Thin Difference is a virtual table where we can sit down to exchange ideas, tips, and insights across generations. Millennials, or Generation Y, are the new generation of leaders, and the future is bright with their talent and energy. Our mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire them to create a big leadership story.
Over a month ago, I celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t what most would consider a monumental one, but for me, every birthday is. I use my birthday as a marker for my personal new year. I celebrate, perform rituals, and have habits I keep leading up to, and shortly after the first of January, like many others. Then, nearly six months later, during my birthday season (yes, if done right, it feels like a season) I do an inventory on what the last year, for me, has meant. I set new goals and make plans for my new year. I check in to see what I want to continue, tighten up, grow, or incorporate for the remaining six months.
My Birthday, My New Year
I explained this, “birthday as my personal new year,” to someone recently and they laughed at first. It sounded like another Maya-ism. When I broke down that this helped me stay on track of goals and helped me set more thoughtful intentions, she understood. I don’t compartmentalize my life in decades—teens, 20s, 30s. My life feels more nuanced and complex. How could I possibly track it in 10-year increments? I can better organize my life into where I lived, who I dated, where I worked, undergrad, or post-grad.
There are definitely patterns that come with certain age groups. I distinctly remember being absurdly broke in my 20s. I know at this age, I don’t have the patience or the temperament to live that way now. I also know, within my 20s, there were at least three standout phases: the toxic relationships I was in throughout the decade, meeting (separately) two people who I would share a long-lasting friendship with for years to come, and working awful jobs. It was also in my late 20s that I started feeling a shift within. My college and high school friend groups no longer felt comfortable. Constant parties, lounges and “events” became tiresome. My true self, an introvert, started feeling more drawn to art gallery openings and museum exhibits. My friends were older and felt more mature. I was on a new wave.
I was experiencing growing pains — ushering in another phase that can’t be tied to a specific age range. I had no idea why I felt and seemed so out of order. Now I know the feeling exactly. When I start becoming restless within, I step back from the crowd and lean more into myself. I interrogate myself: what am I feeling? What triggered this? Who triggered this? I can’t plan my life around that. I have to tune in and listen.
The Benefits of a Personal New Year
Even if your birthday lands on or near the first of the year, I recommend, checking in with yourself. What are you working on? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to live? What do you want your life to feel like? Your personal new year sets a tone that is completely separate from everyone else’s resolutions and the collective stress of trying to be your best self in the first few months of the new year. Nothing outside of you can ever be tailor-made for you. Only you can do that.
So here I am at the beginning of my personal new year and things look okay. I am a woman, so of course there are always questions from the outside, and sometimes the inside too if I’m honest, about when I’ll settle down and get married, have children. Just yesterday, a beloved family member reminded me, “you don’t have much time.” I love her, so no hard feelings. She means well. Also, that’s reason number 923 to set your own goals, to survey your own life, and to mark your milestones based on what they mean to you. My personal new year allows me the space to step away from what I should have done the previous year and what must happen this year, into a more organic engagement with myself on what is right for me and me alone.
While it’s easy to recognize traits like composure, charisma and confidence in well-known thought leaders like Steve Jobs, Simon Sinek or Brené Brown, it’s more difficult to apply these characteristics to the way we lead on a daily basis.
But executive presence is critical for leaders. It plays a key role in a leader’s ability to communicate and influence others — two traits that are among the most important factors in a leader’s success, according to the 2013 Gartner CIO Survey.
Executive presence lends credibility to your actions and decisions and improves your professional image.
Where Does Executive Presence Come From?
Executive presence will come more naturally to some than others, but it’s possible for anyone to develop it.
Confidence is a core underpinning to executive presence and can absolutely be developed throughout your life. In fact, increased confidence drives executive presence, which generally further improves confidence.
It’s common to think you need to have a certain personality or style to show executive presence. Sometimes people think they need to have a certain result on the DISC or MBTI profile to be seen as leaders. In reality, however, what is more critical, is being true to your nature. True confidence comes from becoming comfortable in your own skin, not from putting on a less-than-natural persona.
How Do You Know if You Have Executive Presence?
Look at the bulleted questions below and evaluate yourself honestly. While you’re unlikely to ever be completely accurate in your self-perspectives, it is critical to think about how you see yourself. Then find others you can ask for honest feedback. These should be people who see you both at work and outside of work, and who will tell you the truth kindly.
Do others look to you for leadership when opportunities arise? Are people glad you are there and appreciative of your contributions?
