This is me on my first day of Kindergarten. School was scary until it became natural.
1 year ago:
I glance over to the passenger seat, to my left.
It hits me, like a fist in the chest, that it's been 6 months since I drove on the left side of the road.
Driving on the left side, I breathe easy. I swing by a close friend's house, or visit my mom. I listen to familiar music or my local NPR station or play games with noisy kids in car seats without feeling stressed. Like a fish swimming, it's effortless.
On the right side, each ride invites courage. I feel fear but choose to keep going. Each trip has purpose. I CAN buy food for my family. I MUST take my child to the doctor. I WILL make it to this event...I will make the effort....I will make friends...I will find a spiritual home....I will drop my kid to a play date...I will be rooted.
Driving on the right side reminds me how much potential is still in me, in all of us. How much more stretching is possible. How much more adventure is available. How much more open I can be. How elastic my heart has become, opening wider every time I plop myself somewhere new and discover my people, my soul friends. The right side teaches me grand lessons. Lessons we all know, but don't always experience. That people are people. That human beings all want to love and be loved. That ultimately there is only oneness. This, this is what I love about traveling, living abroad. Like a shofar blast, each journey on the right side screams, wake up! Be present! Live!
But sometimes I glance over to the passenger seat and wish that, for that moment, I could drive on the left side, to feel familiar, to see the friends who know me best, and to hug my mom and dad,
I posted this on Facebook in January 2017 and am sharing with you all now, one year later. Driving on the right side of the road feels natural now and living here feels much more effortless. For those of you who are in an earlier phase of life transition and relocation (dislocation).
To get from 1 year ago to this new state of ease, I did the following:
1. I put myself out there all over the place to see what would stick. I got feedback. I got rejection. Lots of what I tried didn't work. But the work/relationships/communities that did work have stuck. And they are really good!
2. I took on the attitude of fearlessness, even if I felt fearful. I invited people to do stuff. I drove places I was scared to drive. I said yes to things that were scary.
3. I allowed myself days to be sad and lonely. I mean, we just uprooted our lives. Wouldn't it be weird not to be sad sometimes?
4. I let go of perfection. I mean, I did a lot of things wrong. A lot.
5. I lead with relationships. Genuine, authentic relationships and expression have always led to personal and professional opportunities. I will share more about these opportunities in posts to come. But focusing on building genuine friendships and relationships has been the single most important factor of feeling as though I can exhale.
What helps you exhale?
Over the past six years of coaching incredibly thoughtful, intelligent and highly-committed women, the theme of developing personal power and influence has been a recurring one. As a coach, I have been inclined to help my clients figure out how to develop this power and influence. One strategy has been by doing some "influence mapping" or, more plainly, by tuning into the world view of the client's boss or other people he/she would like to influence; What are her priorities? What are the pressures on her? What's his work style and learning style? How does he like to be communicated to? What does she value? What are her weaknesses? etc.
One of my first clients had an abusive boss, and I was too green to help her spot it. We focused on influencing strategies that had her taking all the responsibility for the relationship. In reality, these strategies played right into the boss' perception that he was all-powerful as she scrambled to tune in to his needs, but could never, ever get it right.
Since then, I've studied up on how to spot an abuser and I am committed to helping my clients distinguish the difference between the need to gain influence v. the need to put an end to bullying.
Before I go from power & influence and on to abuse, let me clarify what I mean by power and influence.
We all need to have some degree of power and influence at work. We need an appropriate degree of power to influence the direction our organizations take; to advocate for our subordinates and their careers, to secure approval for investment in our ideas, to gain the ear of decision makers.With a sense of appropriate power, we feel legitimate. We feel a sense of personal autonomy and value. We feel as though we are living and working with dignity.
Most of us have also experienced some degree of powerlessness. It enters into our lives suddenly with a change in leader, a loss of funding, a new set of organizational priorities. We know when our work feels irrelevant or undervalued to an organization or a new leader. We feel it when something shifts and we go from being able to make decisions to having to have every little thing approved. We feel pained when we realize that we've somehow been bumped lower down in the hierarchy or that we've somehow slipped in status.
