Who’s Helping Who?

I’ve written before about parenting in a pandemic and how our kids are actually helping us (read: the adults) cope with the way life has become. I’ve noticed that younger kids, specifically, have seemingly slid into this new normal with relative ease.

For example, my youngest son (just shy of 18 months) is happy to wear his mask and often asks for it before we get out of the car (disclaimer: he still takes it off after a while but remembers to hand it to me so he doesn’t lose it. I consider this a big win).

My middle son remembers to grab an extra mask when we leave the house, “just in case I need a new one while we’re out.”

And my oldest son is quick to point out when people aren’t wearing masks and come a little too close, or if they aren’t wearing their masks properly (“Grampie, you should have your mask over your nose…”).

It makes me sad this is part of our normal behavior, but equally as proud that we don’t have an argument about this every time we leave the house.

In fact, we had a conversation this weekend about wearing masks and why some people “just don’t do it.” My oldest pointed out, “it’s so easy and really doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

Oh, my heart.

Kids are resilient little creatures. And they have so much to share to help us grown-ups learn how to develop our stamina and grit so we can show up smarter and ready to handle life’s challenges and changes.

Here are three things my sons have taught me about adjusting to change.

  1. It’s not really that different. Even if the change we’re experiencing is a big one, I’ve been amazed at the ease with which my kids seem to accept change (and they certainly don’t greet change with open arms). Big changes like when we grew from a family of 3 to 4, then to 5, or when we had to stay home because of the pandemic. Or even little changes like removing the big kid toys from the playroom until their little brother could be trusted to play with them. They just roll with it, accepting it as the new normal and seeing it as a thing that has to be done. This approach has taught me that even when you experience a change, even if it feels uncomfortable for a minute, it will just become normal to you if you let it. Acceptance of what is gives room to decide how to accommodate it. Fighting with what is just makes life tougher than it needs to be.
  2. Control yourself, especially if you can’t control the situation. Kids are basically instructed on what they can and can’t do; it’s part of growing up. They learn the rules of what constitutes acceptable behavior. But somewhere along the way of growing up, we forget these rules and often find ourselves angry and frazzled at the world when change is thrust on us. I previously wrote about one ER trip with my middle son: my boys couldn’t control the situation, but they could control themselves. Instead of being upset or angry that our routine was interrupted, they saw the trip to the ER as an adventure and were visibly vibrating with excitement. This constantly reminds me that despite whatever life shares with me, I will not always have control over the situation, but I will always have the requirement to manage how I think about it. The situation may not be mine to control, but my attitude about the situation will always be mine to control.
  3. Make it fun! Sometimes a change can be hard and, try as you might, things still feel uncomfortable. Without realizing it, I made a snide remark in front of my kids about my store-bought mask that kept slipping off my face. Their response: “why don’t you make one that looks like ours? Can you!? We can all match!!” Done, kids. Done. We are now a family of homemade mask wearers and, because I’m a mom of boys, we have matching construction, race car and Avengers masks (coming soon: Paw Patrol, Red Sox and general sports themes). Always ask, what could make this better? or what could make this fun? Even tough situations are hosts to new and fun things if we can learn to see them.

Life is what you make it. If you choose to fight against every change life shares with you, you’ll be miserable and uncomfortable. But if you allow yourself to see the opportunities that come from change, you’ll find the adjustment period doesn’t take long at all.

Take Action
Reflect on a recent change you experienced. How did you respond to the change? What worked? What didn’t work?

Recognize when you fight change because you feel like you have a lack of control and instead see how you can control yourself. The result will be a happier and, admittedly, a more relaxed version of you.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Rebounding from Tough Times Starts With You

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Developing Your Response to the Bully Boss

I’m going to share an amazing secret with you: you may not have control over every situation in life, but you have control over how you approach and respond to it.

Read that again. You have the ability to control yourself in every situation you encounter. You get to decide how you show up. You get to decide what the next moment will be like. This is an incredibly important thing to note.

And when it comes to dealing with a Bully Boss or some other toxic workplace situation, this can take you far.

I previously wrote about why adopting a “grin and bear it” mentality just doesn’t work when you’re working for a Bully Boss. And this can be particularly challenging when some people find themselves in a situation where finding new employment isn’t an option (or might be taking longer than you want).

But it’s possible to develop an effective response to a Bully Boss, even when it seems like it takes a lot of energy from you.

