An Exercise in Restoring Authenticity to the Workplace
In our present uncertain economic times, many corporations are run in what I call ‘crisis mode’ (which is about as bad as it sounds). Especially if one of your goals is to live your daily work life in a state of calm. With massive firings, temporary workforce hirings, reorganizations, downsizing through attrition, paying minimum wage (which is not actually a living wage anymore), and keeping weekly hours below full-time to prevent companies from having to pay healthcare and other benefits, today’s work world is more like a covert war being waged by corporations against the very employees who keep their businesses running. And having to live each day by putting out fires (or just trying not to get burned) is not living at all. Worst of all, it often separates us from our authentic self: that singular voice that we each have inside us that defines us. AND—that we very much need to pay attention to.
So, what can an ordinary person hope to do today to stay calm and authentic at work? Well, in the past I have worked in these crisis-oriented, high-stress environments and I didn’t always handle the stress well. In fact, I can think back to more than one occasion when the stress drove me to hyperventilate in the restroom. And having experienced it, I can tell you that when confronted with it, most people will either panic (ultimately joining in the fray), or become frozen, absent. When people freeze up you get a sort of deer-in-the-headlights kind of response when you look into their eyes. They are easy to recognize because they will often spout the company line in lieu of speaking their own truth. And because stress is generally an either/or situation, a fight or flight type of response often follows. So, you’re either EXTREMELY PRESENT (but not necessarily authentically so) and panicking, or you freeze up and check out or shut down. But there is a third option: to become a beacon of centeredness, a light in the proverbial dark.
Now, I won’t kid you—it’s probably just easier to stress out every day with your fellow colleagues or check out and hyperventilate in the restroom, than it is to work on inner calm. But the real downside of adding to the already overburdened stressed-out horde is that when endured over long periods of time you eventually self-destruct. You implode. Or you hurt others by taking your stress load out on them. Or—and this is perhaps worst of all—you stop caring. You become as numb on the outside as you are stressed out on the inside. This is bad. And you should avoid it. When people use the old adage “It’s not personal, it’s just business”, what they are really saying is that they need to do something morally repugnant but they don’t really want to take any personal responsibility for it. They don’t want to feel. They don’t want to care. Being authentic can be hard work. So, at that point they disconnect. And they forget that we’re all in this together.
But caring is ultimately what makes us human and our shared humanity is what connects us. Caring is not something to avoid at work; it’s something that can make work better. Of course first, you have to care about you. And that means getting and staying centered. That means tuning into your authentic voice instead of trying to silence it. But mainly, it means taking control of your energy: the energy you allow in, as well as the energy you put back out there.
So how can you access the third option? How can you become a beacon of calm and authenticity in a dark world? When I find that all around me is in complete and utter chaos, when the other employees (or even bosses) are stressed out to the point of crisis or panic, I carefully and very deliberately stop what I’m doing and call my energy back home. Here’s what it looks like, step by step:
OBSERVE YOURSELF. The first step is to notice that something is off, something is wrong. And it helps to notice this before you hit crisis mode. Early detection is key. Notice your comfort level. If something is making you uncomfortable, don’t ignore it. And one of the most important things to take note of is when you say things, or engage in behaviors, that are not like you; or are not something you would be proud to go home and tell your family about (like how you went off on your cube-mate and told him/her just where they could stick that report they were demanding from you). Ask yourself was it your own authentic voice that snapped so rudely at your co-worker? Or, did your own voice get drowned out by the voice of the stressed out hoard? Remember that nothing will improve without self-knowledge, and nothing happens without your permission. Know what your real inner voice sounds like, and learn to recognize when the voice coming out of you isn’t authentic.
STOP YOURSELF. It’s human nature to want to hit back when we feel hurt or abused or stressed-out (crap rolls downhill, as the saying goes). But when we respond to ugly with more ugly nothing improves and we lock ourselves into a no-win situation. Do it often enough, and it becomes a habit. So, JUST SAY NO.
Before responding in kind just pull up and stop. Visually picture a wall or a STOP sign. Sometimes I like to just visualize a giant neon N O floating in space in front of me, like a ghostly note from God. As in, “NO, you cannot have my calm” or “NO, I will not be part of your crazy” (and you can’t make me!). Just do whatever it takes to interrupt the chain.