Are your leadership efforts aimed at helping other people develop, or are they more about showing off what you can do? Do your interactions focus on helping other people make good decisions or expecting them to follow orders?
When times are tough, do people seek you out? Are you brave? Can you lead your team in challenging times, offering encouragement, and keeping them focused on the desired outcomes?
Are you able to paint a picture of the future and show them a vision worth working towards?
Are you intentional? Executive presence means starting the day off with the goal of helping people be their best selves.
Are you glad to be there? True executive presence means being grateful for the opportunities you have. If you dread or resent tasks or meetings, that will show.
What Steps Can You Take to Develop your Executive Presence?
People are affected by what they see when they look at you. It isn’t about physical attractiveness but rather about the nonverbal messages your appearance is sending to others.
Do you practice powerful posture? It’s important to stand up straight, smile, make eye contact and walk confidently. Practice this while you’re out running errands and at home in front of the mirror. Concentrate on how different you feel while striding confidently into a room smiling and greeting others as opposed to quietly slipping into the back of the room.
Do you pay attention to appearance? This is caring about how we present ourselves outwardly. It’s not the most important but is something to think through and give attention. Do you allow a sloppy or unkempt look to hold you back? Don’t let your appearance get in the way of your message. Make sure your clothes are clean, in good repair and not wrinkled or disheveled. Your clothes don’t have to be fancy or even brand new, but they should be in good shape and fit you well. Your hair should always be well-maintained and neat. See your barber or stylist regularly and don’t be afraid to ask them for recommendations to maintain a clean look between visits.
What expression do you generally wear? Consider how others experience our body language and facial expressions. We want others to see that we are relaxed, intentional and interested in them.) Is it welcoming and friendly or closed off and annoyed? Look at yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning. That’s the expression the world sees when you aren’t paying attention. If you find it doesn’t convey the tone you want, practice the look you want and be intentional when greeting others. Hint: a smile is almost always the right answer.
How do you walk into a room? Are you distracted or stressed? Are you reading emails on your phone? Or do you make an effort to connect and engage with individuals? People appreciate leaders who acknowledge them and show genuine interest. They know if you are “in the moment” or wishing you were somewhere else. Make it a priority to be present during every meeting. If you can’t be truly present, then consider delegating the meeting to someone who can.
These are fairly simple steps you can take right away, but if you’d like to go further, there are many ways to learn more. You could dig into great books and workshops on developing professional presence and confidence, or you could consider executive coaching to help you crack the code and develop a stronger, more confident presence.
As an executive coach, Shannon Eckmann comes alongside leaders to help them see their role from multiple perspectives, re-frame their challenges, and develop action plans to make progress toward their short and long-term goals. She works with them to develop a vision through the lens of their core convictions and purpose, making small changes that will have a significant impact on their lives and business.
When you think about your life, do you picture it in phases? Do you expect your twenties and thirties to look different than your fifties and sixties? Do you plan accordingly?
When Jon Mertz posed these questions to the Thin Difference team recently, I was intrigued.
Admittedly, I haven’t thought about my life in phases looking forward – but I’ve definitely thought about my life in phases with the benefit of hindsight! Looking backward, I can see different decades both shaping me and taking different shapes.
While considering his questions and pondering life, I stumbled on an illustration by Mari Andrew. It perfectly summed up how I’ve seen those past decades take shape. When I saw it, it felt as though she’d rooted around in my brain and discovered one of my most deeply cherished life lessons (so far). Mari Andrew’s illustration reminded me of an Introduction to Philosophy class I took a million years ago.
Knowledge: Decade by Decade
I remember studying Socrates as a Freshman in college and having my mind blown by his explanation of Knowledge. I recall being deeply impacted and slightly confused by the idea that true wisdom is understanding that we know practically nothing. At the time it seemed counterintuitive. Little did I know, the older I got, the truer this truth would become.
Despite my introduction to Socrates’ idea, initially, it didn’t stick. Spending several years focused on higher education convinced me to live as if I knew better than him. With a degree in my pocket and a little bit of life experience under my belt, I felt pretty confident. I navigated my twenties quite sure that I had it all figured out. Life was black and white, and I was ready to tackle it armed with intellect. I was so certain about things.
In my thirties, I began to see Socrates’ point. The more life threw at me and the more I experienced, the less certain I became. It became apparent that I probably didn’t have life figured out just yet, but that wasn’t a bad thing! I still believed I could crack the code, I just knew I hadn’t done it yet. I felt less and less trusting of people/leaders/teachers who professed absolute surety and was more drawn to folks who confessed how much they still had to learn.
