Drink Deep and Decide What You Need

As the great res­ig­na­tion con­tin­ues, it’s clear that things will need to change more, not less. It’s a new con­scious­ness that is aris­ing, that just won’t put up with mean­ing­less work, armored hier­ar­chies, unre­spon­sive lead­ers, exces­sive work and dead­line pres­sures and all man­ner of inequities and work­place unfair­ness­es. Peo­ple will go. They just leave. They are not stick­ing around for bull­shit. Peo­ple have kind of had it with lead­ers who aren’t lis­ten­ing and don’t get it — don’t get them. How peo­ple feel treat­ed is why the res­ig­na­tion continues.

This is not an easy place to be for any­body, and I tend to see things through my own fil­ters, one of which is the notion that it’s nev­er actu­al­ly been that easy. There’s been a lot of cov­er-up; there’s been anx­i­ety that the pan­dem­ic and polit­i­cal polar­iza­tion and col­li­sions of val­ues have blown up. The lid is off a very old pot, so to speak. So now what?


I think most peo­ple — at least the ones I work with — just want to do a good job, see progress, be treat­ed fair­ly; feel less anx­i­ety and dis­sat­is­fac­tion. They want to have a life. Is that so much to ask?

There are, in this new world, expec­ta­tions that have not yet been worked out. Demand­ing that work­places be psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly safe and rea­son­able at all times and in all ways is one of those expec­ta­tions that’s prob­a­bly not going to be sus­tain­able. There’s been and I believe there’s like­ly always going to be risks, painful moments, tough deci­sions, uncom­fort­able feed­back, awk­ward stuff that does­n’t eas­i­ly get resolved. Peo­ple doing work togeth­er are inter­de­pen­dent and inter­de­pen­den­cy cre­ates stress and con­flict as nat­u­ral­ly as it cre­ates the chance for ful­fill­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions. The point is that there can’t be too much stress, espe­cial­ly where inter­de­pen­den­cy is entwined with mis­trust, and not enough col­lab­o­ra­tions where trust is cool, work might be hard but it’s also fun and ful­fill­ing, and peo­ple sense they belong. 

In some work­places the response has been to bring in train­ing about resilience, but this sug­gests it’s still the indi­vid­ual who is more respon­si­ble for han­dling the stress than the orga­ni­za­tion is for cre­at­ing it. It’s nice, but resilience is only as use­ful as crises are tem­po­rary. You can’t ask for end­less resilience. A lit­tle dark­ness, okay I can han­dle that; thanks for the help. A lit­tle more dark­ness; okay I got that, too. But end­less night? I’m think­ing not. 

Peo­ple end up in a place where they pres­sure them­selves and get stressed out try­ing to man­age them­selves accord­ing to some hyped vision of self-improve­ment and cor­po­rate respon­si­bil­i­ty. This is the same old sto­ry. If only they — those man­agers, those staff — were bet­ter, there would be no prob­lems. The result still has been: “I’m out of here!”

I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly wor­ried about mid­dle man­agers who acute­ly feel respon­si­bil­i­ty to “do some­thing,” and tend to get blamed when they don’t actu­al­ly know what to do, or do, but are blocked in doing it. All too often they go home and get sick. They just keep try­ing to put them­selves aside, and it does­n’t work.

There has to be hope of some­thing better.

Peo­ple must have the time to take care of them­selves. It’s sum­mer and I’m kick­ing my clients butts to take the vaca­tions that they want — and need — to take. You should hear the excus­es. “Yes, but the new divi­sion chief won’t be here for anoth­er two weeks. I want to make it eas­i­er for her.” “Yes, but there’s so much going on with the team. We’re down peo­ple and I’d feel bad if anoth­er pipe broke and I was­n’t there for peo­ple.” Rea­son­able excus­es but unrea­son­able to the health and san­i­ty of the per­son telling them­selves this is all there is.

See that thing over there behind you, I’d like to say some days. That big rec­tan­gle. That’s called a door. Please go through it. I promise you, if you do rea­son­able due dili­gence about being gone for a week (five days), some­how the place will sur­vive with­out you.