Here’s my guidance to help you consider how to stay true to yourself when you work for a Bully Boss and feel like you’ve lost control of the situation.

  1. Stop and Notice. Maybe the Bully Boss just yelled at you in front of everyone in a big meeting. Maybe they teased you in a very mean and unprofessional way. Maybe they encourage toxic gossip behavior with others. Whatever their behavior, take a breath and analyze the situation. Stop and notice what you’re thinking and feeling. Maybe you feel insulted or embarrassed. Maybe you are frustrated and annoyed. Maybe you feel pressured to answer an unwelcome invitation for fear of retaliation. Whatever you’re thinking or feeling, don’t judge it, just notice it.
  2. Figure out what inspires those thoughts and feelings. Recognize the feelings you have when you encounter a challenging moment with the Bully Boss and ask yourself why you’re feeling those big emotions. Frequently, we have big feelings and emotions when our values are called into question or if they are challenged. If you take great pride in your work and the Bully Boss constantly berates you for a poor job, you’ll have very powerful feelings around that. If you feel threatened in your job security because of an answer your Bully Boss doesn’t like, you’ll feel very strong feelings around this (and possibly conflicted thoughts that challenge your values). Notice when your feelings are the direct result of a value or belief you hold that you know is core to who you are. This also comes from gaining greater self-awareness.
  3. Choose your next action. You’ve intentionally recognized an event that is out of your control, why it inspires certain feelings and why those feelings come up. The next step is to decide what to do. Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean show up fighting or quit with no notice; there are options in between these extremes. What it means is that you can choose your attitude about this situation and the thoughts and actions it inspires. As you decide who you are (and will be) regardless of what others say and do, you create the internal strength to control your thoughts and actions. You stay in control of you.

Think of it this way: if you know you work for a Bully Boss, chances are that those around you know it too. If you’re yelled at in front of others or if you’re invited to join in a toxic gossip conversation, and you control your response to the situation, you’ll find it’s easier to always pick an action that is aligned to you. And a bonus: you just might become the inspiration for others to find their voice, as well.

You’ve figured out the Bully Boss is the issue, so what can you do about it? If you have control over the situation, go change it. If you don’t have control, figure out who and how you want to be in the situation. Remember, as you control your feelings and attitude about the situation, you will control your thoughts and actions. You will be who you want and believe yourself to be in any situation.

Take Action
This approach most definitely takes practice and a bit of resilience, as well, especially if the Bully Boss has been a presence in your life for any extended period of time. So practice it. Start to recognize when events in life inspire strong feelings, and notice when those feelings are positive and productive, too. This will help you build up your stamina to build your confidence to know that when confronted by a tough situation or a Bully Boss, you will be the person you choose to be.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Create Your Stopper

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“Grin and Bear It” Doesn’t Work with a Bully Boss

Working for a Bully Boss is hard and, unfortunately, so relatable. We’ve seen the Bully Boss portrayed in movies and shows as the incompetent idiot to the raging lunatic. And you know why those movies and shows are so popular? Because everyone can relate to the Bully Boss experience to some degree.

I certainly am one of them. For some reason, I’ve had more than my fair share of Bully Bosses (both men and women), from the manager who didn’t know how to speak at a normal volume (read: I was always yelled at) to the one who changed department goals overnight without communicating them to the team. It can feel like you’re being pulled in 20 different directions with no clear direction to find your way out.

It’s exhausting. It challenges your self-esteem. It inspires self-doubt. It impacts the way you show up to work and the way you show up to your relationships outside of work. And worse, these Bully Bosses always make you feel like you are the problem.

Working for a Bully Boss is hard.

And though others may try to offer to help, the options presented are always one of two things: make a change or suck it up.

Sometimes, making a change isn’t an option due to a variety of reasons, so it leaves people little choice but to grin and bear it.

But this is important: accepting a “grin and bear it” attitude with a Bully Boss doesn’t work.

