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 spent the past week with my two ten-year-old grandchildren, Ethan and Holland. One of the activities we love to do together is play monopoly. I have to admit, rather embarrassingly, that when I pick up the dice for the first move, I transform from a kindly grandfather into a ruthless competitor. I become a callous, merciless, heartless, power-grabbing capitalist, lusting for control of Boardwalk and Park Place and as many other properties that I can get my hands on. And I understand something that the minds of ten-year-olds have yet to grasp: that it isn’t about money. I know that it’s about property. It’s about investment. The name of the game is acquisition. While the kids are hanging on to their money, I am going into debt to acquire more real estate – until I become the master of the board. In this game I take great pride in winning every bit of cash from these ten-year olds and see them give their last dollar and quit in utter defeat. What a moment of victory – to beat two ten-year olds in monopoly!
And then Ethan dejectedly looked up and reminded me, what I learned from the author John Ortberg years ago that, “it all goes back in the box.” All the houses and hotels, all the railroads and utility companies, all that property and all that wonderful money goes back in the box. Honestly, I didn’t want it to put any of it away. I wanted to leave the board out as a memorial to my ability to defeat two children.
But the game always ends and it always goes back in the box. Everyday, for somebody, the game ends. Whether you are a powerful CEO, an aging grandmother in a convalescent home, a brother with a brain tumor, a wealthy entrepreneur, or a young teenager who thinks their life will go on forever. Eventually, it all goes back in the box – the houses and cars, the titles and clothes, the big portfolios, the accumulated jewelry, the inheritance, the precious china, and the toys. It all goes back in the box.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what gets accumulated. What matters is how we play the game. What matters are the connections, the efforts, the challenges, and the joys. What matters is the encouragement and value we bring to others and the relationships we build along the way. What matters is how we grow and what we give, what we learn and what we teach. It’s about the memories and meaning, significance and sacrifice. It’s about the quality of our life through the service we render and how our life was lived.
It’s fun to win, and it’s good to learn how to lose, as long as we keep it all in perspective. Authentic people are comfortable enough with themselves to let go of their attachment to winning and sometimes lose in order to win. Keeping a good relationship with your grandkids is more important than winning a game. I only hope I can remember this next time we play monopoly.
Labor Day, Wikipedia tells us, “is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September… It honors the American labor movement; the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country… In Canada, Canadian trade unions are proud that this holiday was inspired by their efforts to improve workers’ rights.”
This Labor Day, I have put some reflection into the meaning of work in one’s life and how important work is to the soul. As Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century theologian, wrote, “To live well is to work well…”
There is a difference between a “job” and “work.” We may be forced to take a minimum wage job to pay the bills, but work is something else. Work comes from inside and is an expression of our soul. Work is what puts us in touch with others. Work is about contributing, being of service to the community. Work is creative. Work is about making the world a better place by the expression of our unique talents.
“Work,” writes Matthew Fox in The Reinvention of Work, “touches life itself. Good living and good working go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, for both life and livelihood are about Spirit. Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contribution to the greater community… bringing life and livelihood back together.”
A stay-at-home mother with six children told me the other day that with her children returning to school, she felt a sense of emptiness, like her role as a mother didn’t have much value. I explained to her that the value in her work is not expressed in monetary terms. Indeed, much work in our culture is not paid at all. Perhaps even the most important work in our society is the work we don’t get paid for. For example, raising children, cooking meals, organizing youth activities, singing in a choir, cleaning up one’s neighborhood, tending a garden, planting a tree, volunteering in a community, mentoring a university student. Matthew Fox asks the question: How might these examples of good work be rewarded so that they are counted in our understanding of the gross national product (GNP)? For indeed, this kind of work – the kind we often don’t get paid for – is where true value lies.
I once heard an unemployed man say, “I’m only unemployed between 9-5.” Our lives are bigger than our jobs we get paid for. On this Labor Day weekend, I hope you will take a little time to reflect on some important questions:
- What is your real work?
- Where do you find meaning and significance and purpose in your contribution to the community and world around you?
- Can you bring more of your “real work” to your “paid work” – your job?
- For those of you who have employees, can you help them to find more of their real work in their jobs? You won’t have to motivate anyone once you find their real work.
Do you care enough to find out about the real work of the people around you? There’s nothing wrong with not getting paid to do your real work. At minimum we can be grateful for a job that enables us to do our real work at home.
We may not have a job. We may be retired. We may be unemployed. We may have a job that we don’t like. Or we may have a job where we get paid to do our real work. But we all have to work. Finding our real work is what makes life worth living.
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?
I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.
In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:
1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.
2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.
3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.
4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.
5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.
John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.
What kind of environment are you creating on your team?