.

One of the best of these was “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

The practical beauty of this phrase as a crisis management tool for the masses is huge. First, it’s very short and memorable. But it is also in the moment. Whereas most phrases of reassurance focus on a fixed point in the distance, the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” helps deliver a reinforcement of a new normal. As a people, we can learn to acknowledge and then suppress those feelings of fear and then adapt to a new normal. A way of living the same life even if under new conditions, for now. Keep Calm. Carry On.

This is doubly important for what was happening then as well as what is happening now. There is no concrete finish line in sight. If the current outbreak and its related difficulties were guaranteed to be over and done with sixty days from now, people would be in a far better place. We can dig in and get through when there’s a finish line in sight.  But when there isn’t, the fear reappears. A fear of the unknown. And once again this triggers the instinctive need to conserve energy and resources to better survive an unknown threat. So then, as now, the mantra of keeping calm and carrying on replaces that of saying “just hang on for sixty days,” as a way of normalizing this new existence.

The 3:00 a.m. Panic Attack

Profound changes in schedule, such as no longer commuting to the office, or getting used to being at home with your partner and/or kids much more than usual is likely to disrupt your physiology as well. When the people who are driving you stir crazy are the ones you love rather than simply your office co-workers, destressing becomes vital.

It is helpful to find a place where you can walk and take deep measured breaths. Even if you don’t do yoga or meditate, the importance of deep breathing should not be overlooked in times like this for a simple physiological way to cut down on your stress response. As Esther Sternberg, research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine says, “A much more effective and quicker way of interrupting the stress response is to turn on the vagus nerve, (an extremely powerful nerve that controls a range of responses in the body), which in turn powers up the parasympathetic nervous system.” Basically, she says, “Deep-breathing turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response.”

This does not solve your situational problems of course, but it helps manage your response to them, which in turn allows the thinking areas of your brain to take over, rather than being sidelined by that fight-or-flight reflex.

Remember also that worrying at night is worse than worrying during the day. At night, especially around 3:00 a.m., your body is trying to focus on repair. It lowers body temperature by a degree or so and focuses its energy on rebuilding from the wear-and-tear of the night before. In fact, the colloquial name of this period, long known as the “dead of night” is quite apt in that you will be at your lowest metabolic ebb of the entire 24-hour cycle as breathing, pulse, and digestion all step down a little to allow your body an opportunity to redirect its resources toward repair.

If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. the worries of your world will seem much larger than they do in the daylight, because you, as a person are weaker, smaller, and more vulnerable than you are during the day.

Sometimes it helps to know that. If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a blind panic, about work or money, remind yourself, “there’s nothing I can do about it at this hour. Everyone else is asleep now too.” Then, if you need to, write your thoughts down using pen and paper near your bed. Try not to use your phone for this, since the light of your phone screen will further ruin your sleep chemistry. But write it down so that you can give your brain permission to let go of that thought, knowing it’s safely stored on paper.

Doing these things, like deep breathing and writing down your 3:00 a.m. thoughts will not alleviate the problems, but they substantially improve the way you approach them, by stick handling your body’s own fight-or-flight reflexes away and replacing them with clear thought.

The Phases of Change

People go through emotional phases when things happen to them. You might be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler Ross and her five stage model for grief, also known as the Kübler Ross change curve. When faced with a loss or a profound negative event, humans pass through five discreet emotional stages quite predictably.

  • Shock and Denial – where we refuse to admit such a change has happened to our state of normalcy.
  • Anger – a fight-or-flight reflex rooted in fear that is pure emotion without a rational counterbalance.
  • Bargaining – a desire to restore normalcy by using the human emotion of hope.
  • Depression – in recognizing the changed state for what it is, but still under the power of emotions to feel justifiably negative about it.

Finally,

  • Acceptance, in which the emotions of shock have largely exhausted themselves, and people start to face the reality of the change, both emotionally and logically.

This type of emotional sequence happens every time a negative change is imposed upon us. It’s unlikely that lottery winners go through this, but for changes that disrupt the norm in a way we don’t want, we will all go through this.