Sometimes a sense of powerlessness is innocuous and part of a natural course of events. For example, with a new administration, some policy areas become less relevant and people working in policy shops have little power over the fact that their area of expertise has just become a career liability. Or when someone leaves an organization and we lose a champion with access to the decision makers. Or when organizational shifts cause us from being known and trusted to being unknown. Just because we feel powerless does not mean we are experiencing an abusive boss or work environment. In these situations it's possible to gain influence, reposition, or to make a determination that the job is no longer a good fit.
What's harder to spot is when our sense of powerlessness (and resulting stress, anxiety, over-working, lack of balance) happens because we find ourselves being led by an abusive boss.
The trick about identifying an abuser is not excusing repeated, persistent, negative behavior. It's so easy to excuse because none of us is a perfect leader ourselves; Who among us hasn't been in a bad mood that has affected others? Who among us hasn't felt over-worried and maybe micro-managed a bit too much? Who among us hasn't had a lapse in judgement when we feel our own status is threatened? Who among us hasn't been a hypocrite? Who among us hasn't been inconsistent, arbitrary or thoughtless in our directions at some point? Who among us hasn't considered how loyal people are on our team or felt a sense of paranoia?
We are all human, and many of us, especially women, look for ways to understand our bosses and try and meet their needs.
When you realize that abusive behavior is persistent, it's important to stand your ground.
First, recognize that if you're spinning your wheels with reasonable approaches to improving the working relationship, your boss isn't reasonable. Tell yourself this again and again - you are no longer operating in the realm of normal, professional behavior.
Second, consider the following questions:
A final word: no one is immune from developing abusive behavior. My clients who have experienced abuse recently (and there have been a steady increase in this number of clients coming to me with abusive bosses -- I have my theories as to why) have worked in schools, with social workers, in the most "caring" branches of government. Even people in "nice" helping careers can become abusers and they can, in other contexts, be very "nice" people. Don't be fooled.
The first time I lived in London, I believed, for three whole years, that I didn't have any real friends or community. I compared it constantly to my "ideal" life in Brooklyn that was constructed entirely around a sense of community grounded in shared cultural heritage and a particular set of social justice values.
Then I moved back to the states, to Alexandria, VA and I missed my London friends. The "new" London friends. They were good friends. They missed me. They wrote me real letters. (Facebook was just catching on, but still, they wrote me letters and cards! British people are SO good at letters and cards).
The realization: I wasted so much time and emotional energy mourning my life in New York that it made me unwilling to be fully present, open and appreciative of my life in London.
This realization + deep work with my friend, coach and hypnotherapist, Laura Palmer, helped me to let go of the artificial external barriers to human connection (accents, sense of humor, cultural differences) and connect with human beings anywhere. I am fully open (on most days -- we all have our bad days), to being deeply connected to people who come into my life.
Being someone who moves every 4-7 years, quickly becoming fully present and establishing human connections have become my most essential life and career skills. Ease of human connection that transcends artificial social constructs is key to positive and successful transitions of all kinds, and my personal practice in this area helps me to provide a deep and authentic level of support to my clients who are embarking on a big life and career change.
So, here are a few quick lessons that I've learned to be able to plop yourself anywhere (new city, new country, new job, new leadership role, new networking environment, etc) and quickly establish authentic, rich connections that lead to genuine relationships:
Our lives and careers uproot us, transport us, lead us down windy paths and present us with unusual detours. With each turn, we have a choice: to connect deeply with those around us, or not.
Jen Walper Roberts is a leadership and transition coach who supports mission-driven women to thrive in leadership, life and in their work to make the world a better place. Jen has led Conspire Coaching since 2011 and continues to develop coaching communities of mission-driven women in North America and Europe. She currently lives in Leeds, UK with her (very handsome) British husband and four strong-willed children. If you're facing a significant life or career transition, or are stretching into a significant leadership role, contact Jen to save time, energy and mental spiraling.
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