Here’s why:

  1. Your attitude changes. You try to protect yourself in some way, so you adopt an indifference approach to how you show up to work. In your effort to let the nasty and toxic behaviors roll off your shoulders, you unwittingly shut yourself off from everything else. You become a shell of yourself, lacking enthusiasm, dedication and, perhaps most importantly, your personality. You are disengaged and disconnected. The difficult things in life seem to rise to the top as your attitude has shifted from optimism to pessimism.
  2. Your work changes. When you adopt the indifference attitude, your work starts to suffer. You don’t go the extra mile or engage in new ideas that can generate great opportunities for you and the business. Instead, you do just enough to not get fired. You try to fly under the radar, delivering items as they’re due, and never before. You stop looking for ways to expand your career or develop yourself because you just want to get through the day, and that’s all you can think of. And sometimes, the harsh criticisms you get from the Bully Boss about the quality of your work start to materialize.
  3. Your home life changes. When you work for a jerk and feel defeated throughout the day, it’s hard to not bring that defeated attitude home. And whether it’s intentional or not, as soon as you become indifferent to your work, you start to become indifferent to many of the other things around you, even things you care most about. You start to lack energy and excitement for the things you really looked forward to and instead opt to just sit and rest. You feel tired more often and you disengage from your friends and family. Sometimes, you can even begin to recognize real health issues.

You can’t just grin and bear it when you work for a Bully Boss. It’s a cascading thing; they intrude into every part of your life if you let them.

So before you tell yourself to just “grin and bear it” and push through your day, stop and notice the person you’ve become. This can be an enlightening moment for you, if you let it.

Take Action
If you work for a Bully Boss or find yourself in a toxic work environment, ask yourself: am I staying true to who I am?

The person you are, at your core, cannot be changed unless you allow it. You control the direction of your life. If you can’t control a situation, you can control your response to it. Decide who you want to be without regard to who others are. You own you. Choose your attitude and your approach. It is empowering.

So, if your Bully Boss is impacting how you show up (to work and life), consider looking for new employment options. It might not happen overnight, but know when it is time. And, be sure to properly vet each new opportunity to avoid moving from one Bully Bos to another. Stay clear about who you are and how you will show up to the things in your work and life. Make changes as necessary. Your sanity and happiness is yours to create.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading How You Act Won’t Influence How I Show Up and take our quiz Do I Work for a Bully Boss?

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Parents: Know When It’s Time to Take a Break

I’ve been burned out a lot in my career and nothing has compared to the pure burnout I’ve felt as a working parent over the past year. I think a lot of parents can relate. In fact, I’ve seen a slew of articles over the past few weeks that talk about parenting burnout and, in conversations I’ve had with friends and family, we’ve all come to the same conclusion: DUH.

Though it’s encouraging to know we’re not alone in these challenging times, it’s equally as frustrating. Why is it that parents are expected to do so much and take on even more now when the world is spinning backward and upside down?

I asked myself this question a lot recently and I realized something very important. I used the word expected. It made me ask another question: who is expecting me to do all of this?

The answer was surprising: me.

I expected to work full time, while having all three of my kids home and stuck inside during the cold winter months. I expected to be able to have a healthy, home cooked meal on the table every night and see all of my kids eat it every time. I expected to have every household chore done so there was no dust build up and no one had to look for clean underwear or a specific pair of pants. I expected my kids to work through their challenges without resulting in a brawl every time.

I set these expectations. And when I couldn’t achieve them, I felt deflated, defeated and angry. I got short with people – my kids and husband especially. I wouldn’t answer the phone with my family called because I didn’t want to end up in a fight with them about something dumb.

I was tired and I was burned out because I created unrealistic expectations. I expected myself to be supermom when even a true superhero couldn’t achieve the things I had on my daily to-do list.

I know that every parent is in the same yet very different situation. We’re all trying to navigate working and childcare and home life. It’s HARD. And when we have these heavy expectations on our shoulders, it feels harder.

I’m challenging every parent to try something new this week: TAKE A BREAK.

Working through burnout in the working world is so different from burnout as a parent. At work, you take a break, literally. You leave for a few days. You logout. You disconnect.

But how can you take a break when your kids need you all day every day? How can you take a break when you’re balancing work calls with the next Zoom call for your Kindergartener who really shouldn’t be left unattended at the laptop? How can you take a break when everything (*gestures vaguely*) needs to get done?

Start here: breathe.