It’s important to recognize there will be an end to this. This pandemic will pass through the current crisis phase and will settle down to become one of the many enemies that our biological selves must deal with, along with influenza, measle and e-coli. It’s part of living on this planet. We will get to the point where science and our infrastructure will catch up, hopefully with minimized loss of life. People will continue to do work and commerce. Those whose jobs have stopped for a while, will start up again.

You as a person will likely pass through these emotional stages and if you are now in any of the first four, I think it helps to know that you will emerge from the emotional turmoil as well.

That’s why I feel the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is just so useful right now. These are not comfortable times. Things have changed that we did not want to change. But we will persevere. Take in some air from outside and breathe it in.

Keep calm and carry on.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Keep Calm and Carry On. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back To Freelancing? I’m Not Feeling the Burn. It discusses the gig economy and the future of work, of which freelancing will play an even larger role. People who mock it have a surprise coming. It is the future of work, and it’s one of the most secure career paths you can choose.

Let me start with an insult. I remember reading a comment someone made online about – well you know I can’t even remember what the comment was about. But I remember the burn. Some troll disagreed with the writer’s comment and wrote in reply, “go back to freelancing.” I remember being initially confused by this remark. What was wrong with freelancing? What did he mean by that? I have been essentially freelancing my entire career, and I feel I’ve done pretty well. What was the stigma that this troll was trying to push? That freelancing isn’t real work? That you only freelance if you can’t find a proper job?

I questioned the troll’s comments from three perspectives. The first was my own experience: two and a half decades of adventure, meeting new customers, devising new products and solutions, setting my own calendar and career path. Exhilarating and rewarding. Never dull or repetitive. What could be better than that?

Then I thought of the other freelancers I know. They, too, never stop improving their product. They are masters at finding work. They might change customers from month to month, but the work never stops for those who know how to find it. It’s job security anchored by your own talents and motivations, not those of an HR department.

Thirdly, I thought of the people I had met during one of my long-term contracts, where I taught groups of recently fired executives how to cope with the depression of job loss and the resulting loss of their identity. These people were truly at sea, with no compass and no hope. This is what happens when people get buried in their salaried jobs and allow no time for the entrepreneurial networking that is at the heart of freelancing. They don’t know who they are, and they don’t know where to go, because they never built the safety net that every freelancer owns. That’s why I wrote my third book, which is entitled, “Is This the Day I Get Fired?”

Go back to freelancing. Did that comment reveal a deep-seated fear held by the writer, who like most other bullies, projects his insecurities on those he tries to intimidate?

Well, I have news for that bully as well as everyone else, including worried parents, who fear that freelancing is not as secure as a career job or a unionized job. Not only is it more secure, since the power of mobility and self sufficiency rests with the individual rather than their employer, it is also the future of work. I remember a comment that a guest speaker once said at a networking session I was hosting: He said, “the chief difference between a salaried employer and a contractor is that a contractor knows when his or her last day is, and can do something about it.

We are in an age of profound transformation. Technology continues to change jobs and indeed make many of them redundant. It balances this out by creating new jobs in their place, as well as making it possible for networking and freelancing to flourish. But to anyone who grew up watching Dad and/or Mom leave the house every day at 7:00 a.m. and return home at suppertime year in and year out it becomes difficult to envision any other lifestyle, regardless how secure it ultimately is.

The Future of Work: The Gig Economy

Heavy hitters like RBC and McKinsey have publicly declared the following facts, for the benefit of employers and experts who are carefully watching the changing world of work:

McKinsey and Co. has stated:

  • 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of activities that are technically automatable.
  • Automation could affect 50% of the world economy

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) envisions:

  • 4 million Canadian job openings in the next three years, of which
  • 50% will undergo a skills overhaul.

The skills that will be required include soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy and social perceptiveness. The ways in which these will be learned will be more about lifelong learning in place of traditional linear education.

But to take this even further, consider these three rather stunning facts delivered recently at the World Economic Forum.

1.) Less than a decade from now, by 2027, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelance.

2.) Artificial Intelligence and robotics will create more jobs, not mass unemployment as long as we responsibly guide innovation.

3.) Cities will compete against each other to attract top talent, as they see economic ecosystems grow and flourish.

Image courtesy of UpWork

These comments were made by Stephane Kasriel, who is CEO of UpWork, one of the largest and most successful freelancing websites around. It would be easy to assume he has a vested interest in saying such things, being the boss of a company directly dependent on the fulfilment of this vision.

