At the end of a very rough week, I got a note from someone who used to work with me. She sent me the following note :
“How do you keep from letting the turkeys get you down? Seriously, I’m looking for tips, because I see you continuing to work towards your vision, so I know you’ve figured this out for yourself (either that, or a lot of liquor). … How do you keep yourself energized? Usually I’m pretty good at this, but lately in the face of the budget, everyone’s all doom and gloom and it’s a lot harder.”
I read it on a Friday morning. That week was so difficult, but I needed to be responsive. I gave her some blah, blah, blah. As a senior executive, I talked about how difficult it is to find things to motivate you. I said it wasn’t money or promotions or anything like that. But I was late for work and needed to finish the note later.
I wanted to tell her the truth, but I needed to answer the question myself and didn’t have an answer. Whining during bad times and celebrating good times are two extremes I avoid for bad or worse, and perhaps I need to work on that. But that day ended up being nearly as bad as the week. I think I said the “F” word five times that day. But, I needed to answer the question I got that morning despite my mood.
Decimated budgets, endless scenarios, hiring freezes, questions from the press, an employee with bad news, and another one with total nonsense, and yet, I had to answer a question for an amazing woman somehow even though I found myself searching for answers and a way through those dreadful times. I wasn’t sure I knew the answer, but it was important to find out and share with people like the amazing woman who asked me the question. As a leader, if I don’t figure it out for myself, I can’t help people. I lead the bad times. I have a few tricks in my bag other than overeating, drinking too much, and sleeping too little. Perhaps this answers the mail.
Hang out with energizing people. Happy hour or lunch with people who make me laugh, makes me think, or just remind me to take deep breaths helps me tremendously. I don’t like fake optimism, I’m a realist, but someone who sees the glass half full helps me keep a constructive perspective. Restaurant Week in Washington, DC, is an amazing antidote for doom and gloom.
Do fun things. I had this same question before from my buddy, “F”. He was going through a bad spell and asked me to give him something to do to get through. I said, “Let’s go buy shoes!” He stopped in his tracks and looked at me incredulously, then laughed. One time I was pretty stressed before an offsite meeting with my leadership team. I got there uncharacteristically early by 30 minutes. I made a U-turn to the outlet stores in Queenstown, MD, and decided that with a 20-minute round trip, I still had 10 minutes to shop. There was a two-for-one sale that day, and I saved a quick $100— sort of.
Give Back. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my so-called huge problems I forget about other people. I got to play the piano as an accompanist for a couple of saxophone students. I swear I was tired, but I stood up for a few hours in a sea of reeds and valve oil. But I wore flat shoes and knit pants and looked around to see what really matters — those kids. Sometimes we think more about our problems than about the people we serve.
Get a theme song. I went through my Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive” era several job assignments ago. I didn’t think I would survive that job. I had set up a weekly reminder that popped on my calendar every Monday. I would open the reminder, read the lyrics and hum it all day. One of my CIOs had “High Hopes”. My current one at the time, which I gave to the employee with the bad news the day before she got the news, is “Hold On” by 33 Miles:
… if the tide sweeps you out to sea
When your strength is gone
And it’s hard to believe
And hold on, hold on
When the current pulls you under
And your heart beats like thunder
Just give me your hand
And hold on, hold on
Until the storm is over
And I’ll be fighting for you
Just give me your hand
And hold on
The message from the lyrics that answers the mail is that doom and gloom don’t last forever. And sometimes, you do get weary and need to be energized. But, when those times come, hold on, have hope, and believe that the storm will be over … because it will.