Starting from that breath, consider these tips to give yourself the break you need to work through parenting burnout in a mindful way:

  1. Recognize Control. You cannot have complete control over every single person, event or situation in your life. Not possible. You can, however, control how you respond to those things. I like to think of it like this: you can’t control a situation, but you can control how you respond to it. The bickering from your kids. The double-booked Zoom meetings. The baskets of laundry waiting to be folded and put away. If you are able to control it, do something about it. If you can’t control it, change your attitude about it.
  2. Change Your Attitude. Oof. Writing that made my head spin. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that growing up and how many times I say it to my boys. But here’s the truth: your attitude in any situation inspires your actions. If you’re angry, I bet you’re more likely to yell than to have a calm conversation. If you’re exhausted and defeated, you’re probably going to be short and avoid talking or dealing with something. Check in with yourself to see what your attitude is like and notice why you have that attitude. What inspired it? How productive is it? Are you more interested in venting or solving? That attitude will influence your thoughts and actions. Choose wisely.
  3. Give Yourself Some Space. You know when you need to separate the kids to give them some space from each other? It’s time you do that for yourself. Create a time or place where you get your space. Whether it’s for 10 minutes or 4 hours, commit to this. This is time for you to intentionally recharge without worrying about who is fighting or what work isn’t getting done. This is for you. The only way you can get here, though, is to see yourself and this space as critical to your mental health. In that space, have a list of things you do to create a moment of rest, Zen, peace or joy. This could include a connection to a hobby, a call to a friend, a favorite snack or beverage, journaling or even some time in nature. Remember that this space is for you to reconnect and breathe, not to ruminate on the things that still need to be done. Remember, you are worth it.

Take Action
Parenting burnout is the most extreme level of tired I’ve ever experienced in my life, and finding time to take a much needed break is hard. But when you commit to checking in with yourself, you’ll find that the flame that you thought was long gone is actually still there, just waiting for some fuel to help it grow bigger.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Your Check Engine Light

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Navigating Family Events

Last year, we shared guidance on how to navigate family events when some family members may feel it’s their job to ask you all the uncomfortable questions in a judgy way. Though that guidance still applies to the upcoming holiday season, there’s a new factor we need to consider: the impact of COVID-19.

Family events will take on a whole new look and feel this year. For some of you, this may be a gift. You don’t have to find an excuse to get out of a family function, or be worried about finding yourself stuck at the dessert table with creepy Uncle Bob, or find yourself stuck answering questions about why you’ve changed jobs three times in the last 3 years from your self-righteous Aunt Sally. These see-you-twice-a-year family members are likely not going to make the cut for many of the family functions that do still happen.

But for the family that is still gathering, there is almost undoubtedly going to be some tension about how each person interprets COVID-19 guidelines. For example, you may feel it’s important to always wear a mask, practice social distancing and stay outside as much as possible. Your mother may think masks are ridiculous but she practices social distancing and your brother may think the entire thing is a farce.

How do you navigate a family function when you all disagree on what the proper protocol should look like?

Here are our three tips to help you navigate family events in the time of COVID holiday:

1. Define your limits. We talked about this in another post about rethinking the holidays. Defining your limits is about creating rules for you and your family, and knowing how much you’re willing (or not willing) to budge. Though family members are often our toughest critics, it frequently comes from a place of love, so though you may not all agree all the time, they should be open to hearing and respecting what you are and are not comfortable with as it relates to how you want to celebrate the holidays this year. After all, your limits are for you to define, not them. Be able to explain why you have created your limits. This will help you and them better appreciate the thought behind your choices. So, define your limits and share them so everyone can be on the same page.

2. Control what you can control. You’ve shared your limits and you’ve been told the event will happen within those limits. But when you arrive, you realize it’s far from what you’ve been promised. A small gathering of 10 has turned into a party of 50. No one has masks and the party is inside a small house where social distancing is not possible. What do you do? You have two choices: 1) go to the party and operate within your limits (wear your mask, keep your distance as best as possible, stay outside as much as you can) or 2) you can respectfully let the host know you aren’t comfortable staying but you’ll be in touch to reconnect at another time.

Both of these options has the potential to be calm and thoughtful or loud and angry. It’s your choice. You control what you can control.

3. Accept that things will be different. Yes, you may get challenged on what you decide for yourself or how you may need to respond to the situation in the moment. I have always found that approaching any situation from a positive and grateful way gives you more options to consider, and helps you deliver your comment or actions with grace and care. You may not agree with the rules of the family for the holiday and therefore decide not to attend, but you can appreciate that you differ, respect their perspectives and hold fast to your own while still caring, loving and supporting each other.