But it is important to recognize that freelancing is not a cottage industry. Large multinational companies like Pfizer and Samsung are part of this rising breed of enterprises that have turned online to find freelancers.

And there are others out there, looking for highly specialized talent and paying well for it. One of these is Innocentive, a company that “enables organizations to put their unsolved problems and unmet needs, which are framed as ‘Challenges’, out to the crowd to address.” In other words, it is seeking innovation through crowdsourcing; putting the bounty on a solution. Maybe it’s an industrial challenge, like how to get toothpaste into a differently designed tube, or how to economically prevent oil from freezing when stored in cold climates. You would think large companies would have all the engineering brilliance it needs to solve these problems from the inside, but sometimes they just don’t.

Very often I win writing or project management contracts from companies who have all the right people already in-house. The problem is the backlog. It might take six months to appear on these peoples’ radar, and the client needs something done now.

Similarly, it’s those experts on the outside, the ones who must stay constantly ahead of the knowledge curve, who are the ones who come with the solution, more quickly and more cost effectively.

It’s the As-A-Service Economy

Let me draw a parallel distinction. Companies the world over have, over the past few years, become familiar with cloud, and with it, related technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. What are these innovations doing for them? Far more than simply storing your data. The accessibility and data flow that these technologies have enabled has given rise to the as-a-service industry.  Where once companies shipped boxes of their products to their customers, they now see the value in many cases of actually giving the basic physical product for free, and then monetizing the services needed to support it, along with the data that becomes collectible.

Individual consumers see this daily when they use their computers. Products like Microsoft Office used to arrive in a box and required individual installation from disks. But now, Microsoft, and all other software applications are subscription based.  Sometimes even free. The manufacturers are responsible for testing and upgrading and they do so remotely via your internet connection.

The same principle applies to every other as-a-service enterprise, which is what makes cloud storage and security so attractive and practical in the first place. The supplier stays responsible for the upkeep of quality. It need no longer remain in house, where it might be prone to delays and budget cuts.

So, back to the workforce. I can speak from direct experience, when I teach new topics to a group of employees, they admit that they spend so much time closeted away, working on the internal problems of the moment, they never get the chance to look up and around at what the outside world is doing.

This becomes one of the key value propositions of the as-a-service freelancer. Just like cloud providers and software manufacturers, the freelancer is responsible for maintaining the skills and knowledge that a company needs. And now, with direct and immediate communication and the capacity for working remotely, there is no reason for them to ever physically visit the company’s brick and mortar operations if need be.

None of this is truly new. There have been freelancers for centuries. The very word freelance denotes a mercenary fighter whose weapons, including their lance, were available to whoever wanted to hire them. They weren’t free from a price perspective, but they were free from fealty to any specific lord, king, or country.

Companies have long outsourced work to other countries – call centers and tech support, for example – and even the notion of as-a-service machinery has its roots in leasing and rental programs.

But it’s more now. We have passed a tipping point. As-a-service is more than just leasing. It is about servicing, maintenance and aftermarket opportunities that go well beyond any physical machine. And freelancing is far more than hiring warm bodies to cover peak periods.

Freelancing is a new type of work, fueled by communications and data technologies that help bring customer and supplier together more efficiently. According to a study commissioned by Upwork, half of the millennial generation is already freelancing.

There is an inherent security in the freelancing business, reinforced by the ever-present reminder that you are personally responsible for your future. This might strike many as the opposite of security. After all, how can that compare to the permanence of a salaried position, especially when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage? But ask any salaried employee what their biggest fear is: it’s losing their job. And that is not a healthy way to live.

So, back to the insult that started this monologue. “Go back to freelancing.” Many people reveal their own fears in the insults and swear words they use against others. As I tell my audiences, I have been looking for work for 25 years now. And I keep finding it. It’s always interesting, it always adds something to my skillset, and it always keeps me in demand. It called, colloquially, the gig economy, and it is the future of work.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Light and Darkness and Winter Months

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Light and Darkness and Winter Months. The lack of light that we experience in winter months can do a lot of damage to health and productivity. Human beings thrive on light. So, what can you do to get through the dark half of the year and feel better? Join Steve for a quick ten-minute podcast on how to beat those winter blues.

