Making Mom Proud

It’s Monday, but not just any Monday.

It’s the Monday after Mothers Day.

We all know that Mondays are challenging enough. As workdays go, they’re legendary. All of us straggling in from the weekend, from all sorts of directions, myriad activities, struggling to get our heads back in the game. We’re rediscovering work issues left over from the previous week. New office problems have surfaced in the meantime – a few internal, generated from within your shop itself. Others seem to be part of some larger contagion, sweeping into and through your workplace from outside. Chances are good that before that first coffee break you’ve already heard “I’m feeling ok for a Monday,” or “what do you expect from a Monday?” or variations on this theme.[1]

But this Monday is special…because yesterday we talked with or heard from Mom. And if you’re a reader of this blog, chances are good that when you were growing up, you were admonished by Mom (and by Dad) to “amount to something…make the world a better place.” And it’s not just blog readers. You can say that about cities and regions. Despite the stereotype that exists around the country, Washington DC is one such place. Virtually every person here was sent by Mom and Dad to do good. To chase down Al Qaeda. Ensure health care for millions. Save the children. Protect the environment. Even put the weather forecast to good use.

In your talk with Mom, chances are the subject of work, as such, didn’t come up at all. [If it did, it was to be dismissed. “How’s work?” “It’s ok.”]

Instead the conversation likely was about the things in life that matter most: our spirits and our health, how both parents and kids and the extended family are doing, plans for seeing each other again, or maybe just seeing each other soon. The conversation gave you and me a chance to express gratitude to one or both of our parents for what they gave us…or, if we’re old enough, maybe to receive a little bit of gratitude aimed our way.

But in the aftermath of those calls or visits, there’s that time of reflection and evaluation…self evaluation, but based on a yardstick that’s one part hardwired in each of us and one part nurtured by our parents when we were growing up. And in our self-assessment, our judgment of ourselves, by our rules (not anyone else’s), we all know…

…we have fallen short of our potential.

So, what might be really useful here on the Monday after Mothers Day, is a few ideas about how to turn these thoughts to our advantage, how to use these feelings to make for a better workday – a day when we’re not only a bit more effective, but also feel better about ourselves and our lives. No need for a downer!

Here are some suggestions. They’re ordinary. They’re only thoughts. They’re not brilliant. They’re not even my suggestions, but rather an amalgam of ideas collected from psychologists, from theologians, from leaders, from all over. They’re not rules so much as notions that you and I can use as a point of departure for our own, better list.

Mom might have suggested these if we’d asked.

Get in touch with your feelings. Take a few minutes, or even a bit longer, to surface these, bring them out into the open, make them concrete – rather than having them vaguely nagging at you from the back of your mind. Avoid simply plunging into your busyness without refreshing your memory of what it is that you’re accomplishing with your life, how you’re making a difference. Chances are your feelings are a blend of positive and negative. Sort them out that way.

Then quickly tackle the negative ones. Recognize that these negative feelings are in you – no one else. Your co-worker? He’s got his own concerns. Your boss? She’s got her private issues. Whatever you’re thinking about yourself is the furthest thing from their minds just now. [Fact is, that’s probably true even for those very few who might be directly criticizing you to your face; they’re most likely projecting their own insecurities, fears, and doubts into the discussion.]

Then, still hanging in with those negative thoughts, note this: these negative thoughts and emotions are not you. The real you, the core you, is that part of yourself that’s able to see these negative feelings and analyze them, in a detached way, from a bit of an emotional distance. Finally, allow yourself the insight to see that when you stop having these negative thoughts, everything will change. You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) force this step. But you can acknowledge its possibility, and move on.

Now back to those positive feelings. Take a moment to be thankful for them. Then take time to select out those that are positive about the workplace and your role in it.

Re-commit to your larger purpose. What do you like most about the goals of your organization? About your job? About the people around you? And speaking of those people, what act of kindness can you show, what practical help can your provide, that will help them?

Remember why you’re here. It’s not about the money, not matter what you sometimes tell yourself.  It’s not just habit. It’s the people, but it’s more than the people. It’s the bigger purpose you are working toward, together.

Now ask: What do you do best? How are you making the greatest positive contribution? What gives you the most personal satisfaction? [Note this isn’t about what gets you the most praise.]  

Do less, not more. Don’t even try to get everything done. That attempt is a prescription for disaster. Instead, do some triage. Pick just a couple of tasks from each group. What are one-to-three things that you’ll feel best about if you can put them behind you, get them off the table, out of your life? At the other end of the scale, what are a couple of things that’ll make your heart sing? Focus on those few things from these two groups. If you get these things done, give yourself an A+ for the day. If you find you have extra time at the end, turn to another couple of jobs…but chances are they can wait.

[Why this post? Why here, in a blog devoted to Living on the Real World? Simple. The challenges are great. We can’t afford to work at the 80% level, throwing away 52 Mondays each year. Gotta get something from that day as well as all the others.]

Nothing new here, right? You knew all this already? Thought so!

Might turn out to be a pretty good day… for a Monday.

[1] A lot of us are just plain tired. I once heard a boss say, “If my employees left Friday afternoon looking as exhausted as they look on Monday morning, I couldn’t live with myself.”

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