This week I visited my dear mother-in-law who now resides in a care facility in Edmonton. With her dementia, she has become, sadly, irritable, depressed, and apathetic about her life. As I sat with her at lunch, she spit out her food and complained profusely about the most cheerful and loving aide that sat beside her feeding another resident. I reminded Mom to make an effort to be grateful for the dedicated caregivers that surround her. She looked away in disgust, and continued to complain about the staff. I smiled at Jennifer, the caring caregiver across the table. “Some people have a bad day,” she said softly and graciously. “And some people have a bad day more often than others.”
Charles Dickens said, “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. It’s the only time in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people around them as fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
While it’s undoubtedly noble to stop this time of year, to reach into our pockets and give of our time and money, the real caregivers are those who care all year long, day in and day out, including those who care for the elderly, for the sick, and for the troubled, who work tirelessly and humbly behind the scenes day after day. Here are three things I learned from caregivers who care for Mary and other residents with daily diligence and relentless attention. May these ideas inspire us all to care more – not just this time of year, but all year long. Caring, after all, is not done in a day. Caring is done daily.
1) S-l-o-w D-o-w-n. Speed is not conducive to caring. Jennifer and her colleagues move slowly with the seniors and they care slowly. Like good artists, good caregivers see the world more slowly. The pace of our lives does indeed impact the quality of our lives. Everywhere I go people are insanely busy all year long, spending hours looking down at phones and devices, driven by the incessant tyranny of the urgency, struggling to keep up with it all. Even the holiday season has become another frenetic whirlwind of parties and shopping and trying desperately to meet ever-increasing demands. I find it very interesting that in the midst of climate change, disruption and global warming, the philosopher Piero Ferrucci says we are simultaneously in the midst of a “global cooling.” Human relationships are becoming colder. Interactions with others are becoming more rushed and impersonal. Values such as commercialism and efficiency are taking on greater importance at the expense of caring and simple presence. Have you ever tried to be efficient and “hurried” with a person in need? How does continual “hurriedness” affect your kindness, your connections, and your ability to influence and care about others?
2) Be Present. It’s been said that the best present we can ever give anyone is to be present in the present. There are countless opportunities to be present to those around us – whether at the grocery store, in the hallway in our office building, or around the kitchen table. Being presentto life brings quality to life. How often have you been stressed, simply because you’re not where you want to be right now? Most of us are creatures of movement and noise, agonizing about the past or worrying about the future. All spiritual teachers remind us that the present moment is the only moment where life is lived and can be enjoyed. If we live in the past or the future, we will miss the very experience of life. There is no stress in the moment. Stress comes when we start thinking about the future or tormenting about the past. The only way to thoroughly and enjoyably appreciate life is to become truly and deeply present.
3) Stay grateful. We would all do well to take Dickens’ advice to slow down and attend to the people and the beauty and the life that surrounds us. We enrich our lives when we appreciate what makes it possible for us to have what we have, to be where we are, to appreciate what surrounds us. Open your eyes to the caring around you, not just this time of year, but all year long, and you will discover that caring is who we are at our very core. We simply have to pause long enough to notice it and be a part of it. Be thankful and filled with awe and appreciation, even if what you desire hasn’t arrived yet. Whatever holiday you celebrate this month, what we all share is the need for light in the darkest time of year. Gratitude brings light wherever you go. What we appreciate appreciates.
You don’t get in life what you want; you get in life what you give. Or, said another way: be careful what you fill because what you fill will one day spill.
I found the following quote, written by an English writer, Elizabeth Bibesco, on a Christmas card hand-delivered to me by a good friend last week: “Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.”
I define engagement in the workplace as the desire and capacity of employees to go the extra mile to help their organization succeed while finding meaning and significance in the work they do. There are no doubt bad bosses and toxic work environments that deplete you, just as there are great bosses who inspire you. But engagement is ultimately about energy, not bosses. Our level of engagement is impacted by our level of physical energy, emotional connection, mental strength, and spiritual alignment to a purpose beyond immediate self-interest. Bosses and your relationship to them are just one form of energy. There are dozens of others. If you are committed to being engaged, be aware of your energy and how your perceptions, choices, and environment impact your vitality.
Physical Energy: What you eat for breakfast or lunch affects your energy, as does the amount of sugar you consume, the amount of exercise you get, and the quantity and quality of your rest and sleep. Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse, it is important to balance energy outflow with a consistent habit of energy renewal. Energy is not limitless. And physical energy fuels engagement. What are you doing to renew your vital reserve?