Now, in my forties, I can’t help but giggle when I think about my twenty-year-old self. As my scope of vision continues to broaden, I realize how narrow my understanding has been. And that is incredibly exciting! Life feels less black and white and so much more grey. I’m finding a lot of comfort in that grey. I’m beginning to understand that it takes time, patience, and experience to learn. Figuring out this life stuff is a slow process – at least for me. And I’m proud to admit that I still have so much to learn. I’m even beginning to accept I might never have it all figured out!
If I’m lucky enough to live through my fifties, sixties, seventies, or more, I suspect that Mari Andrew’s illustration will continue to prove true. I hope I’ll continue to be less and less certain and more and more curious. I hope I’ll become increasingly comfortable with how much I don’t know. I hope my heart and mind will continue to expand, and my perspective will continue to shift and broaden.
Applying the Lesson the Work
While Andrew’s illustration is about life and “adulthood” (topics that tend to be her focus), one could argue the same progressive illustration could be applied to owning a business.
When I decided to strike out on my own, I was full of the same self-certainty I had in my 20s. Perhaps that level of self-assuredness is necessary to venture out our own professionally? As the years and my business have progressed, I’ve realized how little I know – or more precisely, how much there still is to learn. Thank goodness!
It could be easy to interpret the illustration or Socrates’ teaching as depressing. “The more I learn, the less I know,” at face value, sounds frustrating. It could seem like backward progress. But there can be freedom in admitting that you don’t have it all figured out. There can be peace in knowing there’s still more to learn and more to experience. We can relax when we know we’re doing the best that we can today with the knowledge we’ve accumulated. All the while, we can look forward to what tomorrow will bring, how our understanding will expand, and what we know will decrease.
My partner and I love rock climbing at our local indoor gym. It’s a great way for us to be active together, despite different approaches to fitness—I like the gym, he gets exercise in through his job. We also like to play occasional rounds of golf together in the summer.
Climbing Against the Course
It’s not immediately obvious, by what these two activities have in common is the fact that they are not innately competitive.
Sure, golf courses can be competitive places! And at the climbing gym, you can certainly look around and see other climbers trying to one-up each other, or engaging in a bit of friendly trash talk (a personal favorite jab: “dude, what are you waiting for? Just climb higher!”). Putting a few bucks down on a round of golf might inspire the players to try a bit harder, just as climbing a hard route that your partner can’t quite master can add an edge to your workout.
Letting Go of Competition
But, at the end of the day, those competitions aren’t the real point. In golf, as in climbing, you’re really playing against the course, and against your own previous performance. I’m working to adopt this as a metaphor for work and life as well. Let me explain.
Climbing gyms employ route setters who make the routes, set the problems, and grade the difficulty. In each route, there is usually at least one “crux”—a difficult move that requires either strength, flexibility, imagination, or an un-obvious body position to get past. The crux is where most people fall off the wall. Golf is the same way. They hire course designers who purposefully put the water feature right in your way, grade the green so that it’s faster than it looks, and set par and handicap for the hole.
In a way, it’s easier to focus on competing with others than it is to focus on getting better yourself. In a direct competition, you can say, “I won.” Other people provide an objective measure. Whereas if you’re playing against the course or against your previous performance, you’re never finished. You have to be willing to say, “Ok, that climb was a little better. Time to try a harder grade.” You have to be willing to fall off the wall on a more difficult route.
This is true in work and life as well. If you always measure yourself against others, you miss out on the opportunity to define success for yourself, to improve a bit every day, and to tackle increasingly harder problems.
More and more, I am learning that life is about playing against the course. It’s about tackling the problems that are laid out before us, and to get better over time. To use a cliche, I think that rising tides really do lift all boats.
So how does this apply to work? Well, if you’re a leader, it’s your job to help your team figure out the best ways to solve the problems before them, and to create the conditions for them to best work together. This will often mean removing elements of competition from the team dynamic. Sales teams often have a degree of competition in their structure — and that can be a good thing — but if the culture is about getting ahead of teammates, instead of success in the market, there are likely to be some downstream issues (stealing leads, undermining colleagues, etc.).
If you’re an individual contributor, it’s all about figuring out the crux of your role, and then developing the skills you need to conquer it. What resources can you pull in to help? Can you watch how other people have mastered this problem, and then emulate their approach? Do you need to get stronger in a particular area of your role? Trying to go at it alone is a recipe for frustration.
