In my early 20s, before Meta existed, I trained to become a drug and alcohol counsellor, working with the charity ADDACTION. After completing my counselling qualification, I started work in earnest in a project in Willesden, London and quickly found it very overwhelming.
Working with those suffering from addiction is not easy work; the people who came through the door were often in crisis and in the depths of despair. I found it hard to switch off, and often took my work home with me, especially since I had a project manager who was always on my back, criticising me for my approach. In just 9 months I felt like I was approaching burnout.
In a phone call to my dad, who had worked as a youth worker and care worker all his life, I poured my heart out. I told him all about how hard I was finding things and how hard it was to ‘switch off’, and how often I brought the negative aspects of my work home with me. My dad had worked as a youth centre manager in many rough areas. He worked with kids that no-one else would work with, and was a brilliant youth worker. Now in his older years, he was a care worker, working with some very challenging young people in care. I asked my dad how he dealt with the constant pressure and stresses of his work, and if he had any wise words to share with me.
My dad paused and asked me some questions:
‘Jo, what do the clients you work with look like when they come off the streets and into your project?’
‘Well, they often look like death-warmed up. They’re at their lowest ebb, they’re in the depths of their addiction, they look desperate and lost’
‘And when you’ve had your session with them, and they’re leaving the project, going back out the door what do they look like then?’
‘Well if it’s a good session, they’ll at the very least feel heard and have some options going forward, and at the very best, they might even have a smile on their face.’
‘GREAT SON! That’s what you take home with you. Take that smile on the face of someone who was in despair, and leave the rest – at work.’
Think about yourself for a moment. You may not work as a counsellor, but I bet that it’s often the not so good stuff you take home from work each day!
It’s a strange human trait that we’re often our own worst critics, and so rather than take home the vast majority of a work-day that is at worst OK and at best, brilliant – we take home the ONE snotty email we received or the ONE bad conversation we had with our boss.
I think this is something that we need to address, and get back into perspective. If you were to analyse your average working day, you’ll find that even in a ‘bad day’ you get one heck of a lot done, and you’ll have plenty to celebrate if you look for it. So it’s time to start collecting the evidence that says, actually, overall, you’re doing an amazing job, considering the circumstances, pressures and stresses that you’re all facing.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect: we’re not MEANT to be perfect, we are human beings after all!
DO start noticing (and recording) the GOOD things you do in your day: the positive meeting you had, the new idea that you had that your boss really liked, the time you made your colleague laugh when they were a bit down, the tea-round you got for everyone when things were getting a bit fraught, the way you managed to ‘wing it’ in that meeting, the kindness and compassion you showed when you gave one of your team a day off.
All too often we store the negative videos from our day, rather than the more positive ones. Sure, it’s important to learn from our mistakes, so some time to reflect on what happened and see how we might do things differently in the future and learn from it, is absolutely a positive thing to do. However let’s not dwell on it, and let’s certainly not take those horror stories home with us. Let’s leave them at the office, where they belong!
Work is just a part of life, it’s not the WHOLE of life, and yet if we focus on looking for the positive in what we do, then that has a knock on effect in our home lives too. It makes life feel better and we feel better because of it.
Some 20 years later, and my dad’s words of wisdom still ring true with me now. When I find that I’m obsessing with the one not perfect comment in an overwhelmingly positive set of feedback from a group I’ve been running – I’ll remind myself that I should be taking home the positives, and that it is 99%+ positive!
I find that taking home the GOOD stuff helps me get my perspective back, and it also motivates and inspires me to do the best I can in all that I do.
I suspect that if you were to do the same that you might find it makes a difference for you too.
Have a wonderful month,