Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Some Days You Are The Bird And Some Days You Are The Moth

A Casey McCorison photograph: Costa Rica 2009
A Casey McCorison photograph: Costa Rica 2009

Have you ever been buzzing around at work, taking care of business (you thought), figuring things were going OK and that you were on track with your professional relationships, your career and your reputation, when—zap!–you were hit by criticism, an attack you never expected or a negative event of crisis proportions in your life or career?

Have you ever been responsible for giving an employee bad news about work, administering a disciplinary action or intervening about behavior or performance that must be corrected immediately?  Have you ever investigated something and realized the end result was going to be negative for an employee? Have you ever inadvertently or purposely snapped back at someone unexpectedly or used your influence or authority to thwart them in something they were trying to do that you didn’t like or didn’t think was right?

Many of us have experienced going to work and thinking things seemed fine–but by the end of the day everything had changed for the worse. It can be a frightening, upsetting and life shaking experience.  Sometimes, like the photo above, we are seen as the one who is responsible for the turn of events and sometimes we are the one who gets stopped in our tracks. Either way it can have a long-term negative effect on how we feel about ourselves, others and work.  

The situation may be so bad we can’t do anything but wait it out and hold on to the reality that something else will overshadow it eventually. However, we always can improve things to some degree if we focus on our work, our personal and professional missions and keeping lines of communication open. Never build a wall around yourself thinking that will keep the discomfort out–it only traps it inside.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) had some good advice about that. He was an Irish philosopher, statesman and political theorist who served in the House of Commons in Great Britain and contributed to many key political decisions.  He has been quoted and admired by both conservatives and liberals, but found himself alternately applauded and reviled during his lifetime. He said,

Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.             

That advice may seem excessively simplistic when you find yourself under attack, trying to recover from a painful experience or trying to get your team, section, department or office back on track. However, it is the one bit of advice that will ensure you move through the situation and come out of it stronger and better.

Work on–and do your best work. Work on–and support others who are behaving and performing effectively. Work on–and reach out to those who are going through the same thing.  Acknowledge your errors and apologize if it is appropriate; commit to improving your performance or behavior if that is needed; talk positively about the future. Work on with confidence the situation will pass and the good work you are doing will help it happen sooner.       

In the world of birds and moths many things are deadly and permanent. In your world and mine, surprises, changes, jolts and shocks may happen regularly. The negative results can be lessened if you don’t despair.  However, even if you do, keep your focus on how you want to be seen, what you want to achieve and what you can contribute.                        

July 31st, 2010 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 8 comments

Hurdles — Look Forward and Keep Moving!

I was reading about the Olympic Games and was fascinated by information about the hurdle competitions. I couldn’t help but think that life is like that. (I am, after all, the daughter of Creola Kincaid Lewis.)

The article said a requirement for success is for the runner to be aware of the hurdle before he or she reaches it, then at the moment of jumping, forget the hurdle, look forward and keep running. What a wonderful analogy!

I did some research on hurdles as a result of that article and probably found out more than I wanted or needed to know about the activity! However, like all research, it was fascinating for many reasons–and all of them reminded me of life and career challenges.

When you can do a lot, don’t settle for doing less.  As you would expect, runners prepare for the highest hurdles by starting with lower ones. But what I found most interesting was that once a runner is prepared for the highest hurdles they almost never go back to the lower ones just to keep in shape. To do that would hurt their muscle memory and give them a false sense of security. That is like our lives: Once we accept the challenges of responsibility we need to look for even greater responsibility to keep our knowledge and skills well trained.

The time to get ready is before you get going. As I looked at photos of hurdle competitors I was impressed with their physical conditions. Their leg and thigh muscles are incredible, but they also need total body strength. They do not get in that kind of condition after the race has started! That also applies to our non-running world, If we wait until we face challenges, tragedies or even triumphs before we prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally, we inevitably will handle the situations less effectively. Every day is a training day.

You don’t have to clear the hurdles to win. Hurdles are weighted so they fall over if touched by the runner. But get this: There are no penalities for knocking over a hurdle. The problem is that the pull-over weight considerably slows down the run. Nevertheless, knocking over a hurdle doesn’t mean the race is lost. The runner just has to run faster afterwards.

One thing you will notice: Runners do not stop and kick the hurdle after it falls over. Nor do they stop to trip other runners out of anger or frustration. They keep looking forward and running.  When we don’t clear a hurdle in our work we want to know why, and how we can avoid doing it again. But, we can do that better if we wait until there is a break in the action. Until then, we should keep going and make the next hurdle a brand new challenge.

Characterisitics of a runner with potential to be great in hurdle competetions: An article that discussed the characteristics coaches look for, listed these (See if they sound familiar for success in work): “Above average speed, light on your feet, have good stride length and excellent flexibility.” Wouldn’t that help us in almost every situation?

The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament of the Bible, said of his faith, “I forget what is behind me. I push hard toward what is ahead of me. I move on toward the goal to win the prize.” That applies to every race and to our lives and careers as well. You may be facing more than one hurdle today or in the weeks to come. Look at your hurdle, understand it and accept that it will be difficult, but keep your eyes on your final goal. If you have prepared and are as fit as possible for the race, you will clear the hurdles. And if you don’t, you can still keep running and you can end the race with a smile.

Incidentally, every Olympic game points out something else worth remembering: There is more than one medal. And, finishing honorably is reason enough to feel proud.