I’ve started to redefine success for myself. Success isn’t about winning a competition, or about being the best at something—though those may be good indicators that I’m on the right track. To me, success is about training myself to solve increasingly complex problems. It’s about having the courage to fall off the wall, shake out my arms, and try again. It’s about building strength, flexibility, and resilience. To conquer one crux, and then set my sights on the next.
Most importantly, I think that success is wholeheartedly cheering for and supporting others who are on their own missions to get better. Life isn’t a zero-sum game, and we’re not competing for slices of a finite pie. There are enough problems to solve in the world to go around.
I got to the final quarter of the year when I realized that I had only taken two days of vacation and I literally couldn’t use my time off before I lost it.
I found a way to take one week off and just sat at home, doing next to nothing. But, that week, I realized that I had become a statistic. According to one study, I was one of 54% of Americans who didn’t use all of their vacation time (although there are some signs of this number improving).
Stepping Away, Slowing Down, Leaping Forward
During that week at home, I committed to using all of my vacation days the following year and only transfer what I could for a big anniversary trip with my wife the next summer.
One of the gifts of this extended time away has been a different perspective, which has led me to make important changes as a leader. Best-selling author, Mark Batterson, has a mantra that goes like this – “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.”
To get to that new, better perspective, we have to step away and slow down.
Lack of Trust. “I don’t trust the people in the room to do the right thing if I’m not there.”
Control. “I’d have to give power away to really step away.”
Inadequate Identity. “I don’t know who I am outside of my work.”
Insecurity. “What if things go on and I’m not as needed as I think I am?”
Fear of the Quiet. “I’m afraid of what I’d hear if my life weren’t so noisy.”
Work-Life Imbalance. “I’ve neglected my personal life for the sake of my career.”
Work is Easier. “It sounds bad, but it feels easier to win at work than it does at home.”
Many of us avoid the reflection vacation often brings because it means having to face things we don’t want to face. While there’s value to consultants, coaches, books, and conferences, I think a lot of us have the answers we’re looking for already inside – we just need to unearth them. This is what Parker Palmer gets at in his book, Let Your Life Speak, when he says, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Why Our Best Leadership Lies on the Other Side of Vacation
So, when I went away on a recent vacation, I thought about questions like these:
Where am I manufacturing energy?
Where am I foggy on my vision?
Where do I need to become a different kind of leader, husband, father, friend?
What do I want? If I could design my life, starting from here, what would I draw?
The answers we have within us, which might actually come to the surface when the waters calm could lead to change. We might end up saying yes to some things and no to others. We might walk down a road we never imagined.
In fact, this article is one of my changes. This is my last piece for Thin Difference. I started writing for Thin Difference four years ago, and I’ve written about 50 pieces on leadership over that period. But, with some reflection during my recent time away, I realized it was time to end this season – to not keep adding more to my life, but acknowledge that saying yes in some places means saying no in others.
Like a lot of leaders, I have a hard time ending things, saying no, and letting go. The clarity needed to make those decisions rarely comes in chaos but often comes from quiet moments of rest. Beginnings and endings can be scary. Yet, leadership growth always requires a battle with our fear(s).
As Jack Canfield once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Stay brave, my friends!
Thanks to Thin Difference for the opportunity to write 50 articles over the last year. This site is a gift to the world, and this message – gathering around our common ground for the common good – is a message worth spreading. Carry on!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels
I turned 30 last year. In addition to experiencing some of the new realities like taking longer to recover from workouts and an internal alarm clock that doesn’t allow me to sleep in, I also noticed another challenge in this decade.
One challenge I’ve recognized this year is the subtle lie that my 30s should be a season when I really start to gain traction and momentum in life.
Whereas our 20s are about starting out, trying new things, and learning from failures — our 30s are supposed to be the time when you start moving up in your career. Our 20s might have been about finding a spouse — our 30s are supposed to be a decade when we are starting and growing our family.
If “50 is the new 30” when we think about our looks and physiques, then it’s almost like “30 is the new 50” when it comes to our achievements and prosperity.
What’s Wrong with Believing This Lie About Our 30s?
But here’s the subtle problem with that mindset. If we believe that our 30s are all about gaining traction and momentum, what happens when that doesn’t work out like we think it should? If we’re not beginning to reap some benefits in our 30s, it must mean we’re doing something wrong. We must be behind. And what happens if this continues into our 40s? At that point, we must be an utter failure, right?
What if our 30s were more about sowing rather than reaping? What if rather than feeling “behind” because we haven’t achieved certain milestones we expected to reach, we saw our 30s as another decade to continue to cultivate the soil of our careers and relationships?