DIRECT YOUR ENERGY. When people are about to go postal it’s as if they’re in a giant electrical storm and all of their energies are scattered to the 4 winds. They’re all over the place. They are not directing their energy because they’re not consciously in control of it. And their energetic shrapnel is hitting innocent bystanders left and right. But you can shield yourself from this fallout and you can use your own energy to make things better instead of worse. Here’s how:
First notice that you’re not trying to actually change the other guy. The other guy is presumably already very stressed out and stressed out people don’t listen well. So don’t try to stop others. Don’t try to reason with people in crisis. They are in survival mode. Focus instead on yourself. And—bonus points—I have found that if I can calm myself, that my energy will often have a residual effect on everyone else as well, creating a sort of mini oasis of calm that surrounds me and positively affects those that wander into my wake.
In Step One you observed your own energy. Use that now. Become aware of your personal energy and how it is separate from the chaos all around you. Then direct (or redirect) that energy in whatever way you can. Move it. For instance: take 3 or 4 deep breaths; count to 10 (or 100 if your environment is really crazy); picture yourself on that beach you visited during your last vacation—or in your recliner with a gin and tonic if you had a ‘stay-cation’. Picture all your co-workers doing the watusi (p.s.—laughter often helps). Whatever. Anything that will assist you in disconnecting from the prevailing corporate winds and regain some equilibrium and self-control. Once you can feel your energy, you can direct your energy. And that puts you in control.
CALL YOUR ENERGY HOME. Now—and this is the real gem of the entire exercise—picture yourself as if you’re in the eye of the storm, where everything is completely quiet and calm. Time seems to stop. For just a moment sound evaporates and you are completely alone and at peace. The storm still rages on all around you and you are aware of it, but you are no longer a part of it. The idea here is to acknowledge that the crazy going on is outside of you, and that it can only enter your safe, centered place if you let it in. By withdrawing from the fray you protect yourself from all that energy swirling madly outside. You create a safe space in which to breathe, regroup, and forge a new energy pathway.
Personally, I like to visualize myself wearing Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and clicking them together 3 times as I say “home, home, home.” (Hey, don’t judge me. So….what’s your favorite movie, Spiderman? OK, then, picture the center of a web instead of shoes. Whatever works). The point is to mentally put yourself in your safe place, untouched by panic or fear or stress.
CENTER YOURSELF. Now PULL IN ON YOUR ENERGY. Breathe deeply. Feel your energy circle you. Wrap it around you like a warm cloak. And keep pulling in until the energy is back where it belongs; feel it enter your core, the very center of your being. After all, that’s where your energy came from in the first place. Breathe it in, absorb it, glow with it. At the same time, picture white light at your feet and over your head. Draw this light energy up through the floor and down from the ceiling. Take it in and allow it to mix with your own energy. This is divine light, energy from the Source, and it will recharge you and keep you steady. This light is never-ending. It cannot be diminished if you use some up. It is there for you to use, whenever you need it, as much as you need it. It will never run out. So just keep breathing. Feel your solar plexus growing stronger with each breath you take.
You are in control now, you are centered, grounded, and no outside force can throw you off balance while you are in this state. You are not a leaf on someone else’s ill wind, to be blown about hither and yon. You are an ancient tree, strong and steady, with roots that reach down deep into the very core of the earth. Now you are in the driver’s seat and your energies will go where you direct them. No more automatic negative responses. No more hyperventilating. No more bosses or co-workers draining away your energies. You now have the self-control, inner calm and authenticity to choose how you want to react in any given situation. You are fully in tune with your own inner voice and have the power to react from your heart center. Because that’s where your authentic self lives. Your own voice is now stronger than any other voice outside of you. Listen to it. Then speak your own truth regardless of what others are saying. Follow your own inner guidance regardless of what others are doing.
© 2021 Deane Driscoll
This exercise by Deane Driscoll appears in Deb Snyder's book, Ignite CALM, Bliss at Work
Learn more about Lady Deane at her website: www.ourcosmicdance.com