Every year winter closes in, and with it the long days of summer vanish into memory. The lack of light – dark when we get up and dark by suppertime has profound impact on the body and mind. It’s a time when many people suffer from some form of depression, either mild in terms of listlessness and a strong desire for comfort foods, or profound, in the form of anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. Much of this has to do with the lack of natural light.

Human beings love light. We respond to the energy that natural light delivers. The presence of sunlight stimulates the body to release positive stress hormones like serotonin and cortisol to get it moving. Low light, by contrast, does the opposite, prompting your body to create melatonin, which is the hormone that contributes to sleepiness and sleep. Melatonin can only be manufactured in low-light conditions. Therefore, the presence of sunlight on a bright summer morning tends to sweep it away. This is important for so many reasons. The first has to do with your best time of day.

The Power of Morning Light

Here’s a challenge for you. Pull together a group of people, and ask them for a show of hands, “how many of you consider yourself more active and alert in the morning rather than the evening?” In other words, how many morning people are there here? The odds are extremely good that 80% of that group – of any group – will say they are morning oriented. That’s because 80% of the world’s population is oriented towards the morning. That means all of these people will be at their best basically between 9:00 and noon, and more specifically between 9:00 and 10:30, when the presence of strong morning light combines with the adrenaline rush provided by our morning coffee to create the most alert period of the day.

Think about that: 9:00 to 10:30. That’s the most valuable part of the entire day, at least from an energy standpoint.

You will be able to get more of your most important work done during this time, and you will be able to do it better – than in any other period in the day, especially mid-afternoon.  But what do most people do during this time? They spend a lot of it checking and responding to email or attending poorly managed meetings. Now email may be important to your job, but it is not as important as the skills you were hired to use. And meetings? Well, they should either be shortened or eliminated to be replaced by collaborative technologies like Slack or Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex.

If you want to get more done, defend this slice of time between 9:00 and 10:30 against distraction. Assign this time for your most important, most valuable, most lucrative task, and leave the less important stuff, including responding to emails, for afterwards.

Winter sun, Meaford, Ontario. Photo credit: Steve Prentice

Use Light To Help Wake You Up – Gently

Waking up in the morning is tough. Very few people can wake up reliably at an exact time. If you can, you are very lucky. Most of us, however are sleep deprived. We do not get enough quality sleep. Part of the reason for this has to do with light, specifically the light coming from your laptop or phone. So many people turn to these devices in the evening for entertainment, for browsing social media, or getting those last few emails returned. But beware! The light coming from your phone or tablet is bright and is bluish. It tricks the body into thinking the sun is coming up and consequently reverses the process of melatonin production just when you need it the most. If you want to use your devices any time after the sun has set, make sure to download an app or use the night feature that switches your display over to a lower light, lower contrast color palette.

Remember, the body that you inhabit is not evolving as fast as the technologies we use. We have an ancient brain and nervous system that, for most of its 100,000-year history has not seen anything brighter at night than the moon or a fire. The crisp brightness of Angry Birds, Twitter, or email is way too new.

But you can use light to help you wake up gently. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ensure there is light present in your world before you wake up. In the summer, that’s easy. The sun takes care of it by getting up first. But in the dark months of winter it’s up to us. Here’s how to do it.

Get yourself a wall socket timer, and plug a lamp into it. NOT the one on your bedside table that will shine directly into your eyes. That’s cruel and ineffective. Set it up with a lamp that is somewhere between your pillow and the coffeemaker, maybe in the hallway. Set the timer so that it turns the lamp on just 5 minutes before your alarm clock wakes you up.

You might ask, why not just turn the light manually on when you get up? But there’s a big difference – having the presence of light basically in your visual field just prior to opening your eyes gives you a head start on stimulating your body’s chemistry.

And while you’re at it, get rid of that nasty alarm clock, too. There are much better systems – your phone probably even has one, that uses softer sounds to wake you up gradually. An excellent summary as of Fall 2019 is available at The Muse.com here.

Use Light Properly at Work

This same concept applies to your workplace, too. If it is at all possible, try to work somewhere where there is an abundance of natural light. The presence of natural light both stimulates and regulates your body. It is essential for clear thinking and focus. Why do you think executives always get the corner office? One of the many perks of this position is that it provides a much more natural and stimulating environment in which to work.