How to Avoid the “30 is the New 50” Lie
So how do we shift the paradigm to view our 30s as another decade to become good soil for the future? Here are a few principles I’m trying to remind myself whenever I start to feel the pull of the lie that I should have life figured out in my 30s.
Spend time with people older than you. One thing I love about connecting with people in their 60s and 70s is that you realize there’s never a point in life when we feel like we’ve “made it.” I know men and women who didn’t start their company or find their calling until they were in their 40s and 50s. I know people who had setbacks in their 30s that they wouldn’t trade for the world because of how it shaped them. Getting perspective from people with more experience can help us see the idea of “thriving in our 30s” for what it really is… a fallacy.
If you feel yourself constantly pushing and striving, stop. Our 30s can be a time when we start to gain traction and momentum. It can also be a season when we do a lot of damage — to ourselves and others around us. We can strive so hard to make it in our careers that we miss out on building a solid foundation with our spouses and children. Recognizing the areas where I’m pushing and striving is a great way to identify the ways we feel “behind” in life. Those are the areas where we need to release and rest.
Continue to focus on the person you’re becoming. Dallas Willard once said, “The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become.” This is something I have to remind myself daily. When I pause and wonder about whom I’m becoming, it helps relieve the pressure that comes with believing my 30s should look a certain way.
Here’s one thing I know about my 30s, a lot will happen over the next ten years. Most of it will be unexpected. Stepping into this new decade with that reality in mind helps me stay grounded in the present. Rather than being overwhelmed by all the striving and pressing that comes from thinking my 30s should be a decade of success and accomplishment, I’m able to measure the entire decade differently. I can actually enjoy this season for what it is, another decade to grow, develop, and be transformed.
Leaders who are the most relevant and effective within their spheres of influence are those who prioritize continued growth and learning—both for themselves and their teams. This education-first approach to business is successful because it promotes a culture in which everyone is encouraged to learn, fail and further their skills for the benefit of the business.
Why Being an Education-First Leader Matters
The ROI of learning is clear when you realize that companies who invest in recurrent, intentional employee training yield 24 percent more of a profit margin than companies who overlook this resource, according to the Association for Talent Development.
If you know you’re lacking in this area, use the following strategies to make education a priority for yourself and your employees.
Communicate Your Learning Goals from the Onset
If you want to create a framework that values education, you need to immerse your team in this environment from the moment you hire them. This extends past asking your team to read a handbook or attend a seminar. You need to communicate the specific goals and expectations you have for their skill development, and equip them with the tools and support they need to reach those goals.
This requires you to develop a partnership between yourself, other managers, and the HR team, suggests SHRM: “It’s not enough to announce your program in an e-newsletter or social media post and then rely on employees to ‘get it;’ HR departments must actively market their educational offerings, share their philosophy around learning, and encourage managers to talk up training and development opportunities.”
Work together to determine how you’ll promote these learning opportunities, and how you’ll integrate them during on-boarding. How will you talk about it in marketing? How quickly can you integrate this into the new hire process?
Allocate Both the Time and Resources for Training
When you invest in an employee’s career development, you’re more likely to secure their retention for the long-term. An estimated 94 percent of professionals confirm that they’d remain at a business that helps them expand their knowledge and learn new skills, according to the 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report.
However, the survey also found that the main reason employees feel hindered from learning is insufficient time or educational resources. Your job is to make tools for learning accessible and ensure that each person has adequate time built into their schedule to focus on educational opportunities.
Consider how you can use online micro-learning to address these issues. This gives employees access to the resources they need when they’re ready to use them. With short, micro-lessons, they can also make time for learning without losing a large portion of their day.
Invite Employee Feedback and Collaboration
Learning is not a static process—it’s dynamic and requires forward motion, which means you need to assess consistently, measure, and revise the training. When you collaborate with employees to get feedback, you get a chance to learn too. This is an opportunity to understand more about how they learn and how they can get more from this time.
The easiest way to facilitate feedback is with regular surveys, sent around once each month or quarter. This gives employees a chance to speak up and ask for what they want, while allowing you to hone the learning to be most valuable to them. Follow up with 1-on-1 meetings to dig deeper if needed.
Focus on Your Development
This education-first approach applies to both your employees and you, along with other leaders within the company. To inspire an enthusiasm for learning on your team, you need to demonstrate an initiative to sharpen and fine-tune your business acuity as well.