August 7th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 5 comments

Keep On Keeping On

Do you ever feel this burdened?

The philosopher Ovid said, “The burden which is well borne becomes light.” I am not convinced that it always becomes light, but my experience has been that it does not become heavier, and that alone can be a blessing.

I have thought of those words recently when talking with several people who are dealing with a variety of work and personal issues. They each had different burdens–work pressures, financial worries, relationship problems, illness, grief, and worry about children or parents. In each case the individuals could be said to be carrying their burdens well and I thought about what I could learn from their behavior, to apply to my own life. I’ll share those thoughts with you!

1. Moving forward with grace and perserverence does not require that you deny you have a burden. One of the people I spoke with had at first made light of a tremendous responsibility that had been placed on her shoulders recently. After a short conversation she said, “I have to tell you, it’s been the most crushingly stressful thing I’ve ever encountered.” I asked her if it felt good to admit that, and she laughed and said yes, it did. She said, “Sometimes I get so darned tired of being strong and invincible!” (She knows she is not, but in her world she must act that way many times.)

You are not diminished by saying to family or coworkers, “I feel terrible right now.” “I want to do well but I’m afraid.” “I’m miserably sad.” “I don’t see how I will get everything done.” “I’m heartsick over it.” Those are reasonable human emotions and reactions. In fact, in some ways it may diminish the significance of a situation if you act as though it has no impact on you or is not important enough to be concerned about.

Another aspect of saying you are burdened with concern, sadness, excessive work or a schedule that is punishing at the moment, is that you can be a better example of emotional, mental and spiritual strength to your family, friends and coworkers. If you make it all look easy or as though you do not care, how can they know what concerns you, and how can they learn how you deal with those concerns effectively?

2. The mere act of saying you have a plan for dealing with a burden is helpful. Even if you are speaking with a bit of false bravado, acting positive about your ability to deal with a situation is helpful. If you say, “Here is what I am doing to accomplish it.” Or, “I’m going to handle it this way.” Or, “Here is how I am working through it.”, you will almost certainly follow that with one or two ideas that you know intuitively will help.

No one says, “The way I’m going to respond to this new work challenge is to sit and complain for hours at a time.” Or, “I think I will be paralyzed by doubt.” Or, “The way I handle situations like this is to give up and let someone rescue me.” Saying you have a plan helps you realize you have a few ideas at least–and encourages you to follow through on those.

3. You may be able to lighten your burden by not carrying it at all–or by shifting it around a bit. One friend was telling me about a worry she was experiencing, that seemed to me to be unnecessary in the first place. However, I realized that I was looking at it from an outsider’s perspective so I did not express that thought. (Almost a first for me!) A few days later as we chatted again she said, “I’ve decided to not be the only one losing sleep over this. I was starting to feel more angry than worried and I knew I needed to make the other people take more responsibility. Now, I’m not losing sleep at all.”

Not all concerns can be shrugged off, of course. And emotions do not go away just because you decide to stop feeling them. However, even then we may be able to choose to not add to them unnecessarily. Sometimes toting around a specific worry is so habitual we never even consider that perhaps we could unload it or reduce it. (And sometimes we can do that best by not being around the people or situations that we know will add to it.)

4. Live your life in a way that prepares you for the inevitable burdens you will need to carry. You cannot move a heavy item if your muscles are weak because you have never used them. You cannot carry a heavy mental or emotional burden if you have never cultivated inner strength. Strength of any kind does not happen on its own, it must be developed and maintained.

One day–some place and at some time–you will need strength. That is an inevitability that none of us escape. What is not inevitable is how prepared and strong you will be. If the small frustrations and hurts have the power to negatively disrupt your life, work and relationships, you will be knocked down for the count by the large ones. The time to prepare is now.

We say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We do not say, “When the going gets tough, the weak start developing strength so they will eventually be tough enough to get going.” Handling the big challenges of life effectively and with hope comes from the practice of effectively handling the little challenges every day.

You may have a philosophy or faith that helps you gain and maintain the strength you need. (You may have also found that it is much easier to apply that philosophy or faith in the abstract than when reality hits.) But, you will more likely be able to “keep the faith” during adversity if you have made a practice of it all along.

5. If you have a burden, stand as upright and balanced as possible, smile and keep moving. That may not be the best advice for a physical burden, but it works for a mental or emotional one. I am not suggesting that you cover your worries or problems with grinning, frantic activity. I mean, do not let your knees buckle and do not stop to meditate on how heavy the burden is–just focus on your goal and move toward it.

Keep this in mind as well (as I try to, even as I write these bits of advice): It is nearly always easier to tell someone else how they should carry their burden than it is to carry your own. Do not be quick to condemn the responses or reactions of others to the challenges of their lives. Instead, see what you can do to help or encourage them, without getting in the way of their efforts to move forward.

In my recent conversations with people about their personal and professional burdens I also found this to be true: At some point burdens do become lighter. Sadness lessens, a work project is over, a relationship either improves or ends, circumstances change, or maybe you simply adjust. Sometimes that takes much, much longer than other times, but it happens, as you have noticed in your own life. In the meantime, we can lighten the negative affect of our burdens by carrying them in a way that reflects well on our character and abilities. “I can do this,” becomes, “I did that and I’m stronger for it.”

May 20th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 3 comments