OK, so not everyone gets access to the corner office. But worse, a lot of us get stuck working under fluorescent lights. Now here’s an interesting thing about fluorescent lights: they fluoresce. They flicker, at a rate that is just beyond the range of human vision, which is about 40 frames per second. That’s a lot of visual interference that you are fighting against every hour of your workday. It’s like the cabin noise in an aircraft or trying to have a conversation in a room full of crying babies. It’s interference you have to work against, and it gets very difficult.

In any situation where you have to work or meet, try to get those fluorescents turned off. If you’re having a meeting, make it part of your meeting room setup list. Look up. Check the lights. Turn off the fluorescents to and turn up the pot lights – you know, the light bulb lights. Open the drapes.  In fact, rewind even further. When you’re booking a meeting room, seek one out that has windows, and yes, book the meeting for first thing in the morning when – remember – 80% of your attendees will be at their best.

As for your workplace, try using a desk lamp. It doesn’t have to be a pricey full-spectrum lamp, just a regular one that uses a regular light bulb to cast some warmer light onto your working surface.

Stock Up on Vitamin D

Don’t forget to stock up on Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that helps your body absorb other essential minerals and is instrumental at helping keeping osteoporosis and immune related illnesses at bay. Humans automatically manufacture vitamin D for themselves when skin gets exposed to the sun, but during winter months that doesn’t happen. Dairy products and some meats offer some Vitamin D but ask your physician. Supplements might be in order.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Light and Darkness and Winter Months. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

We need a better word than “Bully”

As a professional writer, words mean a great deal to me, and when I see the word “bully” I see a gross inequity. In short, I see the bully as the permanent victor. And that is terribly, terribly wrong.

Many very worthwhile organizations have sprung up over the years to counter the sadistic and scarring practice of bullying, and I admire what these organizations do and what they have already achieved. They work hard to communicate the fact that both parties in a bullying situation need help. But I am not sure that society as a whole has been successful in imparting the word “bully” with the necessary degree of social stigma in the way that the words “rapist” or “thief” has.

The word “bully” still seems to imply strength or dominance, and human nature will always look to strength as a virtue, since it is part of our collective instinct to survive and thrive.

The word “thief” has an almost universal negative connotation, because people the world over value their property and despise anyone who takes it by unlawful means. The legend of Robin Hood shows that thieves, when working in support of the majority, can actually be honored, but that may be the exception that proves the rule.

The word “rapist” has an insufficiently widespread negative connotation. There are still far too many places in the world, including North America, where rape is not treated anywhere close to serious enough, and in which the victim is sometimes placed under suspicion as an instigator, or co-instigator of the act. Society still has a long way to go before the word “rapist” receives the collective revulsion it deserves.

“Bully” has even further to go. It is still a term of strength. Someone who is bullied thus appears as the weaker party. The bully shrugs off a slap on the wrist, while the victim must focus on healing. This to me seems unfair.

Is there not a better word than bully? Can’t the guilt and the pain of these acts be placed on the shoulders of the instigator rather than the victim? Why can’t we label these people with a term that highlights their inability to fit in with society’s norms? Why can we not give them a title that might connect more directly with the shame and the self-doubt that they already feel, but which has been turned into a sour and vicious behaviour? Why can we not show, in words, that the bully is in fact the weaker party?

These people are socially impaired. They are behaviourally challenged. They are unable to control their aggressive urges and they seek to establish self-validation through offensive acts. Sounds like an illness to me.

Would society move more quickly in confronting this type of brutal social behaviour if we were to see the aggressor as unwell? This is not to take away from the care and rehabilitation that must be delivered to the true victim, the person toward whom the aggressive behaviour was aimed, but at least by re-branding the aggressor as socially impaired, the true victims could get a stronger sense that society is genuinely on their side while the bullies can realize just how isolated they are.

At the moment I do not believe that the word “bully” is incentive enough to stop bullies from doing what they do. After all, cigarettes are still relatively cool. Driving over the speed limit is seen as OK, and choosing an unhealthy diet is every person’s constitutional right. There is a certain thrill in being an outlaw, and I believe that unfortunately, being a bully falls into that fray – bad, but not bad enough – which means justice still denied for the true victims.