Kevin Sealey, the education-first vice president of operations for EPOCH Student Living, explains how this benefits your business, not just you personally: “Do not ever stop learning and further developing your craft. You need to continue to grow knowledge of your business and any business that could impact you. Being at the forefront of the latest industry knowledge will put you in a position for great success.”
Find opportunities to learn with your team, in addition to attending training seminars, conferences and other events. Put them on your calendar so employees can see your commitment, and don’t forget to share insights you gleaned with your team afterward.
Be an Education-First Leader
Knowledge really is power, and making it a priority in your business ensures that you’ll reap the rewards. Keep education at the forefront of your business model and watch as you and your team grow along with the company.
Jessica Thiefels is an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than ten years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes. She also writes for Business Insider, Virgin, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.
Change isn’t easy. It’s hard to adjust to new realities and life rhythms. However, what is even more challenging is seeing that things have changed in the first place, especially when it involves us. Often we’re the last to recognize what everybody else already knows.
When Seasons Change
A year or so ago, someone asked me if I still saw myself as a “young adult.” They were planning an event that catered toward young professionals and wanted to see if I would place myself in that category. As I thought about it, my first reaction was, “Of course! I’m fresh out of college. I’m newly married. I’m getting started with my career.” And then it dawned on me: none of that was really true. I’d been out of school for almost eight years and married for eight years. I am one of the longer tenured people at work. I even have two kids! So I changed my answer. For the first time, I admitted that I could no longer call myself a young professional or a young adult. I’m now firmly a professional and an adult.
Looking back, I see why I never came to grips with reality before that moment. I had been holding onto an image in my head that had defined me for a long time. I had become so used to seeing myself in that season that I had never stopped to think that this season had come and gone. Funny enough, I’m sure that’s why my friend asked me if I saw myself as a “young adult.” He was probably worried old people like me would still come and wreck the vibe!
Can you relate to this at all? Have you had a realization that life had changed and you hadn’t noticed or embraced it? Maybe you, like me, are no longer a young adult or new professional. Or perhaps you need to embrace that you are no longer a student but a young professional. Painfully, this could involve a relationship that has ended. Maybe you were so used to saying you were married or part of a couple that it’s hard to embrace being single. New parents often feel the struggle of embracing the fact that the pre-kids season is vastly different from the post-kids season.
Coming to grips with reality is essential. If the lenses in our glasses are off, everything becomes distorted. Here’s how.
We Won’t Make the Right Adjustments
Each stage of life requires course corrections. Every season needs new rhythms and expectations. In the summer, there’s a different type of clothing to wear. Depending on where you live, you may have to adjust what you can and can’t do outside. If its 110 degrees and humid, it may not be best to run at 3 pm. The same principle applies to life. Young professionals need new rhythms after graduating from college. What worked in school won’t work now. The same is true for new parents, empty nesters, or any other new life stage.
We Won’t Enjoy What’s in Front of Us
Holding onto the past keeps us from enjoying new opportunities in the present. I’m no longer a young adult, which is sad in some ways. But I’m a new parent, which comes with some special moments. Seeing clearly allows us to enjoy all that is right in front of us.
Coming to Grips with Reality
So, if it’s time to come to grips with reality and admit you are in a different season of life, I’ve learned there are three important steps to moving forward well.
Mark the Transition
Do something to signify things have changed. Sometimes it’s making an environmental adjustment, like painting the house or even moving to a new place. Other times we need an experience, like a graduation or a party with friends. No matter what, make it official: you’re in a new season of life.
Celebrate What You Learned
Just because the season has changed doesn’t mean you can’t take things with you. Write down what big things you learned in the previous stage of life. How did the highlights encourage you to live into your strengths? How did the difficult times shape your character?
Embrace New Rhythms
Take some time to re-examine what healthy and focused living looks like in this new era. Do your goals need to change? What patterns need to stop? What new habits need to start? What do you need to continue doing?
I suspect that many of us need to make adjustments. We’re all in danger of lingering too long in a label that once applied but no longer does. When we cling to the past, it holds us back.
When in Doubt, Ask
Millennials, in particular, are at risk for this. For a long while, all people could talk (and write) about was how to help millennials get adjusted to working. But now many of us are settling into leadership roles. We’re doing (or are about to do) the hiring and firing. We need to start planning more for our financial futures. Most importantly, we need to embrace the possibility that things have changed and there are new opportunities on the horizon.
