action to happiness

Familiar, Creeping Dread

 

For years and years of my adult life, I felt a recurrent, familiar dread in the rhythm of the work week. Before the dread set in, there was some buoyancy. Once the weekend was in sight, it started to feel like rolling downhill instead of slogging my way up. I used to say that Thursday was my favorite day of the week. For me, the end of the Thursday work day felt lighter than the preceding days. People tended to be in a good - at least, better - mood on Fridays, with everyone looking forward to their reprieve from the grind. I remember making plans for just how awesome my Friday evening was going to be, filled with relaxation and doing things like watching a movie with a vodka tonic in hand, only to find myself depleted, exhausted, and barely able to keep my eyes open at 9 pm. What a waste, I would think to myself, that one of the two nights I can truly enjoy every week goes down in this sad way, with plans unrealized and the need to recover taking over all other plans.

Saturday was always the best day of the week. It was the one day where I would wake up refreshed and even if there was a lot to do, I knew I'd be hanging out with my family, prioritizing at least one or two fun things to do along with taking care of household needs, errands, etc. Inevitably, the familiar pang would arrive on Saturday evening, a precursor to Sunday, knowing that the ability to be present would slowly seep away as the end of the weekend approached. And that was when the dread would really kick in. Sunday afternoon. My mind started moving forward into the work week, thinking through what needed to be done, who I'd be meeting with, what fires might pop up, which team members were going to be in conflict - the list went on.

Sunday night was the worst. It was more the exception than the rule that I would get a decent night's sleep before the work week began. I would go to bed at a reasonable time and watch the hours tick by. I would do the thing that insomniacs do, telling myself "Five hours of sleep is fine, I can work with that" and then "If I don't get at least four hours of sleep, this is going to be a rough week" and my mind would finally shut down around that time, allowing me a few precious hours of rest, but not nearly enough to keep me energized as the week progressed.

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Dread was such a regular in my life that I didn't question it much. I knew a lot of people who felt just like I did. We talked about the dis-ease of Sunday like it was a fact of life. One of my friends calls it the "Sunday scaries." Like so many other not-so-good aspects of my mindset at that point, I registered that it was there, and that it sucked, but it fell into the category of "the price we pay." As in, we must in some way "pay", or more accurately, sacrifice, in order to have the other benefits that come from staying in a particular situation. This is such a regular and consistent bit of messaging in our culture of success that we resign ourselves to it.

But actually, it's bullshit.

You do not have to accept dread as a fact of life. You do not have to fall in line with the "pay the price" concept of success. I'm not telling you to run out and quit your job, because that isn't the answer. No matter where you work, if you have already bought into the foundational trap of accepting a limited concept of "this is the way the world is," your experience of life will remain consistent. That is, you will get more of what you're resigned to. Ask yourself the following:

  • What in my experience lends itself to dread? Is it the hours I work? Not prioritizing my need to refuel, e.g. exercise, eat, sleep, etc.?

  • What am I tolerating? What have I resigned myself to? When am I saying "that's just the way it is?"

  • Are there other places in my life where something similar is happening? (I'll give you a hint - the answer is "yes") Where else are you deciding to go along because it is what it is?

Once you've identified these areas, you'll begin to see the pattern and can start thinking about ways to change what you're accepting as the sacrifice you're not happy making. What can you do differently? Where can you shift your priorities? To avoid crashing and burning, take it one small step at a time and make a single change before you move on to the next.


 

The Unsettling Unknowns of Transition

 

We've all been there, in those strange periods of time when a change has been initiated but remains incomplete. Even if you have some vague notion of what is changing or how it's changing, the details are hidden. Maybe it's because the lack of transparency protects the process, or maybe it's because lack of transparency is part of the culture in which the change is happening. Either way, it can be unsettling. You know something will change but don't know whether you'll be directly affected. It could be that the change itself will be positive, but since there is no proof of that either way, you tend to stay in the land of unease, hoping for the best but skeptically doubting the outcome. 

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Transition periods happen frequently in our professional experiences. Restructuring, downsizing, relocating, and reorganizing are all a part of doing business and keeping up with the needs of growth, clients, the industry, etc. But just because transition is a given doesn't mean that it's pleasant to be in suspension, waiting to see what will happen while fretting about the possibilities. The good news is that the fretting part is optional. A few adjustments to your mindset and your expectations can mean the difference between anxiously and impatiently waiting or calmly going about your business until what's done is done. 

Here are 3 things you can do to manage a transition period in a way that serves you. 

  1. Loosen your grip. You have no control over the outcome. How does it help to consider all of the worst case scenarios when you truly have no idea what's coming next? When you start to worry, remind yourself, out loud if you need to, that expending your energy on worry and anxiety has exactly zero impact on how things turn out. 

  2. Focus on what you can do. Until the change shows up, keep doing your thing. Sure, it may change, but it hasn't yet. Show up, be present, and tune in. What do you like about what you're doing? How can you capitalize on that during the period of uncertainty? Maybe you need to be deliberate about sprinkling in more fun or down time for yourself.  Don't talk yourself out of it because "Oh, it's all just so crazy right now - I can't possibly leave!" Actually, while everything is still what it is is the best time to make sure you're taking care of yourself. 

  3. Trust the process. Whether or not things go the way you want them to, they will go the way they need to, and ultimately it's for your benefit. This is by far one of the hardest things to do if your Type A and like to have an iron grip (see #1) so don't expect to nail this one quickly and easily. If you have to, mentally return to other periods of time when something went in a direction that you didn't anticipate and assess how it turned out. Was it ultimately fine, perhaps positive, even if you didn't initially think it would be? It's easy to fall prey to black and white, doom and gloom thinking. When those thoughts come up, repeat #1 and #2 and trust that thing are always working out for you.