Take Action
Holidays can be tough because of the magnitude of traditions and expectations, but remember this: we have seen how adaptive and flexible we have been this year. So many things this past year have made us rethink what we do. It is time to apply this approach to our holidays with a commitment to first stay safe and keep the people we love safe, then to celebrate the things we celebrate at this time of year. Let people know your rules for yourself and others and be respectful of others’ rules for themselves.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Little Moments of Remarkable

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There’s a Fine Line

Most people know in the context of crazy and brilliance there is a fine line. A most brilliant idea when it crosses the line can become completely crazy.

As is the case in most everything, how you define the events in your life is entirely up to you. The same goes for the “fine line.” You decide what that fine line looks like, whether it’s specific to an event in your life or someone else’s.

I think this phrase can be applied in so many ways, but there’s one I specifically want to focus on: loyal vs. lazy.

Sometimes, you can find your life moving in a direction you know is not right for you. Maybe it’s your job, maybe it’s a relationship, maybe it’s something else. Regardless of the specific situation, you feel like you’ve lost control of what’s happening in your life.

When you find yourself asking “now what?,” what’s your response? Do you stand up and take charge? Or do you sit back and ask why the hard stuff in life seems to find you?

I believe there’s a fine line between loyal and lazy.

I’ve seen and heard more than a few examples in my life where someone used the excuse “well, she’s loyal so she won’t change anything” or “he’s lazy so he won’t make a change.”

The real question is when you notice that things in work or life are not working or feel quite right, what do you do? Do you refuse to change or improve things because you are loyal (seen as a virtue) or lazy (seen as a flaw)? Loyalty and laziness – both left unmanaged – can create negative consequences.

At some point, you have to take control of the direction of your life. If you’re not happy, ask yourself what you can do to make it better. If you’re not certain you’re moving down the right path, ask yourself what about your current direction doesn’t sit well with you.

Take Action
Take the time to get to know yourself. You’ll be less likely to confuse “lazy” with “loyal” and be more motivated and empowered to take control of your life. Check in on your motivation for the decisions you make. Are you hiding from or reluctant to make a difficult decision? Or, are you intentionally choosing to stay where you are because it is a better long-term solution? Only you will know, but be honest with yourself about what you choose and why. See things as they really are.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading The Year to Get Clear: What Do People Applaud Me For?

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Expect the Unexpected: What’s Your Plan B?

By Jay Forte

You have a plan. You did your work, but the results you wanted did not happen because something interrupted it. How do you feel about it? Frustrated? Annoyed? Able to shrug it off and try again?

I, like many people, can easily get upset and shift right into acting like a victim if things don’t go my way (think: “why does this always happen to me?”). Regardless of the situation – a new client that doesn’t materialize because of their budget restriction, a winter storm that delays or cancels my flight, an illness that makes me miss a well needed vacation – I have to remember that it’s just life. Despite your best intentions, there are too many variables in life that are out of your control.

But you can control your response. 

By learning to expect the unexpected, it helps you let life be as it is while you go along for the ride. This approach means you spend less time fighting what life sends you and more time understanding that life is fluid, and as such, you should be as well. Knowing this can help you relax more about life.

True, there are disappointments that happen when life doesn’t go as planned. But can you learn to accept life on life’s terms and to zig and zag as you keep moving forward? Yes. Can you learn to not take things so personally by realizing that you will never control every outside force in life? Absolutely.

By accepting that life’s formula is to expect the unexpected, you can tune in to life differently, be less stressed and less angry. Losing these negative emotions and energy makes life’s experiences more enjoyable because you are more optimistic. This, in turn, presents you with greater opportunities.

This improved outlook can help you see or create a plan B, move there calmly and continue to see life as amazing and remarkable.

I have finally learned to be ready with my Plan B so I can keep moving and not lose my stride when things don’t go as planned. This gives me peace of mind knowing I have other options if the first one doesn’t pan out. I don’t need to have a meltdown; I can sanely and calmly consider what to do next.

Life is not yours to control, but it is yours to engage with, accept and appreciate. Learning to expect the unexpected reminds you that you are not in charge of anything but your response to the events of life. Learn to roll with it, bounce back and expect you will sometimes need a Plan B.

Sometimes the Plan B can actually be better than your original plan.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. Where in life are you rigid and inflexible?
  2. What is one thing you can do today to be more adaptable in those areas?
  3. What event in your life can you develop a Plan B for in order to maintain a calmer and saner approach to life?

Consider reading The Energy Funnel Explained: Catabolic vs. Anabolic

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