Whether you’re a millennial or not, there’s one thing that is still true: it’s hard to see reality sometimes. You and I need other people who can lovingly point things out to us. And when we’re out-of-date somewhere, we’re often the last to know. That’s a sobering thought. So do a reality check. Invite someone to ask you some hard questions. You may not like the initial assessment, but it might wind up being the most helpful thing you hear all year.
A few years before I was born, my mother was in a fairly serious car accident.
The accident, thankfully, wasn’t fatal for anyone involved, but my mother sustained serious injuries to her knees and legs. Despite multiple surgeries, those injuries would forever hinder her mobility.
Resentment, Empathy and Understanding
Two decades later, and following additional surgeries to her hips and neck, my mother was stricken by arthritis, further limiting her mobility. This negatively impacted her ability to work, and soon, she was forced out of her job.
She soon had to spend around 95% of her waking hours sitting in a reclining chair or wheelchair. My mother is kind, loving, and infinitely generous, but her quality of life has not been great. I’d like to say that I was always a kind and understanding son, that I was willing and proud to help her with her medicine, her paperwork, and her appointments, but that would be a lie.
During the first year my mother’s situation became truly dire. The first year her disability started to impact my family. I was often confused, frightened of the future, and resentful. I was resentful of our bad luck. I was resentful of my mother because I saw her as the cause of this bad luck.
To explore the nature of resentment a bit more, I’d like to tell you about its cruel role in the story of my mother and me. This is how it lead me down the difficult road toward a greater sense of empathy and understanding.
The Creation of Resentment
I was often confused, frightened, and resentful, but really, confusion and fear are the precursors of resentment. Resentment, in most cases, cannot exist without some combination of the two. So how did confusion and fear come into my life, and how did they play a role in the situation with my mother?
I had just come in from a carefree afternoon at the beach when my mother called to tell me that she had lost her job. She was sobbing, and I listened in silence as she told me how her company — for whom she worked more than 20 years — had grown tired of extending the medical leave she required following her latest round of surgeries. They wished to cut their losses, and neither my mother’s loyalty to the company nor her famous work ethic could save her.
The confusion was immediate. How could her company fire her? Didn’t her boss tell her two weeks ago to take as much time as she needed? Hadn’t he promised that they’d have her back during recovery? Hadn’t she sacrificed enough hours of her life behind one of their desks to feel confident that they’d look after one of their own? That confusion turned to intense — though impotent — anger. What could I do, call the office and yell at her boss? Demand that they change their minds? There was nothing to be done. I told her I loved her, hung up, and spent the rest of the weekend in a bewildered daze.
Fear and uncertainty defined the next year of my life — our lives — after that call. How would my mom pay rent? How would she settle her medical bills? How could she find another job when walking and driving were becoming increasingly more difficult? If she couldn’t find a job, and if her savings were exhausted, would she be homeless? Would we be homeless? Would I need to put school aside for a while and focus on caring for her, caring for the household that had, in an instant, become compromised?
I feared for the wellbeing of my mom and myself, but I especially feared for my future. I feared the sacrifices that I, a young man barely 20, may need to make. I feared the things I may have to let fall by the wayside. I feared the obligations and responsibilities that I would take on my shoulders, the things I may be asked to do, the maturation that would be accelerated.
These fears, were primarily self-centered. I admit: I was selfish. I was a boy, lacking in life experience, who was used to stability and a semblance of certainty in his life. In what seemed like an instant, my family lost both of those things. I lacked the maturity to empathize fully with anyone’s situation other than my own. I only thought about how this would impact me and how my life would change for the worse. That’s how resentment grew.
The Growth of Resentment
My resentment was intense but silent. As much as I made my mother the object of my ill will that first year, I never, ever raised my voice at her. I am not, nor have I ever been, an aggressive person. As such, my resentment was subdued and often manifested itself in passive aggression.
I “forgot” to pick up prescriptions. I “forgot” to inform her of plans I made, which often meant she’d need to find someone else at the last minute to help her out. I avoided extended conversations with her. I avoided those multi-hour-long heart-to-hearts we had often had in the past. My communication was short, brisk, and focused only on the necessities.
Talking to her for too long, annoyed me. Seeing her sit around while I ran errand after errand, completed chore after chore, annoyed me. Her existence, what her life was reduced to, annoyed me.
I knew she was suffering, I knew she was in pain, but I couldn’t prevent myself from blaming her. I blamed her not for her injury or for her disability, but for our circumstances. I blamed her for the significant detour my life — our lives — had taken.
Insights from Experience
I spent nearly a year resenting my mother. I spent almost a year blaming her for something that was never her fault.