Get those bills out of sight!

Unsightly bills!

Unsightly bills!

This is the time of year when everyone gets serious – paying taxes, focusing on financial responsibility, performing the penance of life. Most people dislike doing taxes and paying bills because it is not enjoyable and can be a major source of procrastination and stress.

Here is just a little tip to make one part of this a little easier: keep your desk clear, and your mind will follow. Here’s what I mean:

When you receive a bill in the mail, what do you do with it? Most people leave it lying around as a reminder to pay the darn thing. Pretty soon this leads to a pile of ugly looking envelopes, lying in a stack in the kitchen or by the computer, reminding you in their passive yet nasty way that they are still waiting to be paid.

Clutter affects thinking. Your short-term creative memory needs all the help and space it can get, and when too many items fill its field of view, clear thought is pushed away. You might not think this happens to you but it does. You might not think it means a lot, but it does. Clutter obfuscates clarity, and leads to procrastination and resentment of tasks. Your personal success is dependent on being able to think clearly, plan, negotiate and influence.

My suggestion is simple and clean: whenever you receive a bill in the mail, open it, and note down in your calendar the amount and its due date, allowing three days or so for processing (for online banking), then file the actual bill away. That’s it.

This leaves you with a clean working area without losing track of the bills you have to pay.

Bills will never go away, but it is always worth it to live every minute of your life free of dark feelings and fear. A clean workspace devoid of “threats” is a humble but powerful step on that path.

Thinking Clearly during Transition: Build a Gazebo

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

It was during a workshop in which I was talking with a group of professionals-in-transition that one gentleman in the audience asked me if it was okay for him to take a week or two off from job-seeking so that he could build a gazebo in his back yard. It was something he had wanted to do for his family for a long time, but he had never been able to get around to it because he had spent too many weekends stuck at the office. He wanted to know if it was wrong to take time to do this when a part of him felt he really should be out looking for his next job.

Clearly, he was looking for permission to step away from the work of finding work. I told him that it was absolutely the right thing to do; in fact, I have long held the belief that everyone in a position of stress, confusion, or overload should go out and build a gazebo of their own. Everyone who is thrown into the soul-wrenching position of losing identity, career, and financial stability should, as a first step, take on some activity that allows time to flush out the panic through physical distraction: a catalyst for reflection.

To set out to build a gazebo is to undertake a physical activity in which body and mind become focused on a plan of action unrelated to life and its current problems. When both body and mind become occupied in this manner, even when the gazebo-building work gets strenuous, there is relaxation that comes in the form of a positive stress called eustress. When both the body and mind relax, blood pressure drops, reflection happens, and then creative thought happens.

Action creates positive stress which helps solve problems.

Some people might turn to a week of playing tennis, or of long walks with the dog, or of painting (either with an easel, or on the living room walls with a roller), or of tidying the yard or building a deck. What is most important is that you choose a solitary activity in which body and mind focus on constructive work. There will be time for discussing your findings and thoughts with your mentor later. For now, you need some time to slow down and let the thoughts come.

Remember, this is not a chronic assignment, just as unemployment need not be a chronic condition. The gazebo project might take a week, or two. It symbolizes not just a mind-and-body focused activity but a finite activity as well. Upon completion of the project, you’ll be ready for the next chapter of your life.

By slowing down in this fashion to work on your personal gazebo, you allow for significant, salient thoughts to emerge and rise to the top, unfettered by the trivial priorities of email and meetings. Questions will emerge, in your expanding, thinking mind, such as:

  • What do I value?
  • What do I like to do?
  • In my heart, what does my next job look like?
  • What hours and conditions would suit me best?
  • What do I wish to achieve? What companies interest me, regardless of whether they currently have openings or not?
  • Who do I know that can help me and what should I say to these people?
  • How would an ideal job fit with my ideal balanced life?

Focusing on an unrelated topic such as building a gazebo gives your mind permission to massage and work on these questions without the stress of applying hard focus to them. This is indirect thinking, and in just the same manner that slow is so often quicker than fast when seeking to attain a goal, so indirect thinking leads to resolution faster than direct thinking does.

(Excerpted and abridged from my book “Work Like a Wolf.” To purchase the book visit www.worklikeawolf.com)