Give a man a fish

It was many years ago, probably around 2002, that I was introduce to Fish! and if I’m absolutely honest, I was hugely sceptical. I think it was the giant cuddly toy fish and other paraphernalia that accompanied the book that put me off. In those days, we didn’t have video on demand, or indeed a widespread functioning internet so everything was accompanied by a physical prop or tool. But 20 years later, the main lessons still stick with me and form a central part of my personal philosophy towards work.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, there are four main tenets – Be There, Play, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude. You can read a bit more about them via the link at the top of the post, or by a simple Google search, but the one I want to talk about is the last of the four, choosing your attitude.

As a leader you will, time and time again, come across someone who is stuck, a victim of their circumstances and who will take every opportunity to share their role as malcontent with anyone who will give them the time to do so. They’re the one in the team meeting who waits until everyone is excited about something, before bringing them all down. They are the one who has seen everything fail before, so knows it will this time too.

I’m the first to highlight that there are workplaces practices that are terrible and just for absolute clarity, I’m not talking about situations where people are bullied, harassed, discriminated against or victimised. We can all agree that these situations are unacceptable and never the fault of the individual.

I’m talking about those colleagues where, at the back of your head, you’ll be thinking, “if this is so terrible, why don’t you just leave?” We will all have encountered someone like this, we may even have been in that space ourselves, waiting for a meeting to end and then complaining to our colleagues in quiet corridor conversations, or via private WhatsApp groups.

Perhaps now, given everything we’ve been through, recognising we can choose our attitude is one of the most caring gifts we can give to ourselves and to others. With so much adversity all around us, coming into work and choosing to complain, be negative, to hate what we do just adds to the external pressures on our mental wellbeing and those around us.

We cannot choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, no matter what our role or seniority, there will always be external factors that we can’t control. Be we absolutely can choose the attitude with which we turn up everyday and how we are with ourselves and with those around us. We will all have experienced the benefit of working with someone who is positive and can-do, even in the toughest times, and we will also have experienced working with someone who we know will find problems and fault, but without helping to find improvements or solutions. Whilst we know the effect this has on us, I wonder whether we always stop to reflect which role we are playing for others?

Sometimes you need to let go

Last week I was thinking about a conversation at work that had really got my goat. It was one of those conversations that happens without warning, that you participate in and then when you walk away you stop and think, “how on earth did that happen?” And the more you think about it, the angrier you get and the more unfair the situation becomes.

That conversation happened over ten years ago.

I can remember it clearly, the room, the time of day, the individual involved. I can remember coming away and tasting mustard in my mouth – a sure sign that I felt distressed by the experience. And to this day I hold a feeling of unjustness about the circumstances.

I’m quite clear that I need to let go.

I should probably listen to the advice that I give to my kids when they tell me about someone saying something unfair – you have a choice, you can say something and challenge the person about what they’ve said, or you can move on and let it go. There’s nothing in-between that will  help you.

I often see people at work who are still hung up on a conversation or situation that happened in their work history. They hold onto it but fail to do anything positive about it, instead it becomes a limiting reminder of how the universe is unfair. It becomes an anchor, unhelpfully holding them to a specific moment of time.

Being able to let go and move on is critical to remaining open-minded, to learning and growing, to progressing and developing. It is key to our mental wellbeing. So if there’s something that is holding you back, talk about it, get it off your chest, put it in the ground and then tramp the earth down. You’ll be better for it, believe me.


Resilience and mental wellbeing

I’m fascinated by the topic of resilience and the interplay with mental wellbeing. Both have been at the centre of a much discussion in the world of work over the last few years and whilst I’m by no means an expert on the specific topics, I wonder whether both are two sides of the very same coin.

The archives are full of books and articles telling us how to build resilience at work, we talk about grit and determination and we have developed models and assessments to determine the level of resilience of employees and candidates. Meanwhile at the same time, we’ve raised the importance of understanding mental wellbeing in the workplace, identified means of supporting and analysed the impact that mental health related absences are having on productivity.

I can’t help thinking that we are missing something much deeper that lies at the root cause between the two issues. Something that is changing our relationship between human being and work, or indeed human being and life itself.

As I write this at the moment I have two children waiting exam results, one for GCSEs, one for A-levels. Already the amount of institutional pressure that is placed on them is enormous. “Unless you get x, you won’t get y”. At the same time, they’re bombarded with images and messages of societal perfection, of friends and lovers and situations which have no resemblance to the reality of most ordinary people.

All before they enter into the world of work, where will tell them that they will need to work until they’re 70 or older. Where we will resist providing them with stability of employment, savings for the future, career paths or development and we will constantly tell them that the jobs they are doing now will no longer exist in the future.

And then we will inform them that they need to build resilience, and we will show them how through a model and share a TED lecture from an expert on it. Have a lunch and learn too. Before reminding them of our mental health awareness week and the fact that they need to look after themselves, because they’re our most important asset. And it’s ok to talk.

I don’t know, but it all seems a bit confused to me. We have the power to change the root cause as well as treat the symptoms, but somehow we divert less energy time and focus there. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where our natural resilience was good enough and we created the environment that nurtured mental well-being?

Just a thought.