Emotional Connection: We all know that the quality of our connections impacts our energy. Be mindful of the people in your life that drain you and those that inspire and sustain you. Be aware of how your perceptions and choices impact these connections. Who you choose to be around, just as how you choose to be around them will affect your energy. Making room for activities that bring you joy, just as making time for people who bring you joy, will increase your energy.
Mental Strength: A pessimistic outlook on life drains vital energy, while optimism is a life giver. It’s good habit to learn to be optimistic. I had to train myself to wake up grateful and positive. Learning to be disciplined, to do the difficult tasks first, to tell the truth, to keep a promise, or to stick to a challenging undertaking when it is easier to give up, are all habits that renew essential energy. Like eating sweets, blaming others might give you a temporary high, but it will drain you of energy in the long run. Personal responsibility, on the other hand, is energy producing. How you approach life will affect your energy.
Spiritual Alignment: Discovering and living in accord with your deepest values, aligning with a sense of purpose, pinpointing your passions, or making a contribution, are all energy enhancing pursuits that enable engagement. A life that is purpose driven is an engaged life. Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond self-interest. Those who have found a reason for coming to work – beyond merely completing a task or carrying out a chore or getting a paycheck – are the ones who truly enjoy their work and being alive. Finding spiritual alignment fills you up.
While bosses and your relationship to them no doubt impacts energy, the more we take accountability for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered, productive, and fulfilled we become. Blaming your boss for your lack of energy can be just as much of an energy drainer as having the bad boss to begin with. Maybe it’s time to rethink employee engagement: what if it isn’t about the boss?
“In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” –Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher and Physician
After winning a gold medal in the 10,000 meters in Rio, the Somali-born British runner Mo Farah was asked how he was able to muster the strength to pick up himself up and get back to his rhythm after being accidentally tripped on lap ten of the twenty-five lap race. “I just had to believe in myself and get through it… I promised my daughter Rhianna I was going to get her a medal and I was thinking, ‘I can’t let her down’. That’s all I was thinking about – her.”
Mo dedicated his two gold medals in London 2012 to his then baby twinsAisha and Amani. After his 2016 victory he said, “I’ve won an Olympic gold for three of my children – now I’d like to win the 5,000m gold for my little boy.”
What I love most about the Olympics are the inspiring stories – in both victory and in defeat. The parents, the coaches, the communities that raised these athletes – there’s a story behind every one of them. And then there is the inspiration in the athletes themselves. Rosie MacLennan, Penny Oleksiak and her teammates, the Rugby and soccer players, the track athletes – all have inspired an entire generation of young women in Canada.
Great leaders, like great athletes, inspire those around them. The word inspire is derived from the Latin root spirare, meaning to “breathe life into.” The need to inspire has never been greater than it is today, when many people feel afraid, cynical and stressed. Awakening the passion of others by speaking to the inner lives and deeper needs of those we serve is the work of leaders at every level and in every walk of life.
As I allow myself to be inspired by the Olympic games, my hope is that every one of us will allow ourselves to be inspired by the people around us – to enable us to inspire those we serve. Here are three pathways that inspire:
Pay Attention. The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” You can be inspired everyday if you s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, pay attention to what’s going on around you, and watch for inspired action. It isn’t just during the Olympics that you will hear inspiring stories. Every life has a meaningful story behind it when you care enough to take the time to pay attention. Last week I was working with a group of leaders at Emera Energy, an authentic maritime company with a down-to-earth, humble approach to business and was inspired by many of their leaders, especially the passionate young people who demonstrated commitment, ownership, and an accountable attitude. I was also inspired by how many of these leaders – mostly engineers – had mastered the simple skill of listening carefully to people. When I work with a great organization I come home inspired. What you focus on is what grows. If you focus on what’s wrong with your workplace or your life, you will soon find yourself with lots of reasons to be unhappy. But if you care enough to pay attention and focus on the goodness around you, you will find a reason to be inspired.
Choose Gratitude. I have been reflecting lately on the many people who have inspired me. I remember how George Nelson, a long-time friend of my parents and former boxer, would get up every morning and spend the first thirty minutes of his day skipping on our front porch when he and his wife Audrey visited. I always admired George, and he inspired me to get up early and start the day with some exercise. Years ago, the great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, inspired me to create a “Wall of Influence” – photos of the twenty-five most influential people in my life. My wall of influence has evolved over the years and as I reflect on these people, I am filled with gratitude for everyone who has helped make me who I am today through their love, their character and their example.