And beyond time, the big­ger issue is real­ly one of self-nour­ish­ment as an act of rebel­lion against the voic­es in our heads say­ing “be good,” “be respon­si­ble,” “make sure every damn oth­er thing is cov­ered before you think of your­self.” Those voic­es need to be put aside, and the way that hap­pens is not so much about think­ing of your­self; it’s more about think­ing for your­self. How about going with that?

Yes, the big­ger issue is this not so sub­tle thing, to lis­ten to this inte­ri­or word­less, less con­scious but high­ly con­sci­en­tious orig­i­nal source of your own human being, clear and cold as a moun­tain stream after a day-hike in hot weath­er, your own qui­et spring . Drink deep, let your­self be beloved and decide for your­self what you need. Use your native inner strength and good­ness to do what they were meant to do. Think of what you are mod­el­ing for oth­ers if you your­self do not stop.



  • Nollind Whachell wrote:

    Well said Dan. Pret­ty much mir­rors my own thoughts and feel­ings on the subject. 

    For far too long, decades in fact, so much has been brushed under the orga­ni­za­tion­al rug and has been allowed to remain hid­den. Thank­ful­ly the pan­dem­ic has made this impos­si­ble to do now and every­thing hid­den has now been brought to the sur­face, for every­one to see. So the pan­dem­ic is just reveal­ing decades long issues, not cre­at­ing them so much, as some peo­ple believe. 

    The pri­ma­ry issue is that peo­ple have been pushed by expec­ta­tions that increase each year with a sense of creep­ing nor­mal­i­ty until they’ve become com­plete­ly unre­al­is­tic to all but those in lead­er­ship posi­tions. For exam­ple, my wife, as a school teacher, has found her work­load increase to the point that her and her col­leagues are fac­ing burnout. 

    Yet the lead­er­ship at her school just “mar­kets” indi­vid­ual men­tal health prac­tices on one hand as a poten­tial stop gap, while increas­ing work­loads on the oth­er hand, lit­er­al­ly in the same breath at times.

    What’s tru­ly need­ed, as you said, is for peo­ple to have some breath­ing room, the time and space to actu­al think, reflect, and feel like a human being rather than a mind­less machine. 

    But if the lead­ers don’t pro­vide the crit­i­cal time and space that every­one needs right now then peo­ple will take lead­er­ship over their own lives and cre­ate it for them­selves, as the Great Res­ig­na­tion is already showing.

    At the same time, I think about my own actions and how I need to detach and turn off from old pat­terns that are no longer serv­ing me as well (ie blam­ing oth­ers for actions I see myself doing as well but in a dif­fer­ent con­text). It’s almost like we’re addict­ed to them, the sta­bil­i­ty and nor­mal­cy of them, even though we’re begin­ning to rec­og­nize how harm­ful they are to us.

    Per­haps it’s just our fear of walk­ing through an ambigu­ous space of not know­ing what to do and a time filled with not feel­ing in con­trol that holds us back. Or per­haps in rela­tion to that, it’s just our fear that our base needs of want­i­ng to belong and con­tribute will be shat­tered if we step into a new par­a­digm where every­thing feels like it’s being reset to zero.

  • Nolind, it’s great to hear from you. Thank you so much for your ele­gant addi­tions here. Your wife’s expe­ri­ence is tru­ly an exam­ple of what I’ve observed, as well — the notion that lead­ers put out such mixed mes­sage­ing. Let’s have men­tal health train­ing while I go ahead and dump on you and run. What kind of man­age­ment is that? 

    I was par­tic­u­lar­ly moved by your last para­graph. You accu­rate­ly spell out the greater dilem­ma — the deep ambi­gu­i­ty and there risk — of us see­ing our own pat­terns. But, you know, maybe that’s the thing that will save us, too — our capac­i­ty to tap our own inner strengths, our capac­i­ty to heal our­selves while the weird­ness goes on in the world, and maybe because of it. There’s noth­ing like see­ing and think­ing for your­self, feel­ing and hav­ing the expe­ri­ence of self-trust com­ing into the mind, body and heart, act­ing on that and rid­ing that wave, even when it goes against the System. 

    Thanks again for your pro­found reflec­tions, Nolan. All the best to you


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