Get out of your own way

Mark Goulston

It’s the stories we tell ourselves that define our sense of reality, unfortunately there was a small violin playing in the background to mine.

It was July 2018, I found myself inhaling my food, during a typical lunch break, refuelling in advance of my 200th zoom call of the day. I was caught in two minds, ruminating over an earlier meeting while drifting in and out of conversation with my colleagues. The chats were predictably colourful and our way to let off steam. One of my co-workers mentioned that they were counting the days down for their pension, albeit it being 18 years away. This comment lingered with me for the rest of the day, it even travelled with me on my monthly business trip to Amsterdam and even decided to sleep with me that night. As I woke the next morning, I realised that statement was the catalyst for change. I promised myself I never wanted to be in a position where I am waiting to retire, waiting for something to happen for me, focusing most of my time on the things that were out of my control. How did I arrive here?

Reflecting on that situation now, I have realised I was languishing, burnout was tapping me on the shoulder, I was complaining more than completing, I was not my best self. This had spilt over into my home life, I was less and less present, either spending my weekends thinking about Monday morning’s leadership meeting or how I could have handled a work conversation better.

I had neglected the things that gave me energy, I had dramatically decreased my time playing sport, reading, walking, having a good old laugh. Instead, I replaced this with rumination, scrolling, generally feeling sorry for myself. No wonder I was here, I had turned off my recharge button. I allowed external pressure to burden my thoughts, my feelings and my behaviours.

I knew I was not alone, there had been an incredible rise in the number of no shows to work due to potential burnout.

The performance levels had dramatically risen over the past 5 years; however, the constant pressure was taking its toll. With the best intentions there was an increased focus on individual and organisational wellbeing, but some foundations were missing. At the time I could not put my finger on it.

Pressure is different for everyone. We cannot see it. But we all feel it through different sources. I believe this is of equal importance for wellbeing. What works for one person might not work for another. The critical point is to understand where you are now, where you want to go, then devise a plan that works best for you.

I was extremely fortunate and forever grateful to work for a great company with great people, excellent values and given the opportunity to grow in a challenging environment. However, change was needed, not the company, not the people around me, not the aesthetic things, just me, I needed to change.

After some deep soul searching, I peeled back some uncomfortable layers, took a shower, leveraged my strength of courage, stepped back to get some perspective and then moved forward in a more meaningful direction.

Fast forward 3 years and I have been on an incredible journey. I have learned and continue to learn. I have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. I have moved from not knowing my place to a greater sense of belonging.

At the heart of my sense of purpose is to support others in enjoying what they do, so I am sharing some tips from own learnings:

  1. Hard work is great, but it only pays off when you prioritise your wellbeing. Ensure you factor in that reset button. Performance and Wellbeing have a symbiotic relationship, if you want to perform at your best you need to be at your best.
  2. Express yourself through what you do. Be you, live your positive values, champion your character strengths, particularly on the tough days. This is you at your core, being authentic and free.
  3. Pay particular attention to your self-talk. Recognise how you are talking to yourself, challenge the narrative when language is negative. Ensure your self-talk is your friend and not your foe.
  4. Act, do something and the motivation will follow. Get a pen and write, pick up the phone and make that call, just make a start.
  5. Identify and engage the resources that will help you. You are not alone. This can stem from your family support to the experts in the field, from technology to your own experience, skills, and strengths. Be creative, you will be surprised.

If you are feeling stuck, seeking something new, you are already on the change curve. You might just need to step back before you move forward.

Returning to the stories we tell ourselves; the violin is in the closet and now “Let it go” is gently playing in the background.

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