Fostering Well-Being in Times of Mental Fatigue – The Authentic Way

Brenda is a project manager at a large financial services company. For the past year, she has been leading a team tasked with developing a new product line on a tight deadline. She’s been working 60-70 hours/week, constantly juggling demands from her team, executive, and her clients. She has had to make numerous high-stake decisions under immense pressure. And she is a parent of three school age children.

She now feels completely drained, both mentally and physically. She’s having trouble concentrating and remembering key details. Simple tasks that were once easy now seem overwhelming. She’s getting cynical and detached from her work. She’s getting irritable with both her team and her family and lashes out at them over minor issues. Her sleep has been almost non-existent, and she relies on caffeine and energy drinks to get her through the day. And she’s on prescription muscle relaxants and pain medication for her headaches.

She’s starting to dread going into the office each morning and has considered quitting her job entirely, despite having worked so hard on this project. While this is likely an extreme case of chronic overwork, I hear versions of this story from many people these days.

What’s going on, and what can we do about it?

With fatigue and burnout, we see symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, impaired judgement and decision-making, increased forgetfulness, irritability, decreased motivation, increased mistakes, headaches, cynicism, changes in sleep patterns (e.g. insomnia), and increased absenteeism. I suggest five strategies for dealing with it:

  1.  Recognize. It takes courage to step up and be accountable. However, don’t confuse courage with the temptation of martyrdom. It takes humility – a true evaluation of conditions as they are – to truly be strong. Honestly acknowledge if you have gone from a healthy sense of tiredness that you recover from on the weekend, to real exhaustion. There’s no shame in recognizing that you are burned out. It can happen to anyone who is conscientious and loses touch with their values. Remember: self-centered, lazy sloths don’t get exhausted.
  2. Reach Out. Carrying other’s responsibilities often comes with accountable people. However, it’s not sustainable. The lone-warrior model of leadership is, in the words of Ronald Heifetz, heroic suicide. Each of us have blind spots that require the vision of others. Reach out for help from a guide.
  3. Relate. This may sound strange, but you can make friends with your exhaustion. It’s not your enemy. It’s here to teach you. If you stop long enough to get your bearings – away from the demands of the world – you can befriend your exhaustion and ask it, like you would a friend, what advice it would give you. Write down the guidance you get. It’s possible to create a relationship with, and learn from, your exhaustion.
  4. Reflect. Exhaustion means you have lost connection with your values by allowing yourself to be suffocated by the expectations of others. Getting your bearings includes reconnecting with your values. Make a list of things that are important to you. Now arrange the items in descending order of their importance. Notice where you’ve placed inner peace, well-being, or whatever you want to call it. How important is this to you? What comes before it on the list? Many responsible people don’t make themselves a priority. The way you see yourself is reflected in how you treat yourself.
  5. Renew. You don’t have to change yourself. Living authentically means simply coming home to yourself. It’s that simple and it’s that complex. The healing journey isn’t an overnight venture, but it does start with a single step. Ask yourself, “What do I need to STOP, START, and CONTINUE doing to live a life that is aligned with what truly matters to me?” “What one small decision would make all the difference?” Reflect on how you can make yourself a priority – so that your caring and commitment to others comes from overflow, not emptiness. What agreements will you make? What actions are needed? What support do you require?

13th Annual World Religions Conference

I had the good fortune of moderating the panel at the 13th Annual World Religions Conference in Cochrane this week, where we discussed Truth and Faith: How do we Know What to Believe?

The evening was intended to “embrace the mosaic of world religions and philosophies… where faiths converge & understanding prevails…”

We indeed witnessed the vibrant fusion of knowledge, beliefs, and traditions, and celebrated the harmony and unity that binds us together.

Thank to you to Rev. John Snow Jr. who offered an Aboriginal perspective, Michael Sabet, who gave a Baha’i viewpoint, Dr. Scott MacDonald, a Christian perspective, Dr. Daniel Haas, a humanist view, and Imam Zahir Ahmed, an Islamic perspective.


What does it take to be a good listener?

When a friend asked if my ability to listen came naturally or I had to intentionally learn it, her question got me thinking.I certainly don’t see myself as a great listener all the time. I have to keep working at it.

I developed my skill of listening when I was an insecure kid. Riveted with fear and self-doubt, it was simply safer to listen than speak and risk looking like a fool. Listening became my way of hiding from the world.

To this day it’s easier to listen and empathize with others than articulate my thoughts and emotions, particularly in an unrehearsed one-on-one conversation.

It turns out this skill was developed through adversity. A liability can be transformed into an asset. It has obviously been a strength in the work I do, but I have to be careful when it exceeds its function and keeps me from risking fully in life.

How to practice walking the talk with your values

I believe values need to be aspirational, not descriptive. The best values inspire you to better actions, not just define your current state. This is true with organizational values as much as it is with personal values.

For example, I have, historically, had a problem with control, anxiety, and patience. When I don’t have control I get anxious. And when I get anxious I get impatient. And when I get impatient I’m prone to taking it out on people around me – in the form of pressure, frustration, and disrespect.

My number one value is contentment, which means being satisfied and at peace with the present moment. However, this value is not a description of myself. It is an aspiration.

After speaking at a conference in Whistler, B.C., I caught a shuttle to the Vancouver airport (about a three hour trip). Traffic wasn’t as bad as expected and we got there early enough that there was time to catch an earlier flight. I found out there were seats available on the earlier flight for a $150 change fee.

I immediately went to frustration. I allowed the guest service person to take away my contentment and peace of mind. Annoyed, and upon reflection, I wondered why I gave my serenity and personal power away to a person I didn’t even know. Then I sat and re-read my values and decided it was more important to be contented than it was to be right.

I used the 90 minutes to relax, make some calls to friends, and reflect on what really matters in my life.
When I walked on the originally booked flight, I was a lot more contented than I was at the guest service desk.

I am practicing walking the talk. And I’m making imperfect progress.

What is your aspirational value?

Don’t seek a promotion if you want a raise.

I see it all the time. People seeking a promotion to get more money. And they do it by making a good impression, pleasing their boss, looking good. But, if your motive to get a promotion is to get a raise you’ll likely make a lousy boss.

We’ve got to stop equating increased compensation with promotions. I’m all for paying people more when they are given increased responsibilities, but don’t seek leadership as a path to increasing your salary. Seek leadership because you want to serve. The best leaders often don’t even seek positions of leadership. They’re called to it.

If you want to make more money, bring more value to your organization. Good individual contributors who bring increased value should be compensated fairly for it. But being a good individual contributor is no guarantee you’ll make a good leader. The two require completely different skill sets.

Assess leadership capacity and motive before promoting someone. Separate one’s ability to be a good individual contributor from being a good leader. And let’s not make promotions the only path to getting a raise as a first step toward getting better leaders.

Don’t seek a promotion if you want a raise. If you want a raise, seek to bring more value to your organization in your current role and negotiate a raise from that perspective.

The Art Of Authentic Window Cleaning

The Art Of Authentic Window Cleaning

Two things that inspire me are people who have found their passion in life and people who use that passion to become masters of their craft.

Sandy Hutcheson, who founded Cochrane Window Cleaners thirty years ago, inspires me.

He just spent the weekend washing our windows. A true gentlemen with an uncompromising work ethic, a meticulous attention to detail, and an unyielding commitment to excellence, Sandy makes window cleaning an art.

More than a mere service provider, he is an artist whose passion extends beyond the physical act of cleaning. It encompasses a deep respect for someone’s home and a genuine desire to enhance their surroundings.

He wasn’t here to wash windows. He was here to help us see the world more clearly.