It took me over a year to realize that my blame and resentment was severely misplaced. It took hours of reflection, and some very frank discussions with my mother to uncover the extent of my selfishness, and the extent of my immaturity. While discovering those things, I learned two essential lessons about myself and the nature of my resentment.
I didn’t resent my mother; I resented the cruelty and indifference that led to her situation. My mother, in the context of my resentment, was simply a decoy, an easy, tangible target onto which I could release my confusion and my fear. In reality, I was disillusioned at the circumstances that had led to our situation. I was terrified that someone’s life could be altered so quickly. I was terrified that my mom — a hard worker, a generous, loving woman — was suffering for seemingly no reason at all. I was horrified at the suddenness and cosmic indifference of it all. I was horrified, and I was confused, and in turn, I attempted to protect myself with anger and resentment. But I couldn’t simply resent the universe; I couldn’t shake my fist at it. Instead, I settled for a target who was tangible, mortal, and more immediately present in my life.
Times of crisis show us our true character. My primary concern after observing my mother’s worsening condition and learning of her firing was myself. I worried, on some level, about my mother’s wellbeing and mental health, but my primary concern was for me. At the time, that seemed normal. We’re told to “look out for #1,” aren’t we?
Now that I’m a few years down the road and a few years wiser, I see my immaturity and selfishness. I also realize that the crisis — and it was a crisis — revealed my true nature. It revealed who I was at that time: a selfish, immature boy who needed to be challenged, and who needed to develop a little more empathy.
I have not faced a similar “crisis” since, but I’m now more equipped to observe my reaction should another one occur. Back then, I didn’t think about how I reacted to the crisis; I reacted. There was no reflection going on, and as such, there was no growth, no change, no adaptation.
Applying These Insights
Have you ever cared for someone close to you — a parent, grandparent, significant other — who had a disability? Did their disability affect your life? Did it render your future uncertain? Did the uncertainty cause confusion, fear, and misplaced resentment?
If so, you’re a lot like me. Maybe you’ve grown since you’ve experienced that resentment, or perhaps you still have some growth ahead of you. Either way, take to mind the two biggest lessons I learned from my year wasted on selfish, misplaced resentment:
The person with the disability is often not the true target of your resentment; they are simply the most convenient target.
How we react to and process a difficult situation says a lot about our fundamental nature as a person. We often cannot control our reaction, it is instinctual. We can, however, control our long-term behavior. If we do not reflect upon our initial reaction, then we cannot adequately adapt our behavior going forward. This keeps us from developing as a person.
We are not perfect. We make mistakes, we misjudge, and we misplace our emotions. As long as we’re willing to reflect, and as long as we keep empathy and understanding as close to our hearts as possible, then we’re moving in the right direction.
A trending topic that has popped up on my timeline this week is Harvard rescinding its acceptance of Kyle Kashuv, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor, after racists texts, Skype conversations, and Google documents were released by a former friend and classmate. Kashuv’s defense of repeatedly using the N-word and anti-Semitic language is that it was two years ago. He claims he has matured, that the 2018 shooting changed his life, and that he was trying to be shocking.
How Long Ago is “A Long Time Ago”
I have never heard of Kashuv before. Of the surviving students, he wasn’t one that I remember. I don’t care about him, or the fact he no longer is welcomed at Harvard. This is a privileged person’s problem at best. In fact, when I first saw this trending, I avoided it.
Words that have been used to intimidate and enforce violence must be taken seriously.
Here we have yet another racist person apologizing and hoping we can believe, or understand, that they have changed. I’m exhausted by it and monitor my intake of these types of stories. Too much leaves me angry and down. Some days I just need the timeline to be fun and entertaining.
I do, however, believe that this should initiate a dialogue about what we consider “a long time ago.” What should be forgotten or moved past? People do incredibly mean, racist, sexist, toxic and problematic things all the time. When the receipts are pulled, and consequences have to be faced, everyone becomes the most-sincere and mature person in the world. The truth is, there is no time frame for maturation. There is no time frame to rid oneself of deep-seated views that may have been adopted inherently or by choice.
The jump to being a better person seems so easy when someone is called to the mat to face their consequences. While some might call it cancel culture, is it really? Dealing with the consequences of your negative actions never comes at the right time. Vile words and sentiments that have historical white supremacist context cannot be ignored. Words that have been used to intimidate and enforce violence must be taken seriously, whether by an institution, place of employment, or in our personal relationships. Yes, people have a right to grow, but sometimes, you just gotta grow someplace else.