Care. It is inspiring to be around people who care, who choose service over self-interest, who have a sense of purpose beyond themselves, and who are passionate about making a difference in the world. People who care enough to keep their promises, to go the extra mile, and to be concerned and committed to serve the people around them make workplaces worthwhile, schools vital, relationships meaningful, and lives valuable. Caring makes all the difference. Caring is everything.
To be inspiring, you must be inspired. How do you get inspired? What inspires you? How do you inspire people around you?
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. – The Christophers
Yesterday I received a note from a good friend and client of many years. It started a discussion on how, over recent months, we have both been gravely troubled by the violence in the world, the disregard for human life and politicians using fear to appeal to the darkest side of humanity. I don’t know what’s worse: the terrorism, shootings, and how people treat each other, or the fact that we are getting used to it.
While advancing age is undoubtedly a factor in increasing one’s concern about the world, I think it is more than that. There is a call to action needed. We need to be vigilant to create positive messages, thoughts and behaviors wherever and however we can.
Here are five ways you can implement some caring in your workplace and the world around you:
- Show you care before you show you’re competent. There is a growing body of research that illustrates when we judge our leaders we are looking for two primary characteristics: 1) How competentthey are, and 2) How much they care. It’s human nature to try to emphasize our strengths, abilities, and credentials to demonstrate our competence. We feel compelled to show others that we are “up to the job,” by striving to present the most innovative ideas in meetings and being the first to tackle a challenge. But this approach ends up backfiring. Trustworthiness is the first thing people look for in others and in leaders. Those who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, distance and disengagement. And the first step in gaining trust is showing you care. In times of uncertainty, people look to a leader who they believe has their back. Those are the people we trust. Those are the people we listen to. Before people decide what they think of the message, they decide what they think of the messenger.
- Don’t wait for the boss to give you recognition and appreciation. Instead, get busy givingrecognition and appreciation to everyone on your team. I am a believer in peer recognition programs. Instead of waiting for the manager to acknowledge good work, each employee is encouraged to recognize positive attributes, stories of overcoming life’s challenges, and contributions at work that make a positive difference. I know of companies where staff are encouraged to give out actual certificates that recognize specific achievements of their peers either privately or at employee recognition functions. Done respectfully and meaningfully, these methods of appreciating and acknowledging each other can go a long way.
- Say thank you. Gratitude has transformative power. Gratitude is the antidote to hatred, fear, and entitlement. Next time you see a police officer, take a moment and thank them for their work. Next time you see a tired cashier at the grocery store, take a moment and express your gratitude. Thank a colleague for their contribution on a recent project. It’s easy to be grateful when you get what you want. The real challenge is being grateful when you don’t get what you want. It’s not a good life that makes us grateful; it’s being grateful that makes a good life.
- Apologize. To be human is to err. When you make a mistake and everyone knows it was a mistake, admit it, say you’re sorry, and tell the people who are impacted how you are going to remedy the situation. Having the humility to acknowledge when we are wrong and apologize for our errors is an indicator of strength, character, and integrity. Real leadership is impossible without a willingness to apologize and acknowledge when we make a mistake. It’s an act of caring to have the courage to take an honest look at ourselves, to take a truthful appraisal of the impact of our actions on others, and to have the willingness to make necessary changes.
- Create a circle of trust with your team. Whether your team is an executive team in a company, a project team in your division, a board of directors in a volunteer organization, or a family, a circle of trust is a helpful tool. It revolves around kindness and understanding of the other person’s challenges and situation. A circle of trust is a process for taking the time to understand all the relevant and salient issues leading up to any particular decision or action in the team. The circle of trust approach ensures that each person on the team gives their peers the full benefit of the doubt until they fully understand why a decision was made. Complaining or expressing off handed comments concerning any team member has a negative effect on the reputation and wellbeing of all team members. Openness, honesty, and sincere caring for each other restores a sense of dignity and compassion until each person on the team can understand the challenges of the other.
How people interact, care and recognize one another impacts our lives and our world in unimaginable ways. A little human touch makes a big difference. Each of us may only be able to impact a small piece of the world through positive behaviors and influence. But eventually, with enough of us making some effort, we well might make a difference. This world could use a helping hand from all of us.
Let’s all do our part to make the world around us just a little better. What are you doing to bring some light to this darkened world?